A lofty space: GM interview with Aloft Palm Jumeirah's Max Wiegerinck

Marriott's upper midscale hotel brand Aloft makes its debut in Dubai. Hotelier Middle East heads down to the newly opened property

Executive interviews, Operators

Among the sea of luxury hotels on one of Dubai’s sought after destinations, Marriott International opened The Palm’s only upper midscale hotel on January 23, 2018, making it the first Aloft to open in Dubai.

In an interview during a sneak peek of the new property, general manager Max Wiegerinck reveals: “Not only is this the first Marriott hotel on Palm Jumeirah to open its doors, but it’s also the first Aloft beach resort in the world.”

The Palm Jumeirah hotel follows Marriott’s tried-and-tested Aloft design brief, and, at first look, it is designed perfectly to attract new age millennial travellers. The lobby features a smattering of bright colours with an open plan layout that leads directly to the pool and the grab-and-go eatery, re:fuel by Aloft.

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It has 206 rooms, six restaurants and bars, a 24-hour Re:charge fitness centre, Splash infinity pool, ocean views, beach access, as well as an adventurous initiative called Camp Aloft — which includes a sleeping bag and treats for the kids. 

The hotel is designed to be a tech-forward, upscale boutique hotel on The Palm that’s price-friendly compared to other hotels in the surrounding area. It incorporates vibrant colourful spaces to keep up with hyper-connected millennials and other travellers who are always on-the-go. According to its website, it is specifically designed to deliver a fresh approach to the traditional staid hotel landscape.

In keeping with its tech-savvy theme, in addition to fast and free WiFi throughout the property, Wiegerinck  tells us that the Aloft will also offer SPG Keyless, the hotel operator’s keyless entry system, which will allow guests to use their smartphone or Apple watch as a room key. 

Additionally, Aloft is also testing out its ‘robot butler’ internationally, which assists the front desk by delivering amenities like extra towels and toothbrushes to guests. Botlr was unveiled last fall and is currently being tested at Aloft hotels in Cupertino and Silicon Valley, and according to the Aloft team, we might just see it in Dubai soon.

This hotel, however, is all about the location. The Palm, according to Wiegerinck, is known for its high-end luxury hotels and the Aloft’s entry is a game changer. Its room rate at AED600 (US $163), combined with six interesting F&B options, are sure to shake things up. It has a business centre and its location on the Palm means that it appeals to business travellers as well, because of its proximity to Dubai Media City and Dubai Internet City.

According to Wiegerinck, Aloft is all set to take Dubai’s hospitality scene on Palm Jumeirah by storm. “Aloft Hotels are modern, tech-forward and design-focused, and allow value-conscious savvy travellers to stay connected, network openly, and relax in style,” says Wiegerinck during the interview.

So, who is the ideal guest that one can expect at an Aloft hotel? Wiegerinck believes that they are travellers who aren’t afraid to travel by themselves, or maybe with a partner. Generally, they will be looking for new experiences.

“Because of this, our strategy targets self-expressers — people who don’t need to be part of a group. They’re confidently social, are the first to try something new and share buzz-worthy ideas. They’re the next generation of travellers: global and tech-savvy, with an eclectic style they’re not afraid to show,” he adds.

Music, design and technology, the three passion points of Aloft, appeal to their core customers who are millennials. Keeping the millennials in mind, Wiegerinck is aware, however, that to attract the right audience, sales and marketing strategies needs to be aligned and efforts targeted through the right mediums. 

“Our staff are all trained and have a savvy attitude — able to embody and communicate our brand personality to guests. Key to this is that they know how to deal with millennials, a part of our client base. Our team knows how to follow up and engage with guests in the right way that reaches them,” he added on the hotel’s hiring strategy.

Originally from The Netherlands, Wiegerinck has spent the last decade in the UAE. He joined Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2011 at St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi, as pre-opening hotel manager and later served as Starwood’s regional general manager for new builds and transitions in the Middle East. 

