Starwood Hotels became the first company in history to open a new hotel brand inside of a virtual world by the opening of the virtual Aloft hotel in Second Life. Many people thought it was crazy to show your competition what you planned to open a year and a half before it would open in the real world, but they soon saw that the feedback set the hotel apart, and the innovative thinking and low-cost execution redefined was could be done in digital prototyping.
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When it first opened in the virtual world in September 2006, aloft actively solicited input from Second Life residents on such design features as public spaces, guest rooms, and exteriors – everything from the color palette to space planning. After reviewing all of the comments, several changes to the design are a direct result of consumer feedback and will be reflected in the “real-life” aloft hotels. Some of these changes include adding radios in the guest room showers, providing additional seating in the re:mix lobby, and incorporating artwork created by local artists on the walls in the public areas.
Finished Aloft hotels design vs. Aloft in Second Life design
Building a virtual hotel to learn how to build better real ones
Virtual Aloft was built over 2 years before any real hotels ever started construction to be the brand concept and get real feedback on the proposed architecture, environment, and in-hotel experience. Based on virtual guest feedback there were many design changes and updates made to the plans for the final hotels. After 6 months we had all the feedback we needed, closed the hotel, and donated the virtual land to TakingITGlobal which is an international organization that reaches over 1 million young people in over 200 countries.
Our most innovative idea may have been being the first company to leave Second Life.
At the re-opening event, we announced the transition from the virtual world to the physical world, donating the virtual land back to the Second Life community. This went against all the other brands in the space which were trying to make as big a splash as possible. We built our prototype, learned what we needed to, and left. The Second Life residents could submit ideas on the best use of the land once the virtual aloft closes. Submissions must be 500 words or less and will be collected via the virtual aloft blog (www.virtualaloft.com).