15 hottest products of 2008: Aloft & Element Hotels

They're hip, stylish, have Wi-Fi access and games, and can make going to sleep a lot easier.

No, we're not talking about the iPod Touch, iPhone or BlackBerry Smart Phones. We're talking about hotel rooms. And not the type of rooms you might have encountered in your youth with 1970s style and the amenities of a police station. The stylish Aloft and Element hotels -- with self-service check-in kiosks and a touch-screen concierge -- are owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc., so you'd expect a good deal on a great room.

If you've ever stayed at a W Hotel, also owned by Starwood, then the Aloft and Element are like mini versions of W. Aloft, named because the rooms are like "a loft," have nine-foot ceilings, oversized windows and the wonderful beds Starwood is known for, at least at the Starwood hotels I've stayed at. Aloft rooms also have high-tech office and entertainment areas with free wireless Internet access, one-stop "connectivity solution" for multiple electronic gadgets -- all linked to a 42-inch flat-panel, HDTV-ready TV. Rooms at both hotels start at about $100 per night.

"Starwood's newest lifestyle brand, Aloft, is stylish, fun and affordable," Brian McGuinness, a Starwood senior vice president, said in a press release announcing the opening of an Aloft hotel in Phoenix. "With its urban design, aesthetic and loft-like rooms, Aloft Phoenix Downtown will offer an electric and eclectic experience targeted to younger, style-conscious travelers."

The chain is doing everything it can to attract young people. It has its own blog, and the hotels feature what the company calls "atmospheric public spaces where guests can mix and mingle" in such areas as a lobby, bar and fitness areas. While having such spaces isn't new to hotels (most have lobbies, bars and fitness areas, don't they?) Aloft at least gives them a hipper look.

While only 17 Aloft hotels exist now in the United States, and two in the rest of the world, many more are planned in the next year. A recession might not be a great time to open a hotel, and Starwood's McGuinness told the New York Times in July that while it's developing more than 90 Alofts in 10 countries, and most of them are already under construction, a few might have to be canceled.

The Element hotels look a little less hipster and a little more relaxed with a "green" recycling touch thrown in. The rooms include kitchens, so they might be better for families with children who need a snack or a quick meal any time of the day. Everything has a sort of Zen, healthy feeling. The free breakfasts even sound healthy: smoothie shooters, hot breakfast wraps, fruit, yogurt and cereal.

Only 3 Element hotels are open, in Houston, Las Vegas and in Lexington, Mass., but many more are planned in 2009, along with an Abu Dhabi opening in 2011.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job hunt at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com

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