Come early August of this year, Australia will see the welcome debut of one of the world’s fastest growing hotel brands: Aloft. Part of Marriott International, the little sister to the famed W hotel series (Aloft is branded as “a vision of W Hotels”) will see their 224-room down under debut stand tall in Rivervale, Perth where it will overlook the banks of Swan River and give guests easy access to the nearby CBD as well as the Burswood entertainment precinct. A good location isn’t the only thing driving up anticipation for Aloft’s arrival though; what’s really perking interest is the chain’s reputation for catering to tech savvy, global travellers, and their recent foray into the world of robo-butlers and voice-activated rooms.
Yeah, you read that correctly: robo-butlers and voice-activated rooms.
Equipped with adorable R2D2-like beeps, a suave robotic waiter, used to deliver things such as amenities to guests and perform other front of house tasks, has been making waves in several Aloft properties across the globe. The tech was introduced to the brand by U.S robotics company Savioke and uses a combination of sensors and connectivity to smoothly navigate hallways and elevators, assisting the Aloft brand in nudging their way to the forefront of new-gen youth-focused hotels. I think it’s a safe bet that, even if not initially, Aloft will include their Perth property in this robo-army takeover.
Then they’ve got the ambitious roll-out of voice-activated rooms, a more recent development which allows guests to use an iPad and it’s built-in Siri to interact with things like temperature and lighting, as well as run a hot bath and order up room service.
These two substantial tech touchstones are part of a much larger attempt by Aloft to not only position as one of the go-to hotel brands for younger people, but assert themselves as a hotel chain that’s more than willing to push boldly into future prospects for how we experience accommodation and hospitality.
And though tech is key, it’s a testament to Marriott’s high standards that this focus on technology isn’t in lieu of good, human-to-human service either, so whether they’re going large with robo-butlers or introducing smaller details like keyless entry (you use your smartphone as a key), guests can rest assured that the fundaments of hospitality aren’t on the outs anytime soon. That’s a statement I can confidently stand by after spending a weekend at Aloft Bangkok – Sukhumvit 11 late last year, a swift two-day stay in Thailand’s capital.
A few months prior I had the opportunity to experience the dramatic and spectacular W Retreat & Spa over in Bali, so having already dipped my toes into Starwood’s higher-end I had some great expectations for their excursion into more accessible accommodation. Of course, very little about Aloft can even begin to compare to the size and scale of it’s much larger sibling brand, but W’s progeny does leave a nice impression with it’s smart, ergonomic design which balances pops of bright, youthful colour with an old fashioned sense of warm and welcoming hospitality.
Much like W, Aloft are also quite fond of the decisions behind many of their little quirks, from shaping the reception desk after a classic DJ booth to having their lively WXYZ Bar merged – loft-style nonetheless – into the lobby to reaffirm their commitment to upbeat cocktail culture (a defining trait for W properties around the world) and live music. In fact, they even riff off a closeness with South-East Asia’s live music scene by hosting one of several clusters for Project Aloft Star, an accessible live music competition with is run in partnership with MTV Asia. This was my primary reason for being at Aloft Bangkok last October, and while it did expose me to some great undiscovered talent coming out of Bangkok (check out BKK locals Jenny & The Scallywags and 2016 Project Aloft Star winner, Singapore’s Sophie Retief, for some great tunes) I was much more interested in getting a feel for Aloft’s day-to-day ahead of their Perth launch.
SPG Members might feel a little slighted since Aloft don’t really do upgrades for Gold or Platinum members, but that’s easily offset by the fact that this is the most affordable property on Starwood’s bustling Bangkok portfolio. On average, you’d get a room for around $80-$100 AUD per night which is fantastic value considering how comfortable the rooms are and the property’s enviable position on Sukhumvit Soi 11 (near one of the Asia’s most famous rooftop bars, Above Eleven).
Check-in was fast and efficient when I arrived after a 40 minute drive from Bangkok International Airport at around 1am. The reception desks even have iPads (set to full brightness) facing guests so they can quickly brush up on any headlines before or after they head out into the notoriously lively city. It’s a neat touch, but of course I was much too exhausted to appreciate the detail until check-out.
Aside from the suites, Aloft seem to divide their room types by which floor they are located on, with other differences unnoticeable. “Chic” rooms are on the lower floors, whereby “Urban” rooms are on the midfloors and the higher ups are the “Breezy” rooms. I took a Breezy on the 32nd floor (the very top of the property) and was pleasantly surprised by just how well it juggles the efficiency which defines lower-end accommodation with the details that have undeniably contributed to the hotel’s four-star rating.