“We started this project years ago in collaboration with DTCM who, along with Marriott, felt that it was important to have differently priced hotel options available on the Palm. This area is known for its five-star hotels and it was an excellent opportunity to provide a select-service brand that could provide more value for the guests,” Wiegerinck says.

While the hotel does not have direct beach access, it does have a private beach which is a short walk away. However it was not quite yet finished when Hotelier Middle East visited the premises in early February.

Traditionally, Palm Jumeirah hotels are known for properties with direct beach access, and despite not having that, Wiegerinck explains that there’s a number of places within the hotel where guests can make the most of the view, and the beach is just a two minute walk away.

“We have different places you can enjoy the sun and the water. We have a splash pool and an infinity pool overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Dubai skyline,” he explains.

World over, Aloft Hotels has strong connections with their local communities, such as by highlighting local musicians at the W XYZ bar or holding Facebook contests to find the best local musicians. In this respect, Aloft Palm Jumeirah will not be any different from its international counterparts.

The GM reveals that the hotel is also striving to appeal to Palm Jumeirah residents who want to make the most of living on the Palm and it’s essential to offer something special.

Its F&B offerings are diverse. The hotel has a signature W XYZ Bar by its splash pool with a resident DJ. It is also home to East & Seaboard Restaurant, the hotel’s all-day dining venue, the Afterdeck Lounge, where guests can enjoy lounge beats, and Re:mix Lounge,  which will include global Live At Aloft Hotels programming showcasing live acoustic performances by up-and-coming artists. There’s also Re:fuel by Aloft, its grab-and-go venue, with light meals, healthy bites, beverages and more. Plus, it features a Mexican restaurant called Luchador on its rooftop, with views of the Burj Al Arab.

There’s also a 24 hour Re:charge fitness center and Splash pool — an infinity pool with ocean views.

Since its first hotel opened in 2008, the Aloft brand has grown rapidly. The hotel originally started in North America and expanded to include international locations. According to the Aloft website, in the United States there are current locations in 27 states. There are also open locations in Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, England, Germany, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Uruguay. 

The UAE is also growing rapidly in terms of Aloft openings. Aloft Me’aisam in has opened in Production City, while Aloft City Centre Deira and Aloft Dubai South in Jebel Ali are scheduled to open. 

However, Aloft Palm Jumeirah’s GM isn’t daunted by the fact that there are four different Aloft hotels all set to open in the same emirate in the same year. “We are not worried about competition from other Aloft hotels in the city. The brand is growing and this will give us more recognition and strengthen our brand value,” he adds.

Wiegerinck also added that the hotels are strategically located throughout the city so that they don’t compete with each other. 

Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director, Middle East and Africa, Marriott International, said during the soft launch of the hotel: “We see a strong demand for Aloft properties in the region as the brand continues to re-define the traditional hotel experience with its vision and innovation. In the UAE alone, the brand will double its portfolio in the next three years with five new openings.”

The GCC hotel market is dominated by luxury, upmarket establishments, and the Palm is no different. However, Wiegerinck believes that with growing importance of emerging millennial travellers, global traveller trends have shifted dramatically. More and more travellers, even those who can afford luxury, are opting to stay in affordable hotels.

Given Aloft’s big brand push in the region, Wiegerinck is not worried about the increasing supply in the mid-market industry in the region.

“In the 12 years I’ve been in the UAE, I’ve seen the hotel industry keep on growing. The mid-market industry is booming and Dubai will continue to grow, especially in the select service market for brands from all over the world to stopover in this city. While 2020 is an important year for us, 2018 is all about the build-up phase and with our location and passion points, we’ll have our market share,” he adds. 

However the brand’s aim isn’t just Expo 2020. The GM reveals: “while 2020 will be a great cherry on top of the cake for the hotel industry, this hotel is being built to withstand the next 20-30 years of development.”

When asked if Dubai is ready for a brand like Aloft he adds: “Definitely. And we are so confident of its appeal that we are building three more in one city which is unheard of.”

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