Business Travel Show Europe is the place where
September 2022, Virtual
September 29 2022, Virtual
Earlier this month Starwood Hotels & Resorts introduced its funky Aloft brand to the European market for the first time. The Aloft Brussels Schuman hotel is only a five-minute walk from the hub of European politics - but it is no ordinary businessman's hotel. First of all, its general manager is the youngest in his position throughout the Starwood organisation, and it would be a fair guess that he's the youngest GM of any city hotel in Europe.
My interview with 31-year-old Coen Van Niersen is conducted by telephone, but it's obvious from the way he speaks (and from the boy-band good looks he boasts in his media photo) just why he has been chosen to lead Starwood's new Euro-venture.
The youngster - who, remarkably, landed his first GM's role at the age of 28 with the Four Points by Sheraton brand - exudes an infectious enthusiasm about the hospitality business. While his objective to turn the Aloft Brussels into one of the city's leading hotels and set the standard for future Aloft openings across Europe is without question, it's already obvious that this job is another rung on his sharp ascent up the Starwood ladder.
So what makes to Aloft brand so different? I ask Van Niersen.
"It's a new concept and it's absolutely not your average cookie cutter hotel," he says.
"It is a very new young brand built around design, technology and social space. It is known as a select serve hotel, which doesn't mean budget, but instead it is focused totally on the needs of the young modern traveller.
"We have a cool cocktail bar with live DJs; iPod docking stations connected to hotel speakers so guests can play their own music. We have a Wii in all the meetings spaces where we invite guests to take part in ten pin bowling and tennis competitions. We try and make it a real interactive experience."
This all sounds like fun, but perhaps too much fun for someone on business. Is this a serious hotel for the business traveller?
"It is definitely a business hotel," he insists.
"The location is in the heart of the EU district. Everything is within walking distance. The EU headquarters is a five-minute walk away and we have a [European] Commission building next door.
"The majority of our business will be business people and we build around that. The brand was developed by looking at what exactly travellers need. A lot of our travellers come into Brussels on business but, for example, they will not have dinner in the hotel, the will go out and eat and experience the city.
That's why we don't have an a la carte restaurant but instead a grab and go area which is open 24 hour meaning that, for example, travellers arriving from China in the middle of the night can still have something to eat."
And it offers free Wifi throughout the hotel - always a big winner with the busy business traveller.
In the three short years Van Nielsen has worked as a general manager, he has had the misfortune (or fortune, depending how you look at it) to come through the worst global financial crisis in more than 60 years. But he has not let the credit crunch and subsequent recession affect his confidence about the business.
"I am always optimistic," he laughs.
"When I moved to Brussels to work for the four-star Four Point, travellers who normally booked five-star were booking four star. There were also some who booked four-star switching to three-star, but it is switching back again.
"The five-star segment took a big hit whereas the four-star segment did very well over the period. Also, another segment that was hit quite severely was smaller meetings. A lot of big companies with their own buildings and meetings spaces where they could fit up to 20 - 30 would choose not have the hotel service, coffee, beverages and so on."
The meetings and events sector has become, arguably, hotels' most important revenue stream, over and above room nights, in recent years. Van Niersen says this will be true of the Aloft Brussels, but in keeping with the ethos of the brand, getting together with colleagues will be just a little cooler at his hotel.
"We have three what we call tactic rooms. They are small rooms that fit up to 18-20 people. There is a 50-inch flat-screen TV, you can play music in there and there is, of course, the Wii so people can play a little bit during the break. The pick up has already been very good because of the area we are in. I think it is going to work really well for us.
The Aloft Schuman Brussels has 147 rooms - 144 standard rooms known as Lofts and three suites, known as Breezy Lofts. Rates vary depending on the season, but Van Niersen says the standard room starts at 170 euros per night.
"Obviously, given the location and depending on what summits are on, the demand can be extremely high," he says.
The Aloft brand has already proved successful for Starwood in North America and the Far and Middle East, and further openings, including one in London, are on the horizon.