The Mason Inn Conference Center and Hotel is a conference facility and hotel on the George Mason University (GMU) campus in Fairfax, VA. The University built the center to host academic and industry conferences. A major goal of the University is to significantly increase research activity, and the Mason Inn Conference Center helps to accomplish this by facilitating the following activities:
- Building relationships. Most academic networking occurs at conferences, and new research partners are often met there.
- Increasing funding. Increased research activity will only occur if Mason faculty are able to get funding. It's difficult for Mason to win grant awards alone – the University is young and still proving itself.
- Growing reputation. Collaboration with established universities is part of a strategy toward increasing our own research reputation and activity.
The Mason Inn helps to foster these important research goals because hosting conferences on campus permits more faculty and students to attend and thus increases the potential for research collaboration with other organizations. Quite simply: the Conference Center and Hotel is a significant resource to the Mason community that is just beginning to be realized.
Unfortunately the Mason Inn is scheduled to close this summer. After investing $50 million, the decision to close the facility came after three years of losing $2 million per year. The administration attributes the loss to underuse.
What remains unknown is why this loss surprised the University administration. The Washington Business Journal  quoted J.J. Davis, senior vice president of GMU, last November as stating: "The location for an overnight traveler was not ideal. It's not off a major corridor. It was hard to bring people here when you're competing for business with facilities in D.C. and the like. The conference center's model was based on meetings that would fill the hotel's rooms, rent out all the conference space, and use the in-house catering." From the outset, the Conference Center and Hotel was built to provide a space that would facilitate research opportunities; as a new facility, such use requires marketing and outreach efforts to inform research communities about the facility as well as time to allow professional organizations schedule conferences there. Professional research conferences are often scheduled years in advance; therefore such an effort would require a time and marketing investment before these opportunities could be fulfilled.
This prompts a few questions. Was research done to understand how long it would take to win bids for conferences? Could the $2 million initial annual loss have been avoided? Even if the administration did not know the Conference Center and Hotel required continued investment, was there any attempt to innovate and attract new hotel customers?
The University recently announced a partnership with INTO, a for-profit international student recruitment corporation. Following that announcement the University administration shared plans to convert the Mason Inn into residential housing for INTO students. This is an opportunity to make the hotel profitable.
However, I suggest that there are some options that might not cause the Mason community to lose permanent access to this important resource. For example, instead of retrofitting the Mason Inn and losing the $50 million investment, the hotel could offer extended stay housing for INTO students. The University can adjust rates as needed to ensure INTO students have affordable housing while reducing the hotel loss. As GMU builds more dormitories and hosts more conferences the extended stay rooms in the hotel would be converted back to standard rooms.
I am concerned the loss of the Mason Inn Conference Center and Hotel will hinder University goals and reflect negatively on GMU over the long term. The expansion of University research and GMU's role as an economic and cultural engine are greatly advanced by establishing Mason as a host of academic and industry conferences. Closing the facility is contrary to the commitments in Mason's published goals  and the abandoned investment is a waste of University funds. The Mason Inn – as a site for research, collaboration, and connection – could have launched our transformation to a top-tier research university.
- GMU to shutter Mason Inn. Washington Business Journal. http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/blog/top-shelf/2013/11/gmu-to-shutter-mason-inn.html?page=all
- Our Goal. George Mason University. http://vision.gmu.edu/the-mason-vision/our-goal/