Q&A with Aloft leaders as Aloft Munich opens for business
Hamish Kilburn travels to Munich, Germany to interview SVP & Regional Director of East & Central Europe Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Thomas Willms, Regional Director of Marketing – East & Central Europe Markus Schreyer and General Manager of Aloft Munich, Oliver Schäfer ahead of the opening of Aloft Munich…
Aloft Hotels is making its presence known internationally, but why did you decide Munich for the brand’s debut into the German market?
Thomas Willms (TW): There is always a correlation between opportunistic development and strategic development when deciding on a location for a hotel. Munich just works. From a company’s perspective, we looked into what we already had in the city and their performance. We already had a Le Méridien, Sheraton, Westin and Four Points. So we were lucky because the location is perfect. It just worked. In regards to the opportunistic approach, well there was an opportunity with an owner who wanted to collaborate with us. So we formed the business relationship to introduce Aloft Munich.
Markus Schreyer (MS): If you look at the core elements of the brand. Music and social scene is embedded in Aloft. Each hotel also has a really strong fate with the destination its in. We have a strong music audience as well as tech-savvy people. There is a strong fit in Munich with our target audience.
Oliver Schäfer (OS): As well as the General Manager at Aloft Munich, I am also GM of the Sheraton Munich Central and Four Points. From first-hand experience, I know that Aloft Munich will provide a unique music experience in Munich for our guests as well as the local community. It’s a venue as much as it is a hotel and there has been a lot of buzz around that in the City in the lead up to the opening.
What challenges do you face when you create a luxury hotel that is affordable?
TW: Aloft has the DNA of W brand but Aloft hotels do not have a huge restaurant or boardroom. It’s a transient traveller’s destination. It’s sassy, savvy and Aloft welcomes authentic music, offering a venue for live music. This hotel (Aloft Munich) for example will host auditions here three times a year. It is a seven-day-a-week destination.
How does aloft compete with budget accommodation websites?
TW: We don’t consider the Aloft Hotels brand as budget. We refer to it as a ‘Select service’ brand, which is a mid-market category among Starwood Hotels and Resorts. It’s true, budget accommodation sites are a threat for the traditional hotel business, but it is also wise to consider that, generally speaking, consumers get what they pay for. [Budget accommodation sites] don’t offer the full service. That is why we must stick to our core values. You can expect to have experiences in any Aloft hotels with music is a key focus. For that reason, we feel as if our guests know what they want when they stay in an Aloft hotel – and they certainly get it!
Aloft is globally the largest growing brand in the mid-market hotel sector. Why is this?
TW: Aloft is not so picky about its location. We see that the demand is there and we act upon it. It is easier to find locations, and open new properties in many different areas where music is embedded in the fabric of the place. We create living rooms that encourage interaction. The WXYZ bar and the grab’n’go for example. We want people in the Remix Lounge. To develop a hotel like this is a faster process than opening other hotel brands under the Starwood umbrella. The operating model for Aloft works for hotel franchises as well. The demand has been strong over the last few years in this area. It is as simple as listening to what our target audience want and making decisions with them in mind.
Aloft has a synonymous image across its portfolio. As design demand changes, how are you going to implement change among the portfolio to keep each property as current as the others?
MS: I think this is an important point. Because Aloft is such a trendy place, we need to keep the brand fresh. A lot of changes have been done already since the brand launched in 2008. It’s about trust and engagement with our guests. One way in which we ensure that the bands we select are current and relevant is having the audience chose the bands.
TW: We were the first to introduce mobile check in (SPG Keyless), the first to present the Aloft Botlr, our robotic butler service We expect that the robotic butler will be very popular among our guests and this is a great example of how Aloft evolves with trends and is at the forefront of technological advancements. We will have it rolled out within a year, which is very exciting. Starwood and especially Aloft is constantly developing while the trends are changing around us. The brand is always being refreshed in order to keep it fresh!
MS: Also the interiors change throughout the year. Colour schemes and materials are transformed in order to reflect the current season. We want people to experience a different set up each time they stay. Although these changes are subtle, they are important to keep guests enthusiastic about the space they are in.
What’s next for Aloft?
TW: We are always looking for new places. We work quickly but cannot say anymore until deals are signed. Aloft will continue to grow internationally and offer musicians with a platform to showcase authentic talent, while offering a sassy experience for modern travellers whose hobby it is to explore.