The new Aloft Mag Mile Hotel in Chicago is more than just the biggest Aloft in the world (with 435 rooms), or the brand’s first urban property, or the one with the most amazing king suite. By integrating elements of modern art, cutting-edge design, and a lively lobby that embraces the big city outside its floor-to-ceiling windows, the hotel shows just how far Aloft has come, and hints at how far it plans to go under the Marriott umbrella.
Ten years after Starwood launched the first Aloft property, it’s surely time for a design refresh — and the Mag Mile property is the prototype that now will be copied by “thousands” of Aloft properties, Marriott spokespeople told Travel Market Report at a grand opening party last week.
Built from the ground up, it’s a unique property in its own right. On the former site of the Museum of Art, which moved a couple of miles away, it has maintained many artistic elements that add color and warmth, and indeed a more grown-up feel, to the metallic atmosphere that was the old Aloft design.
The king suite is the only one of its kind in any Aloft; the gym walls and the pool are covered with art; the TV in each room doubles as a mural with changing images of the pictures that once hung here.
The WXYZ lobby bar is four times the size of most others, and it is stocked with 12 local beers on tap. Like the lobby, with its glowing fireplace, the bar opens onto the busy street, enticing passersby to come in out of the Windy City and warm up.
The location is good, too, walking distance from the Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier, on a tree-lined block of restaurants and hotels, most of them owned by Marriott.
The new design, which will be adopted by all new Aloft properties and gradually introduced to all the existing ones as well, addresses the guest room as well as public spaces. The beds face floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the room with natural light; the traditional desk is gone, replaced by a nook in the corner; the television has moved to the center of the wall.
Still, be forewarned that the rooms maintain the stripped-down Aloft feel that keeps prices affordable and appeals to the customer who is happy to work or hang out elsewhere. The beds are comfortable but there is no closet, just hangers on the wall. The rooms are small, though there are plenty of outlets and ports. Room service — and indeed, all food service — is limited, and delivered by a robot.
Targeting next generation business and leisure travelers
Indeed, one could say that, in a world where travelers increasingly want to experience the local culture and capture it on Instagram, the travel industry as a whole is reaching out to the prototypical Aloft customer: “The self-expresser, the next generation traveler looking to be alone but not lonely, open to speaking to people around them and listening to music and interested in what’s happening,” Bridget Higgins, global brand leader, Aloft Hotels at Marriott International, told Travel Market Report.
“Aloft was 10 years old — and for a design-forward brand, this [new-build property] offered a great opportunity to think about what was working and what wasn’t,” Higgins said. And indeed, while there are about 150 Aloft properties today, mostly in smaller cities and near universities, “Marriott has a dream for this brand to be in the thousands,” and to include city center and airport locations.
And, while the target audience remains largely business travelers, the new design clearly is aimed at attracting leisure guests and even neighborhood dwellers.
“The global sales organization of Starwood is really getting the word out through travel agents that, for clients who are music lovers, who like an active bar and louder music in the lobby, who like to put down their iPad and pick up a drink, this is the brand for them,” Higgins said.
Indeed, said Toni Stoeckl, global brand leader and vice president for the Aloft, AC and Moxy brands, Aloft “was a pioneer in bringing a high-style boutique experience to a select-service base, and its design, point of view and passion for music is a great way to introduce the brand to the Chicago market.”
For travel agents, “Its unique location, great bar, cool pool table and grab-and-go breakfast are great perks to sell to customers who want not just a room, but an experience. There’s beautiful art, locally inspired music and technology, and beautiful chandeliers.”
And, travelers can use the hotel as a launching pad to their Chicago experience, drop their bags and go out, then come back and meet other travelers or have a meeting in an informal space.
Checking in at the front desk, meanwhile, was just the kind of traveler Aloft was hoping for. “We’re having an alumni reception for Northwestern University and this hotel was recommended by some of our younger moms,” said guest Beth Bailey. “They said it’s a new hotel in a great location and we should give it a try. I think it’s very chic and I think it will be a lot of fun.”