While hotels have traditionally catered to a single audience—travelers—some in today’s hospitality industry are rethinking the role hotels can play in cities and communities, realizing that their lobbies, bars, and event spaces become much more vibrant when they welcome the local community to play in them.
Once-sleepy hotel lobbies are now buzzing daytime spaces of creativity and collaboration, hotel bars become places where guests can unwind alongside locals, and drinks menus reflect the flavors of the city’s culture.
Aloft Hotels strives to offer its guests an experience that reflects the city and the community they’re visiting. FastCo Works spoke with Aliya Khan, Marriott’s VP of global design strategies, and Bridget Higgins, Aloft’s global brand leader about designing a hotel brand both where locals feel at home and guests feel like they’re somewhere special.
FastCo. Works: Why is it important to invite in locals? What do they bring to the scene at Aloft?
Aliya Khan: Locals bring a real sense of authenticity to the space. If the hotel feels natural and uncontrived to a local, and they feel welcome and at home there, we’re doing what we set out to do. We never want to create a space that is trying to be something it’s not. We want our guests, and the community, to feel like they are in a place that’s a product of the city it’s in, where they’re all participating in the local culture.
Bridget Higgins: We design for guests we call “self-expressers”; they’re social and crave excitement. They want to be somewhere they can strike up a conversation with the person next to them, or experience something new. Having locals there working on their laptops in the daytime or creating a lively social scene at the bar at night makes them feel like they’re actually seeing a place, not just another hotel lobby.
FCW: How do you make it known to locals that Aloft is a place that’s not just for paying guests, but a space that’s open to them as well?
Our public spaces—the Backyard, W XYZ Bar, and Re:mix, which is where we serve grab-and-go food—really are open to anyone. We draw in locals with things like seasonal cocktails, pool tables, and live music that people are excited about.
We also host happy hours designed with locals in mind. Aloft is pet-friendly, and a lot of locations host “Yappy Hours” where people and their pets can come, hang out, and have a drink. To be able to kick back with your dog is something that makes people feel like they really have some ownership over the space, that it’s not only for people passing through town.
AK: We aim to be welcoming in space and spirit—our spaces are ruled by what we call the “anti–velvet rope.” It’s possible to be cool without being exclusionary. We have amazing double-height windows in the front of the building with deliberately open mesh drapes that allow people to look in and be attracted to the lights and colors within the space. We also incorporate interesting art and styling as well as humorous design details that connect to the location, while relating back to the brand’s sassy personality too.
FCW: What are some of the design features you’ve incorporated that help to achieve this authentic local feeling?
AK: We add fun touches, depending on location. An Aloft in Miami might have more of a tropical feel, with visual cues like inflatable watermelons on the pool deck, while in Colorado, we’d have more of an outdoorsy feel, with vintage thermoses to keep the hot chocolate warm.
FCW: What kinds of events or offerings tend to attract the local crowd?
BH: Live at Aloft Hotels is probably the biggest draw. We bring in popular local musicians as well as touring bands like Years & Years and BANNERS, to play at the W XYZ Bar, or outside in our Backyard space. We pay attention to the local music scene when booking the bands—the sound in Austin, Philadelphia, or Seoul is different than what people are into in Miami, Munich, or Dubai. People really love that there’s no cover for these shows—they’re open to all.
Hotels in different cities do things to appeal specifically to local tastes or show their support for local businesses. Certain locations will do partnerships with local breweries, or beloved food purveyors from the city. For example, an Aloft in Austin recently worked with a local iced-coffee vendor to provide it on tap at Re:fuel. We always encourage those moments of individuality that tie each hotel to its location.
AK: Many of our hotels are active with the local communities. Some locations have developed partnerships with local animal shelters and pet-adoption agencies. They bring dogs to the hotel and hold an adoption event. They’ve found homes for over 100 dogs so far!
This article was created for and commissioned by Aloft Hotels.