Technology 12-15-2006

A Virtual Marketing World

By: J.L. Erickson

Taking Internet marketing a step further, aloft hotels is offering guests a 3-D computer-generated virtual tour of its first hotel but it’s inside the popular online game “Second Life.”

Set to open in 2008, the replica is the world’s first hotel brand inside a virtual environment in which players create digital alter egos and exchange virtual currency for digitally rendered goods and services.

The more than 350,000 players of “Second Life” can enter an aloft hotel and interact with others as they get a sneak peek at its urban-inspired, loft-like guestrooms, landscaped outdoor spaces and energetic lounge scene before the first aloft opens its doors.

Aloft’s brand debut inside “Second Life” puts an emphasis on the new brand’s technology focus, which will include large, HDTV-ready flat-panel televisions, plug & play (the aloft brand’s one-stop connectivity solution incorporating power and audio/video connections for multiple electronic gadgets) and Wi-Fi Internet access throughout the hotel.

The technological advances are just one way Starwood is seeking to set its aloft hotels apart, melding the DNA of W Hotels and a high-energy, select-service hotel category to deliver stylish design, accessible technology and a hip urban attitude.

Starwood has nearly a half-dozen of the hotels in development, including locations in Charleston, S.C., Lexington, Mass., and Philadelphia and San Francisco airports. It hopes to have more than 500 opened worldwide by 2012.

Marketing in the online virtual world has become a growing trend, with American Apparel recently becoming the first retail chain to open a virtual store in “Second Life.” Major League Baseball also created a “Baseball” island on “Second Life,” which hosted live television coverage of this year’s MLB Home Run Derby on virtual stadium JumboTrons while the event was simulated on the virtual field.

“The aloft brand is about providing an escape from the ordinary and reinventing everyday experiences,” said Brian McGuinness, vice president of aloft brand development. “Our debut within “Second Life” will give digital travelers a chance to dream in another dimension, and unwind their virtual selves in our social spaces, such as w xyz, our aloft bar. They will be able to provide feedback on our designs and self-service features like the re:fuel grab & go gourmet food area all before the first groundbreaking.”


Working to stem greenhouse gas emissions, the Adventure Travel Trade Association said its recent summit in Seattle was one of the first travel and tourism industry events to attain carbon-neutral status representing the point at which greenhouse gas emissions have been identified, measured, reduced where possible and 100 percent of the remaining emissions have been offset through renewable energy, energy efficiency and/or reforestation projects.

National Geographic Adventure magazine, Virtuoso and VAST! (Virtuoso’s Active & Specialty Travel partners) took the lead by sponsoring offsets of all carbon emissions produced during the event, including delegates’ travel to and from Seattle, their hotel stays, electricity consumption associated with the event facility and waste generation associated with the event. Offsets will fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in the Pacific Northwest and developing countries through STI’s partners Bonneville Environmental Foundation and MyClimate and will reduce carbon emissions elsewhere.

“Taking a leadership role in the travel industry means recognizing our responsibility to the world we live in and supporting programs that make it better,” said Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch.

Luxury Products Online

Amid continued growth in the luxury travel market, several companies have launched additional online sites targeting high-end travel.

Altour, a leading specialist in worldwide luxury travel, recently launched an easy-to-navigate Web site catering to luxury family travelers with upscale offerings to the Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii and Mexico by Classic Vacations. highlights luxury destinations and packages that appeal to multiple generations. The dedicated site also includes cruising options from Signature Travel Network.

Meanwhile, leading luxury travel network Virtuoso recently launched two international versions of its corporate Web site designed to reach consumers in 22 countries throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and Bermuda, as well as Australia and New Zealand. The sites, and, are dedicated specifically for these markets and reflect consumer demand for personalized vacation planning and unique travel experiences. The new sites mirror the existing corporate site but offer consumers the option of selecting the region in which they live to view a customized version.

“As with all of our marketing, our goal is to foster the relationship between the client and our member consultants,” said Clark Collins, executive vice president of marketing for Virtuoso. “By speaking to the consumer in their own language and presenting travel experiences that are exclusive to them, we manage to deliver a personalized experience via the Web and that’s not easy to do.”


Worldspan L.P. has expanded its portfolio of advanced airline ticket repricing products with Ticket Exchange Plus, a comprehensive desktop tool that walks travel agents through the ticket-repricing process. Available to agents from the Worldspan Go! desktop, Ticket Exchange Plus automatically qualifies the PNR, captures and pre-populates historical ticket data, executes recalculations, documents refund exchanges and completes the ticketing entry. In addition, Worldspan has upgraded its Rapid Reprice Select with a new shopping feature that lets agents shop itineraries that have not yet been modified.

OSSN Upgrades Online

The Outside Sales Support Network recently launched a new version of its Web site at, offering nearly 6,000 individual Web pages designed specifically to meet the needs of home-based travel agents.

“The travel industry changes by the minute these days, so it’s critical for home-based agents to stay on top of the latest travel information and trends,” said Gary M. Fee, OSSN’s president and founder.

Features include an online version of the OSSN Member Manual, an online WelcomeCenter with links to OSSN member aids and tools and a new menu to help members more quickly navigate the site.