CitizenM was founded by the ex-owner/CEO of fashion company MEXX, Rattan Chadha. Mr Chadha was struck by the uninspiring nature of hotel accommodation for his 150-strong design team as they travelled around the world researching fashion trends and visiting suppliers. His young dynamic design team were travelling on strict budgets and staying in traditional hotels that left them out of budget and uninspired. That’s when the concept of citizenM was born. Robin Chadha explains the light bulb moment that led his father Rattan to ask himself why the hotel industry hadn’t been reinvented. Why didn’t it reflect global citizens who lead dynamic lives? Further inspiration for the concept of providing affordable luxury for global citizens was in the form of H&M’s collaborations with luxury designers like Karl Lagerfeld. The founder and his team came up with a list of frustrations around the hotel experience (pre 2008, when the first citizenM hotel launched in Amsterdam) which included queuing for check in and check out, filling in the same paperwork every stay, the impersonal nature of a big check-in desk, the restricted restaurant hours … the list went on. Why wasn’t the hotel experience more customer driven?
Enter CitizenM, where technology and design have facilitated a 5 star hotel model in terms of comfort (the bed and shower are second-to-none) with pruning of unnecessary costs (a streamlined 24 hour canteen in favour of a heavily staffed restaurant) and self check-in. The practical rooms, as mentioned below, are clever pods that were built modular and off-site, meaning a cost effective build and efficient use of hotel space. The pods are complimented brilliantly by the enormous and welcoming social hubs for drinking, reading, watching TV, sitting by the fire or catching up with friends.
Arriving at CitizenM Rotterdam feels like embarking on an adventure. The wooden spiral staircase feels like a modern day entrance to the coolest cubby house you’ve never seen. We checked ourselves in at the landing level which welcomes in the harbour via vast glass panels. Glance left and there’s a sofa-surrounded fire place. Glance right and there’s a buzzing bar.
In between are some cool shelves, a red ceramic glazed gnome and few other oddities and trinkets. There’s no fuss here. We’re greeted in a non-pretentious and fun way – it’s more of a chat than a check-in. The room’s no fuss too. Our harbour view suits us just fine. Welcome Citizen Roberts indeed!
The accommodations are like a pod. The fun cubby house vibe continues and I unpack in an instant so I can check out the tech. The blazing sun across the sofas makes breakfast a two hour affair. Yep, there’s loads to see in Rotterdam. My list of must-sees is long. I’m just too relaxed to move. Faced with a book shelf full of interesting reads it’s not until hours later that I venture back to my pod – where I make the mistake of launching on to the way too comfortable bed and indulging in the hundreds of channels on TV. Maybe I should watch a film? Trapped again, I’m typing away here at long after 2pm and feeling plenty chilled and comfy. Everything’s at the touch of an iPad. The LED mood-coded lights, the room temperature, the curtains and blinds. It’s all touch screen simple and feels like a home away from home. It suits me. It’s my ideal hotel, because it feels nothing like one.
The bed dominates the room, which is a haven for intense chilling out. The button operated curtain and blind mean barely moving to get just the right amount of light and let the view in from the harbour side courtyard.
Delving a little deeper into the tech and design behind Citizen M, Robin explains that the hotels, which are all identical in terms of IT infrastructure, have a central Dashboard at the HQ near Amsterdam powered by a piece of proprietary software collating data from all the hotels. If the lights aren’t working in room 303 at the Rotterdam hotel, they – and the smartphone-enabled staff – know about it. Faults are coded according to importance. If there’s a problem with a shower the hotel staff (aka Ambassadors) know about it and are probably actioning a fix before it’s even registered with the guest. The iPad that is the central control panel for the room is out of battery? It’s flagged on the dashboard, but not urgent – in all likelihood the guest is happy to sort this one out, but if they can’t, CitizenM is informed and ready to respond. CitizenM’s hotels that are customer driven and responsive and I find myself asking the same question as Rattan Chadha pre-2008 – Why hadn’t the hotel industry been reinvented?
My discussion with Robin rounds off with a view into what’s on the horizon. A bulging list of new CitizenM Hotel locations over the coming years includes the Tower of London (July 2016), Shoreditch (September 2016) and London St Pauls (2019). Other locations include The Bowery, New York (2017) and Taipei and Shanghai through their joint venture with Shuntak.
The fact that we citizens of the world are increasingly global is undisputed. The centrality of customers to product and service industries and their increasingly consumer-led business models is also irrefutable. CitizenM fits perfectly, as you would expect from any fashion entrepreneur worth his (sartorial) salt.