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Starwood Hotels Explore Second Life First

The owner of the Westin, Sheraton, and W chains is testing out a new loft-style hotel with prototypes in the suburbs and in virtual reality

You won't be able to check into aloft, Starwood's (HOT) new line of moderately priced, loft-style hotels, until the first quarter of 2008. But in September, you can wander into the lobby of its digital Doppelganger inside the popular online world of Second Life.

Starwood, owner of the chic W brand as well as the Westin and Sheraton chains, is the first real-world hospitality company to open in Second Life, and joins a growing list of other companies who are using the online world to build their brand name, test products, or simply sell merchandise—albeit digital merchandise (see BusinessWeek.com, 6/27/06, "American Apparel's Virtual Clothes").