What Advisors Should Know About citizenM, a Hotel Industry Disruptorby Daniel McCarthy /
citizenM is a younger hotel brand, having entered the industry in 2008, less than two decades ago. The focus is on providing business travelers a unique experience built around the “new luxury.” Since its start, the Netherlands-based hotel chain has taken off, adding properties not only across Europe but in the Americas and Asia, too, with many more in the pipeline.
This week, Lennert De Jong, the company’s chief commercial officer, spoke to Travel Market Report from Amsterdam about the brand’s expansion, its unique position in the market, and what travel advisors should know about it.
Where does citizenM have properties?
The brand opened its first property at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in 2008 and started expanding shortly after, adding another Amsterdam property in 2009, one in Glasgow in 2010, and another in London in 2012.
Since its start, it has continued to expand and now features 21 properties in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The pandemic didn’t slow down the brand’s expansion, either, with new properties opening during the pandemic in Seattle, Geneva, and more.
There are more in the pipeline, too, with new properties in the work in Europe (three in Paris, one in London, and one in Rome) and in North America (one in Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington, along with three in Miami and two in San Francisco.).
The properties are based in cities that citizenM considers major business travel centers or “big gateway cities,” De Jong said.
citizenM Washington DC Capitol
What kind of experience does citizenM offer?
citizenM is luxury, but not the traditional definition of luxury. It is the hotel-version of the new luxury movement that companies like Netflix and Uber have blossomed into, the type of experience that is luxury because of its ease of use.
“Netflix is luxury because it’s always in your pocket. That’s the type of luxury we are doing at citizenM—modern luxury,” he said. Think luxury through modern technology, targeted at frequent business travelers.
“We are trying to convince that business travel population that you don’t have to have a miserable experience. Often we go to sites, we look at our competition. The only reason you stay at some of these properties is that you get points so at the end of the year you can take your family to a resort,” De Jong said. “There’s no consistency, the only consistency is you get paid a little bit every time you stay with points.” (citizenM currently doesn’t have a loyalty program but one is in the works, De Jong said).
Inside the hotels, citizenM’s room trend smaller when compared to the industry at large—De Jong said that is because most of the properties are in bigger cities—but are “efficient in design, clean, and contemporary,” he said.
The goal with every property is to offer a hybrid experience, a place to stay for business meetings, with free WiFi to work on site, comfortable furniture, 24/7 food and drinks available, and more, while also being able to live as a “mobile citizen” (citizenM for short).
The goal is to enhance the lives of business travelers, whether they are there for a day stay, an overnight, or a three or four week extended stay.
What makes citizenM different?
There are two major differentiations that separates citizenM from the rest of the market, De Jong said.
The first is that it provides a 100% completely digital experience. Everything can be done on citizenM’s app, a centralized mobile tool that does just about everything a guest would traditionally typically need an attendant on the phone or at the front desk for. Guests can book, check-in, open and close blinds, adjust room temperature, open their door, order food and beverage, and alter housekeeping options all from the app.
The second is that, with all those typical touch-points taken care of by the mobile app, the staff at citizenM serves as different purpose, mainly providing and facilitating a connection to the hotel, to other guests, and to the city that the hotel serves.
“We really have a human approach to service because we don’t have to do the transactional bit in service,” he said. “If that process is gone, the human can really focus on other humans,” and have the conversations with guests that those at a typical five-star hotel wouldn’t have time for.
That makes it easy for citizenM to facilitate connections with other travelers, whether through those staff interactions or through its app.
citizenM takes a different approach to staffing, too—De Jong told TMR that it doesn’t hire from the traditional candidates in the hospitality market. Instead, it looks to “hire nice human beings.”
“We don’t hire from other hotels, we hire a lot of actors, actresses, or musicians. They don’t have to have experience working as hotel staff. They just have to be humans,” he said.
It’s about connecting with its specific guests on a personal level. Instead of being something for everyone, De Jong said, the goal is to be everything to someone.
“We are willing to commit to our frequent travels if they are willing to commit to us,” he said. “Our goal is to be everything for someone – being really specific for someone allows us to foster that connection.”
What should travel advisors know?
Aside from the basic offerings to travel advisors—automated commission payments and invoices, the “kinds of frictions that we’re always trying to take away,” De Jong said—citizenM has also recently launched its own GDS code chain, GDS: CU.
The launch, which happened earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic period, reflects citizenM’s desire to continue to connect, and increase the connection, to travel advisors. It also reflects some of the experience that the executives at citizenM have, including De Jong, who spent six years as director of sales with SynXis by Sabre managing European sales and adding hotels to Sabre’s hotel offerings.
“They will see us more in travel agents shows, doing FAM trips for those who are booking us. I know sometimes hotels have a low relationship with travel agents, but for us they are very important. We are really on a joint mission with travel agents. We would never do anything to do anything to alienate them.”
citizenM Washington DC Capitol
What special programs does citizenM offer?
Aside from traditional hotel stays and business centers, citizenM also offers two special programs.
The first is a global passport, where guests can stay for 29 consecutive nights at a fixed rate at any citizenM property. That program provides an opportunity to work from anywhere, with free WiFi and 25% discount on all food and drink included.
The second is the traditional day pass option that has always been offered, but only recently has been highlighted because of the new work-from-home COVID economy.