A Conversation With... CitizenM's Robin Chadha
Though seemingly no longer a dream with the incredible growth of hotel chain, citizenM. The hospitality brand speaks for the eponymous ‘mobile citizen’ of the world, delivering comfort, consistency and bespoke design for incredibly low prices.
citizenM is overhauling the idea of luxury in lieu with changing traveller preferences. Guests are more mobile than ever before, in part due to the growing popularity of flexible working, whilst also engaging with technology in always innovative ways.
Thus, typically small rooms, but with the appearance of a five-star hotel. A vibrant communal living environment stripped to the essentials: super-fast, unlimited wifi, California King beds and beautifully designed bathrooms. Centrally controlled in-room technology via the MoonPad (aka an iPad) accompanied by free movies. No room service but check-in within half a minute. No minibar, but free bottled water.
And it’s clearly hitting the mark with audiences. Thanks to a financial injection of half a billion euros from Singapore based investor GIC, the company is now valued at two billion euros. Since its beginnings in Amsterdam over eleven years ago, the company has opened 18 hotels and welcomes through its doors in excess of one million guests per year. In 2019 alone, the chain launched four new hotels across three different continents.
We were honoured to sit down with citizenM co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer, Robin Chadha, to discuss how this visionary company is changing the way guests are thinking about luxury hospitality. He unveils his plans to tackle online marketplaces such as AirBnB, his driving belief in data and what it takes to truly run a hotel of the future.
Robin Chadha, Co-Founder & CMO of citizenM
The Businessman Extraordinaire
Chadha was born in The Hague. At the age of seven his parents, father from India, mother from the Netherlands, sent him for an international education in Scheveningen. The embodiment of a global citizen, Chadha studied in Washington, before entering the New York stock exchange as an Assistant for Van der Moolen. Chadha explains the frenzied world of finance wasn’t for him;
“Growing up in a fashion family, I realized that this was not the career path for me. I changed direction completely to work at NYC’s Tommy Hilfiger.”
From there, he returned to the Netherlands as menswear buyer for his father’s brand, Mexx. A passion for design-cum-hospitality provoked a further career change. In 2005, Chadha launched one of Amsterdam’s first dining, drinking and dancing venues, Rain. After three years of operations, Chadha joined forces with his father to launch what we now know as citizenM.
Despite a career of twists and turns, it’s easy to see in hindsight where the inspiration for citizenM lies. It’s a concept born of the frustrations of Mexx employees. Young designers with a travel budget that barely covered hotels in inconveniently located areas with a lack of service flair. Hotels for the dynamic, global citizen simply didn’t exist -- the void citizenM aims to fill.
Woven throughout the core brand’s DNA is the notion of “affordable luxury for the people”. Five-star service for low prices. Naturally, the question ‘how?’ is asked.
The answer; an ultra-customer centric focus with a stripping back of the superfluous. Prices are all standardised. Rooms in New York, for example, are all less than $250 a night, removing the problem of confusing room types and idiosyncratic prices.
Take the classic hotel restaurant. An unnecessary encumbrance according to Chadha. People don’t always want to eat at the same time and room service inevitably fails to meet expectations. Instead, 24/7 food and drink is always waiting at CanteenM for those on the move.
That being said, Chadha is clear, “CitizenM will never compromise on comfort for our guests”.
When speaking to Dutch magazine Het Parool, Chadha explained; "Only four elements are important in a hotel room. The bed, the shower, design and hygiene and the technology. If you exaggerate those things, you can leave out the rest.” All rooms are kitted with a two-metre by two-metre bed. Consistency remains key.
When asked how citizenM differs from its competitors, Chada emphasised the brand’s ethos; “The belief that we are all innately social creations”. A belief manifest throughout citizenM architecture. The 24/7 canteen, CloudM bars, the living room lobby concept and societyM meeting rooms animate public spaces with life and social connectivity. Living spaces double as libraries where guests can borrow or browse whilst the hotel lobbies exhibit the very best of local art.
Connecting the dots
citizenM aims to connect the data dots of an individual’s entire travel journey -- from their online journey, to their interaction with public spaces and all in-room interactions (via the MoonPad). Chadha commented,
“citizenM's ultimate goal is to improve guest satisfaction, and the company is doing so by tracking specific data points to tweak hotel processes to create a seamless stay experience.”
From using a footfall counter for influencing revenue decisions to analyzing climate control systems to finding the perfect temperature,citizenM capitalises on technology to better the customer journey.
It’s this deep understanding of the customer journey that allows citizenM to deliver the “affordable luxury” it so decidedly promises. In turn, says Chadha, it is what allows the company to stay ahead of the competition;
Speaking to A Hotel Life magazine, Chadha explains; “I think the most crucial part of positioning a brand; is truly knowing your customer. Only if you understand the lifestyle of your customer can you target and provide an experience that will be admired and enjoyed.”
His primary job his to truly understand the customer. To engage with each and every touchpoint as efficiently as possible. “The next step is to stick to your positioning and not lose your way, staying consistent while remaining flexible to expand on the brand’s values.”
When asked the biggest challenge citizenM has faced, Chadha replied, “The industry today revolves around the distribution landscape and new innovations within the sharing economy. At citizenM we pride ourselves on thinking ahead and being innovative.
We, therefore, embrace these new dynamics and find smart solutions when faced with a challenge. The biggest challenge is keeping up with the customer’s needs.”
It’s these fast-changing consumer demands that are continuing to stoke competition across the luxury sector. Hotelier heavyweights are fast-opening boutique soft brands whilst AirBnB elevates the importance of personalisation, convenience and choice.
Chadha doesn’t see AirBnB as a competitor. He is very clear that citizenM also caters for the business traveller, or someone who stays for a night or two, and therefore not necessarily the type who would stay in an AirBnB. Having said that, Chadha is clearly interested in AirBnB experiences; “it’s a great concept”.
It certainly seems luxury travel is at some kind of juncture. Technology and unprecedented use of data will allow luxury travel to break with tradition and deliver those once-in-a-lifetime moments in places further than ever before. But citizenM has shown this doesn’t have to be at cost for the guest.
When asked what the future had in store for citizenM, Chadha was unequivocal in his aim for the opening of more hotels, better use of technology and improved learning from his customers.
Will citizenM venture into the world of subscription services? Chadha’s answer vague. Perhaps subscribing to travel is the new norm? The challenge no doubt will be implementing this at the affordable rates now synonymous with Chadha’s brand.
Undeniably, citizenM offers a refreshing take on luxury travel. Constantly asking how best to improve whilst also implementing the infrastructure to change. As a value-driven company, entirely similar to Matter Of Form’s own culture, citizenM demonstrates the importance of brand identity and focus. With comfort, design and consistency evident at every level of business operations, we are more than excited for their new London opening in Victoria, 2021.
If you wish to discuss the content or hear our thoughts on how to put some of our insights into action, please get in touch via email@example.com and we would be delighted to have a chat.
About Matter Of Form Group
Established in 2018, the Matter Of Form Group is a collection of four award-winning agencies united and bound together by a common set of ideas and values centred around the mantra ‘Make Change Effective’.
The group consists of Matter Of Form, FORM Commerce, Diffusion Digital and Experience Haus with clients spanning the travel and hospitality, retail, property and real estate, wellness, lifestyle, third sector, B2B sectors and beyond.
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