The Mason Inn is changing management, effective April 1. Crestline Hotel & Resorts will take over for Aramark, which has been in charge of operations since the hotel opened in 2010. The move is due in part to the recent volatility of the economy.
The business plan for the Inn was created in the pre-recessionary economic climate, according to George Mason University Senior- Vice President Maurice Scherrens. When the real estate market changed fundamentally, so too did the hotel industry.
“All of our original assumptions were no longer the proper foundation for the business partnership,” said Scherrens in an email. The Inn did not meet the occupancy rates that had been projected, and the turnover for managerial positions was high. The Conference Center was off-target from the amount of business that was expected from the local community.
However, unlike Aramark, Crestline is based locally in Fairfax.
“They understand the Fairfax market and how to serve the Fairfax community,” said Gregg Toney, assistant vice president of Auxiliary Enterprises, which oversees the Mason Inn. He believes that Crestline will bring in more local businesses to the Conference Center.
There are also economic advantages to selecting a locally based company. For one, transportation costs will be cut significantly.
Most of the changes to the Mason Inn will happen behind the scenes. Crestline has a “superior training program,” said Toney, which will help the Inn retain good employees. In addition, Crestline will have a different overall style in the way it manages the Inn.
“I suspect that you will experience a different ‘feel’ to the venue after April first,” Scherrens said. “We [also] expect the restaurant to have a different focus, which should help establish the venue as a destination restaurant for the community.”
When asked about the possibility of a rates increase, both Scherrens and Toney said that the issue has yet to be decided. The Mason Inn is expected to have a greater share of the local market, and the future rates will reflect market competitiveness.
As for possible lay-offs after the transition, some of the non-managerial staff have been offered jobs. The rest may be transferred to other hotels or conference centers managed by Aramark.
Crestline was chosen over 12 other hospitality companies, including Ararmark, that submitted proposals to manage the Mason Inn, Toney said.
The Mason Inn is funded by self-generated revenue. The profits from the Inn go directly back into the university to fund scholarships and to pay off debt, as stated in Auxiliary Enterprise’s annual budget report.
Therefore, the choice to have Crestline manage the Mason Inn came down to revenue. The economic viability of the Inn contributes to the overall economic viability of the university, as is the case with the University Bookstore and the Patriot Center, which are also under the umbrella of Auxiliary Enterprises.
“We’re not in the business of making money for the sake of making money,” Toney said. “We make money with the idea of trying to keep tuition and fees and student expenditures as low as possible.”