Robin Chadha, CitizenM’s Chief Marketing Officer and son of the brand’s founder, Rattan Chadha. (c) Joni Israeli
You have just opened your fourth CitizenM in Paris, this one partly overlooking the Champs-Elysées. How did this project come about?
Robin Chadha – The development was quite challenging, as it involved transforming an old office building into two buildings. At the beginning, we didn’t really know how we were going to do it. But when you see the result, it’s a beautiful hotel
, with beautiful outdoor spaces, including a café and patio on the first floor and a rooftop on the top floor. Like all other Citizen M hotels, travelers will find the same amenities, the same technology, one room type. With 151 keys, it’s a small hotel for us, whereas we’re used to having establishments with 200 to 300 rooms.
Is this location a sign that you are now moving towards a more leisure than business clientele?
R. C. – Our main target is still business travellers who are looking for hotels that are well placed for them, easily accessible, like those we already offer at CDG airport, La Défense and the Gare de Lyon.
And this is also the case with this one. But being on the Champs-Elysées is a special situation for us, because we can also rely on a leisure clientele at the weekend. CitizenM Paris Champs-Elysees opened its doors at the beginning of September.
The pandemic has accelerated the deployment of technological solutions, which was already a priority at CitizenM, has been further reinforced?
R. C. – Indeed, we were the first to launch a 100% contactless application, whose development we accelerated with the pandemic. It allows you to check in and check out, to open your room and control its atmosphere, but also to consult the menus and pay for your purchases within the establishment. To all this we also add a description of the works installed in the hotel.
We’ve also published a guide to the city, with our recommended addresses.
How did you get through this long and troubled period?
R. C. – We didn’t close any of our hotels, that wouldn’t have made sense. We are quite efficient operationally, so we wouldn’t have really saved money by keeping the doors closed. On the other hand, we also wanted to keep our employees active. On top of that, we opened several hotels during the pandemic, including Seattle, Geneva, Washington DC, and now Paris and at the same time Los Angeles. However, the period also gave us the opportunity to review our strategy, to define a new business plan that will run for five years. The crisis was a difficult period, but it allowed us to refocus and come out stronger in the end. There are advantages to every crisis. When we opened our first hotel in Amsterdam, it was in 2008, in the middle of the financial crisis. And we survived!
What are the first results of this new strategy?
R. C. – We have launched new products, in particular the Global Passport, which allows you to stay in all CitizenM hotels, for a few days here and a few days there, for 1,500 euros a month, or 50 euros a day. We have already sold more than 200 of them, notably to a person who lived in Zurich and worked in Geneva. As a result, he returned his apartment and since then he has been sharing his life between the hotels we have in these two cities. For these nomadic professionals, we have also combined this offer with services in partnership with local players, notably for dry cleaning and meal delivery from a selection of the best sushi and pizza restaurants, etc. Today, based on this first idea, we are thinking about other things, for example subscription packages for individual travellers and corporate accounts.
Who would these subscriptions be for?
R. C. – In the same way that you have subscriptions for Netflix or Spotify, why wouldn’t you have a subscription for hotels? Let’s take a traveller who travels once a week, sometimes to New York, sometimes to Paris or London, we’re thinking of offering them this type of package. It may also be suitable for those who, with the pandemic, have left the big cities in search of more space, but have to return to the city frequently to work. In the same way, a company based in Paris that has strong relations with the United States could, for example, take 50 rooms in Los Angeles and 100 nights in New York, all paid by the month. We are currently in a test phase. We’re waiting to see how habits will evolve in the months to come, how business travel will pick up. But this is one of the major areas of reflection that we have today.
In the same way that you have subscriptions to Netflix or Spotify, why not have a subscription to the Internet?or hotels?
Concerning new work habits, are you going to start coworking like others?
R. C. – Not really. Our common areas are already well suited to mobile work. You have large tables equipped with sockets, a good wifi, and a printer at your disposal. Just before the pandemic, we even launched a coworking pass, by the day or by the week, in order to distinguish between mobile professionals and hotel guests. It was starting to take off, but the pandemic stopped this dynamic. In the same vein, as soon as we launched our first hotels, people would often come and sit down to work, and then started asking us to be able to reserve a table to hold a meeting. This gave us the idea to create dedicated spaces, Society M. The first hotel to offer meeting rooms was the Glasgow hotel, which opened in 2010. Since then, we’ve been adding them where we have the space. This is not the case at the Champs-Elysées, but half of our new hotels will offer them, for example.
What are the new CitizenM hotel projects?