Of course the most important detail in any room is the bed; the King-size was generous and comfortable, just the right amount of softness in the middle so you’d sink right into sleep knowing that the street noise (and believe me, there’s plenty of it) couldn’t even make a dent on the atmosphere of the top floor. Whether it was the altitude, or that the rooms are very well insulted (although noise from the hallways could be heard during the evenings), my 30-or-so square metres of space was as peaceful as I wanted.
The room is spacious enough to fit in a cheap looking L-shaped couch that wraps underneath one of the large windows. Though it may look tacky it’s fairly comfortable, ending where the full-sized desk begins. A standing television sits on the desk opposite the bed and above a roomy compartment for your luggage, while the other end is reserved for work space and all the connectivity a business traveller would need.
Air-conditioning is powerful and seamless, reaching well into the bathroom which runs the length of the bedroom and sits just behind the bed. It too is quite spacious, with a basin, toilet and large walk-in shower. Oddly enough, the obligatory kettle, coffee machine and safe are located here as well – opposite the basin on shelves nearby where the towels are kept.
The mini bar is kept modest – reducing temptation – but there’s a 24-hour mini-mart style shop in the lobby, albeit with everything almost double the price of nearby convenience stores (which is still very cheap). For those with in-room snack cravings guests also have access to Aloft’s playful TiGi service; it stands for “Text it, get it” and makes exclusive use of emojis, requiring guests to text a number with certain emojis to indicate what they want staff to speed up to their rooms, taking shorthand to a whole new level. See below for an example.
Sadly Aloft’s intriguing robo-butler, whose name is Botlr, hadn’t quite reached the Bangkok property during my stay so my experience with it doesn’t extend beyond neat looking Youtube videos of the robot in action. Though I did put their “Anything, Anytime” service to use with a late-night request of a travel adapter; it took two calls until it was delivered to me, but after the second it was rushed up within minutes. If anything, it was proof that robo-butlers are a necessary service.
Internet was quite seamless, as it should be. Aloft’s promises of tech-focused amenities ring true with the fast Wi-Fi speed, but the inclusion of an alarm clock in the room does seem a bit dated (millennials are attuned to their smartphone alarm), as does the absence of a wireless speaker – even just a cheap one.
Trace down to the 11th floor and one will find a well maintained gym as well as a beautifully set-up open-air lounge area with a sparkling pool, several sunbeds and a nicely stocked bar. It’s head and tails above similar areas outside of Asia for the price-point, although it’s on the side of the building that is usually starved for sunlight. It’s the superior hang-out spot for guests who want a bit of privacy, an alternative option to the lobby’s lounge which boasts a standard foosball table, some video games, and ample seating dotted in colours of red and blue.
The hotel’s continental breakfast is above average, and while there are plenty of better options outside of the hotel it serves a good purpose for any pre-exploration feasting. Crave Restaurant & Wine Bar is where you’ll find the offering, a generous spread of Thai and western dishes, including a noodle station, salad bar, and thankfully a made-to-order egg service. Evidently, the place is a popular spot for quieter nights out due to it doubling as a wine bar.
For guests who opt for the louder end of Bangkok nightlife, the hotel also has Levels Club & Lounge, a nightclub that seems to be very popular with locals if queues are anything to go by. I preferred to head across to a nearby laneway where Havana Social, a Latin-themed rum bar that offers some truly excellent cocktails, is located. It’s but one of the necessary stops nearby the hotel, a list which also includes the aforementioned Above Eleven rooftop bar, meat focused restaurant Firehouse, and most importantly The Local, which is a must-visit traditional Thai restaurant that offers a menu packed with delicate flavours (and quite a lot of heat).
For shoppers, the massive Platform 21 shopping hub is around a 10-15 minute walk – though a bit further will get you to the superior Emporium mall, and of course there are plenty of street markets on the way. For those who want to explore a bit further out, the Nana BTS Skytrain and MRT Subway stations are very close to Aloft and the hotel even runs a free Tuk-Tuk service to and from (that may only be for Nana BTS).
As one can tell from the most colourful and ostentatious facade on Soi 11, there’s a springy, youthful energy that flows through Aloft Bangkok and helps set it apart in a city that often juxtaposes extreme luxury with glaring poverty. This is a hotel that most certainly exceeds it’s very low price point, rising above the on-the-nose marketing terms and obvious reminders of just how youth-focused it is by offering a comfortable stay in a city where such a thing usually comes at a much higher cost.
Aloft Bangkok – Sukhumvit 11
Address: 35 Sukhumvit 11 Alley, Bangkok 10110,
Contact: +66 2 207 7000
The writer stayed as a guest of Aloft Hotels.