This is our fifth and last post of a series inspired by a recent survey by The Property Marketing Strategists and UPP, highlighting feedback from students. Our previous posts touched on a wide range of topics such as Private Spaces, Wellbeing, Flexibility and Sustainability. Today we talk about a specific finding: students value their connection to the wider community outside of their university. This is a new trend that PBSA operators should pay attention to, as it can have a significant impact on the student experience. In this article, we will explore how operators can foster community engagement and provide opportunities for students to connect with the wider community.
The survey results show that students want to connect with local businesses, cafes, and restaurants. They want to be part of a non-student club or team, and they also see the benefits of working or volunteering locally. PBSA operators can facilitate these connections by providing amenities that are open to the public. For example, they can lease spaces to small business owners to run a coffee shop or a gym within the building.
The Social Hub (previously, The Student Hotel) is a great example of this, with restaurants and bar services on the ground floor which are accessible to locals and hotel guests. We discussed the benefits of this type of business model in this article: The success of hybrid spaces in 2021: The Student Hotel Case Study.
Interior design can also play a role in fostering community engagement. By arranging furniture in a way that separates public and private spaces, operators can create a welcoming environment that encourages interaction with the wider community. The Hoxton Hotel is an excellent example of this approach. Defined as open-house hotels inspired by the streets and scenes that surround them, they usually locate the reception desk in a secondary location giving a prominent space to the bar and lounges at the front, open to the public. A concept that has proved to be very successful over the years.
Another benefit of engaging with local businesses (for example by providing discounts for students who use those external services) is that the operator won't need to provide the same services in-house. Or they could be offered as an optional premium service. This will in turn save money in the development process which could be an interesting option for more affordable PBSA brands.
The importance of community engagement for Gen Z students cannot be overstated. PBSA operators can provide opportunities for students to connect with local businesses, cafes, and restaurants, and also support non-student clubs and teams. By facilitating these connections in a safe way, operators can create a more fulfilling and enjoyable student experience.