R. C. – We are going to open 20 hotels, including 14 in the United States and 6 in Europe. On the latter continent, we are still waiting for two hotels in Paris, the first one near the Opera, in 2023, and another one in the planning stage near Porte Maillot. In London, where we already have two more, one near Victoria Station and the other as part of the renovation of the Olympia conference centre
. Finally, we will also enter two new markets: in Rome at the end of 2022, on Tiberina Island, and in Dublin in 2023, near Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. In other words, situations that are both business and leisure like in Paris.
As you said, you also have many projects in the United States. What explains CitizenM’s success on the other side of the Atlantic?
R. C. – The reception of our brand is indeed very interesting there, especially with regard to our small rooms. In New York, where our first hotel opened, travellers are used to having rooms like ours. But we were worried about how this product would be appreciated in Boston or Washington? Very well, the proof is in the pudding. In the end, it shows that a CitizenM hotel is more than just a room. It’s a lively lobby, a bar, art, art, friendly staff, outdoor spaces. We love outdoor spaces, we try to create as many as we can. But we’re also going to offer pools and gyms in Miami, because that’s a need there
Which American cities are on your list for future openings?
R. C. – We have
We have three projects in Miami. But closer to home, we are opening a hotel in San Francisco in November, in the Union Square area, while another is expected in the city in the longer term. Similarly, in Los Angeles, we will be adding a hotel in Hollywood to the one in Downtown. Next year, a second CitizenM will appear in several cities: Seattle, near Pioneer Square, but also Washington, in the NoMa district, and Boston, with a hotel with more than 400 rooms that will be the largest hotel in our group. Still in the United States, we are also building a hotel in Chicago, and we have also found a site in Austin, Texas. Finally, we have a very attractive project in Menlo Park. Facebook wanted to have a hotel on its campus and we were chosen from among the twenty or so hoteliers who applied.
On the other hand, unlike in North America, the Citizen M graft doesn’t seem to have really taken hold in Asia?
R. C. – We had a joint venture with the Artizen group, but we ended it because our interests were not 100% aligned. In the end, we will keep only one hotel in Asia, the one in Taipei. But we have stopped branding the Shanghai hotel. As for the CitizenM Kuala Lumpur, it is temporarily closed because the owner is having difficulties. Asia is a difficult market, with crazy property prices, especially in Hong Kong and Tokyo. This does not suit our business model. So we will continue to look at opportunities that may arise in this market, in Australia as well, but less actively. It’s not our priority like the US and Europe.
CitizenM kind of started the affordable luxury trend. With hindsight, how do you see the evolution of the brand?
R. C. – Indeed, we have been a pioneer. I would say we went from infancy to adolescence. When you look at our first hotel opened in 2008 in Amsterdam Schiphol and the last one opened in Paris, you see the difference. We have improved our services, added outdoor spaces. The arty collaborations have also expanded, the standard has risen. Today, our focus is on technology, with a large team dedicated to customer experience and digital. Affordable luxury has become a question of emotional connection with the brand.
We don’t have a loyalty program, because ours is basically our app.
What role does technology play in this emotional connection?
R. C. – I’ll use an example: we don’t have a loyalty program, because ours is basically our app. For example, travellers can receive badges for each hotel they visit. In the context of our city guides, we will reinforce the benefits offered to our customers with discounts in such and such a restaurant, such and such a shop, such and such a gym. While business trips will probably be less frequent but longer, we may add other services such as dry cleaning or advance luggage delivery. We are always looking to surprise our customers. C’That’s what’s interesting about building a brand. You can’t just sit back and wait.
Other lifestyle brands such as Mama Shelter or 25Hours have become part of a large group, in this case Accor. Can you afford to remain independent?
R. C. – Absolutely. Of course, what we do is capital intensive, because we almost always own our establishments. But we have powerful shareholders, such as the Dutch pension fund APG and the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC, to whom we sold 25% of our capital a few years ago. In my opinion, it is difficult to keep the soul of a brand in the same way in a large group. I know how they work. They go to the owners to offer them management contracts by deploying their catalogue of brands. What do you want, a Mama Shelter or a 25 Hours? In the end, we can see that the founders of 25 Hours launched the Bikini resort brand in Majorca, and one of the designers of Mama Shelter is behind the MOB hotels. These are entrepreneurs who want to control their destiny. That’s what we want too.
I’m Michelle, and I love to travel. As a former hotel expert for one of the world’s largest hotel chains, I’ve stayed in nearly every type of room imaginable (including many that were not so desirable!). Nowadays, I am fortunate enough to be able to explore the world on my own terms. From international flights to learning different languages, there is nothing too far out of reach!