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Brian McGuinness, SVP of Starwood's Specialty Select Brands,
Discusses Aloft Brand and the Newest Aloft in Abu Dhabi

By Olivia Olarte, Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab EmiratesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

November 14, 2009 --With its high ceiling and loft-like interior, Aloft, the newest addition to the specialty brand of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, made its debut in the Middle East market in Abu Dhabi recently.

Located onsite the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), Aloft Abu Dhabi, posted full occupancy during the F1 race.

It targets the niche market of today's forward thinking business travellers by offering a quality, designer product which is affordable and focuses on accessible technology, comfort and convenience.

Khaleej Times caught up with Brian McGuinness, Senior Vice-President, Specialty Select Brands of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide -- which include Aloft, Element and Four Points by Sheraton -- who was in the emirate to oversee the soft launch of Aloft to discuss the new brand and its fast growth.

Excerpts of the interview:

When was the Aloft brand officially launched?

The first Aloft hotel was officially opened in Canada in May 2008. We now have 38 hotels across the world and will be 40 by the end of the year. This is the fastest hotel launch in the industry.

What is the concept behind the brand?

Aloft is really about the self-sufficient traveller (with) a lot of energy, really positive vibe and certainly tech-savvy design focused.

Aloft Abu Dhabi is your first brand in the Middle East, can you tell me something about the hotel?

It has 408 rooms, including 33 suites. It has a full fitness centre, outdoor pool, bar, restaurant, a 24-hour grab-and-go food and beverage area, spacious lounge, wi-fi access and a touch-n-go kiosk in the hotel lobby where guests have an option of an effortless self-service check-in, check-out or room reservation.

We're connected to ADNEC and we couldn't possibly ask for a better location, particularly with the lifestyle centre coming here.

Why did you choose Abu Dhabi for the launch of the first Aloft brand in the region?

Certainly from an infrastructure standpoint and the positioning of Abu Dhabi as a lifestyle centre, it is a market that is extremely attractive to us, particularly in the investment that's coming into this market. Location-wise, it was amazing and certainly this particular location was positive with the exhibition hall right here.

How different is Aloft from other hotels here?

I think it's very different. It has a casual atmosphere and energy that you won't find in other hotels. Lifestyle is the new luxury and the customer that we're targeting here is a bit more casual, they're a bit more fun, they like to have an evening cocktail, they're on the Internet, they're social networking and certainly we're providing all of that here. So we're fairly different on what's currently in the market.

Since you are onsite the Abu Dhabi Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), are you primarily a business hotel?

From the perspective of our core customer, it is certainly a business hotel. Having said that, with the facilities of our workout centre as well as our outdoor swimming pool and soon-to-be outdoor bar, it will also attract a lot of leisure travellers. As the residential market continues to grow here and the rest of the lifestyle centre comes to be, this will be an oasis within the neighbourhood.

So I think we have multiple guests, both those that will stay overnight from the transient or business side as well as our leisure customer and I believe we'll also have a good core customer of local neighbourhood residents.

What makes you tariff above your competitors in this market?

I think there are two reasons why we can compete effectively in the market. The first is it's tough to launch a brand in a down economy, but the good news is we're launching this brand at a price point that makes sense. (Secondly) we're launching a four-star urban brand that has a lot of energy around it. It's extremely comfortable with vibrant colours, good soft seating, open spaces and free flowing versus the traditional marble lobby and chandelier. It has a different atmosphere. It's a very new concept and urban look to this market. So I think that's what differentiates us.

Is Aloft a green hotel?

Aloft is quite eco-friendly with 90 per cent of the hot water supplied through energy harnessed from solar panels. We even have a dispenser in every bathroom wall instead of the little bottles for body wash, shampoo and conditioner. Each year, we eliminate thousands of those tiny little bottles that go to landfills, we've done it across all Aloft hotels, and now we're taking that across the rest of Starwood brands.

Any expansion plans?

For 2010, three Aloft hotels will be opening in India, one in Brussels and one in Riyadh, and another one in Beijing, probably in 2011. In Latin America, we're going into Bogota. We have 125 signed deals with over 200 hotels in the pipeline. It's the fastest launch of a hotel brand considering its all new built, except for one or two adoptive use -- we're talking of an old facility that was not a hotel and turned into a hotel.

What about Dubai or in the UAE?

Dubai is a very good market and we are looking at that, (but) as you know it's relative to working with the developer in finding the right land and the location. The good news is we certainly have good contacts with our developers here and have a very positive working relationship with them and so we continue to look for opportunity and will go in that market without a doubt.

olivia@khaleejtimes.ae

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To see more of the Khaleej Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.khaleejtimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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