Lynchburg graduations cause hotel crisis

No room — Families are finding themselves without a place to stay for graduation weekend as all the hotels near campus are nearly booked, with only a few smoking rooms to spare. Photo credit: Ruth Bibby

Family members struggle to find a place to stay as graduation weekend approaches

There is no room at the inn. Literally. All hotels near campus are booked for the weekend of May 14.

As graduation weekend quickly approaches, family and friends of some graduates are finding themselves without a place to stay.

Not only is this a record-breaking graduation for Liberty University, but it is also the day that Sweet Briar College and Lynchburg College will hold their commencements.

“Everything in Lynchburg is booked up for that weekend,” Pam from Courtyard Marriott said.

The few hotels that do have rooms can only offer smoking rooms.

Joy Federico, sales manager of sister properties Sleep Inn and Best Western, said that the three remaining rooms available at Best Western are smoking and have a single bed.

Federico said the staff at Sleep Inn is excited for the business of that weekend. Because customers pay ahead of time, they only need to pick up their key when they walk in.

“All we have to do is say welcome and congratulations,” Federico said.

Sue Spencer, general manager at the Wingate by Wyndham, has supervised room reservations for two graduations before this year.

The policy during her first year there was to open reservations for the entire year during the first few days of January.

Spencer said she remembers how hectic that was, especially for the graduation dates.

“The phones rang off the hook for 45 minutes straight, and then all the rooms were gone for that weekend,” Spencer said.

Spencer had the policy changed to allow booking to begin 364 days to the time of arrival.

Spencer said the rush to get rooms during graduation weekend is still frantic.

“The rooms that offer the best views of the campus fill up the fastest,” Spencer said.

Due to this, Liberty began to seek out other ways to house families who were having no luck finding hotels.

The Office of Commuter Affairs sent out emails to off-campus students in March, asking them to open up their apartments and homes to families during graduation weekend.

Larry Provost, director of Commuter Affairs, said that the idea came from the pulpit at Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC).

A few years ago, Pastor Jonathan Falwell asked TRBC members to help house families for an event at the church.

Liberty adopted the idea, hoping that students’ hospitality would help a few more families find lodging.

Lori Baker from the Registrar’s Office is setting up the families who need rooms with the students who responded—about 20,said Provost.

Provost himself is housing an online student from Texas who plans to attend his graduation.

“My wife and I own the house, and my father is staying with us,” Provost said. “It’s already tight, and it will only get tighter. But we feel that we need to help.”

Provost said he encourages more students to step up and open their homes to the families still without a roof over their heads for graduation.

It is not only the hotels that are going to be packed during the weekend that three Lynchburg colleges will be holding graduations.

Restaurants are also preparing for a busy few days.

James Berrigan, manager at Applebee’s and a current Liberty student, said the restaurant will have a fully-staffed kitchen and 13-15 servers instead of the usual 11.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Berrigan said. “We’re ready for it. I know a lot of people are going to be in a good mood because they’re graduating.”

Lynchburg resident Charlotte Tucker said she will avoid restaurants May 14th.

“I can’t imagine trying to eat out that weekend,” Tucker said. “It’s going to be a nightmare.”

Olive Garden management suggests sending someone from each party 45 minutes to an hour early to secure a table.

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