Aloft, a new brand of affordable, David Rockwell–designed hotels from Starwood, doesn’t expect a real-world opening until early 2008, but this past fall it cut the ribbon at its flagship property on Second Life (www.secondlife.com), an online simulated world with more than a million users. Starwood sees the virtual launch as a way to market Aloft to cutting-edge consumers around the world. Although the digital hotel doesn’t take bookings, users can explore its loft-style rooms and attend "parties" held on-site. How they hang out at the virtual Aloft hotel—and their feedback on it—will help determine the composition of the real-world properties. Aloft keeps tabs, for example, on which of its lobby magazines prove most popular. And visitors are encouraged to submit their opinions on the design—"too much Jetsons and Fahrenheit 451," read one recent complaint. In recruiting an army of armchair critics, Aloft seems to have found a portal to the future.
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