BT: Aloft is often referred to as W’s more approachable and affordable younger sibling. The brand centers around style and music, but there are some other interesting brand innovations that you’ve introduced. Tell us about those.
VIR: Our popular Re:fuel breakfast pots are designed as fresh, portable takeaways that can be heated, but go beyond a typical oatmeal or fruit plate. These include hearty options like quinoa with vegetables and a poached egg, or potatoes with cheese and a poached egg. Since most hotels don’t have kitchens, they are a great solution and available from lobby grab-and-go stations that sell snacks and drinks 24 hours a day. Music is in our DNA, and we recently had a global music competition called Project: Aloft Star, where we partnered with Universal Music Group in search of emerging musicians and singers. The winner was awarded the chance to record a single at Capitol Records in Hollywood. This fun campaign was a way to build on Aloft’s existing support of emerging musicians through our Live at Aloft Hotels program, which sees live music performances taking place in our signature W XYZ bars every week.
BT: Are other Marriott standards coming to Aloft?
VIR: Make a Green Choice program is now in place where travelers earn Marriott Bonvoy points or food and beverage credits for foregoing housekeeping each day. We are shifting many of our Bliss Spa toiletry products to eco-friendly pump bottles rather than single use plastic containers and are working to eliminate plastic straws from our hotels.
BT: Are international Aloft properties any different than those in the US?
VIR: No matter where in the world our hotels are, they follow the same design and service standards. Still, many markets demand certain amenities to remain competitive. This is especially notable when it comes to food and beverage. Our American hotels don’t have restaurants, but overseas, we often need restaurants to appeal to the local market.
BT: What is in the pipeline for Marriott in Latin America?
VIR: We are on track to double the footprint for Aloft in Latin America. We just opened an AC Hotel in Lima. Altogether, we have 123 hotels in the pipeline, among them the Marriott Santa Marta in Colombia, the Residence Inn Lima, and a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Pearl Island, Panama. The countries with the most growth in the next few years are Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Peru.
BT: How do you decide where to open new hotels?
VIR: With such a wide variety of brands in our portfolio, we have greater opportunity to find the right fit for a market. We also have to consider the political and economic climate. We have no presence in Nicaragua at the moment, but we are looking into it. We are proud to be the first mover in developing countries like Guyana and Surinam where our hotels immediately become the market leader.