Aloft Hotels: the Good, the Bad, and the Confusing

19 Mar 2009|tommy

On a recent trip to Denver to do some work for a retail client, I stayed at a new addition to the Starwood Hotels line: the Aloft. Billed as “a vision of W Hotels”, the Aloft aesthetic reminded me a lot of the upscale professional “hostel” hotels in Europe (like the Clarion Hotel Stockholm where I recently stayed). According to the Aloft website, there are 25 hotels currently accepting reservations in the US, with other properties in Beijing and Montreal. The aloft Denver Airport just opened in December 2008, and it looks like expansion plans are aggressive, with a total of 69 (yep, 69!) new properties scheduled to open between 2009 and 2011 across the globe. But the brand still has a lot of work to do to make the chain successful with travelers.

The Good
I found the overall aesthetic of the hotel really nice. There’s an engaging funkiness to the hotel that avoids some of the “too cool for school” vibe I often get with W Hotels.

Amenities were, overall, really well-suited for business travelers operating on a budget and difficult time changes. A moderately well-equipped gym is open 24 hrs / day. While there’s no restaurant at the hotel, there is a 24-hour snack station where guests can buy coffee, bagels, chips, fruit, etc. whenever they like. There was also a free billiards table in the lobby – a nice touch for jet-lagged travelers still awake at 2 AM.

Finally, the price was terrific. I was able to get a nice, comfortable room for $129/night with free wi-fi. While a lot of the traditional hotel amenities aren’t there, the bed, toiletries, and coffeemaker were the same offered at W’s and Westins (other pricier Starwood options). I don’t typically spent a lot of time in my room on business travel, so the lack of a mini-bar and bathtub (shower only) didn’t bother me.

The Bad
The front desk was consistently manned by only one person. At peak check-in / check-out times, this created long lines and competition for an attendant’s attention. Additionally, the staff varied pretty widely in knowledge and quality of service. For example, one morning I was told I couldn’t have a receipt for breakfast because the computer only printed one copy and they “weren’t supposed to give it away.” Yet the morning before I had been happily handed a receipt with my purchase. Inconsistent service and lack of available personnelput a damper on my experience.

Other things were lacking, too. While I didn’t mind a lack of amenities in my room, it was a pain when the gym ran out of cups for water and the TV’s didn’t work on any of the treadmills. Coupled with an under-manned front desk, this meant that hotel guests were forced to find work-arounds to take advantage of the hotel’s “extras”.

The Confusing
On a more conceptual level, Aloft seems to be suffering from confusion about who they are at the core. The front desk clerk one night told me that the hotel is, basically, a budget W. But W Hotels has a clear personality that is consistently communicated. The Aloft doesn’t.

For example, the front desk and bar staff always greeted me with an “aloha,” and the website is full of “aloha” references. But it’s not clear what “aloha” has to do with the hotel – other than pair snappily with “Aloft.”

Additionally, the hotel touts its “see green” initiative as core to the brand, but then doesn’t execute consistently on the promise. While recyclable materials may go into the hotel construction, any snacks are served with plastic, non-biodegradable cutlery, even though there’s a kitchen (presumably with a dishwasher) just around the corner. There are only paper cups available for coffee in the rooms and the canteen.

Finally, the marketing message positions Aloft as “hip and social.” Yet the location of many of the hotels doesn’t promote this. The Aloft Denver International Airport is 15 min from the airport and 30 min from the city – effectively positioning it in a “no man’s land.” Many new Alofts seem to follow this airport-location model, limiting the social dynamic to only the guests in the hotel – or perhaps those staying at the nearby Marriott Suites (not likely to include the Aloft target audience).

I should conclude by saying that I’m likely to give Aloft another chance – I’m a loyal Starwood guest and I like the overall concept of the hotel. It’s possible that Aloft will improve in execution as the brand matures, but it seems like they’re missing some key opportunities to be a really differentiated, valuable brand for business travellers.

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