CitizenM Hotels - Smart & Pandemic Proof

The Netherlands-based hotel chain citizenM has always been at the forefront of business innovation and technology.

The Netherlands-based hotel chain citizenM has always been at the forefront of business innovation and technology. With its unique concept, style and innovative solutions, the company is able to differentiate itself from the competition within the hospitality landscape.  

The Netherlands-based hotel chain citizenM has always been at the forefront of business innovation and technology. With its unique concept, style and innovative solutions, the company is able to differentiate itself from the competition within the hospitality landscape.  

In 2020, this unique approach proved to be a real success factor to thrive through the pandemic, as the hotel chain was able to keep operations smooth and running. By making smart use of the in-house solutions and tech, the hotel chain has not only managed to ensure safety for its guests but to create new businesses opportunities by adapting the offer to the new needs of the post-pandemic travellers' market.

Smart Luxury - A Hybrid Concept

From the opening of the first hotel at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in 2008, the company has rapidly grown to become one of the leading city hotel chains in the world, with 36 hotels in 11 countries.

From the beginning, the concept developed by citizenM wanted to disrupt the traditional city hotel model. City hotels are often known to be pretty expensive, outdated and generally lack an offer that goes behind the pure accommodation. Trying to answer this issue, the hotel chain developed a new concept, aimed to make city hotels attractive, affordable and smart. They called it "Affordable Luxury".

Affordable Luxury doesn't only mean to make luxury accessible to anyone, but to make it smart, enjoyable and engaging. A citizenM hotel has all the benefits coming from a high-range hotel, such has quality in-room features and customer service, with distinctive extra features which are able to transform the guest experience.

All hotels are located in central strategic locations, making them ideal spots for anyone who wants to take full advantage of being at walking distance from major attractions, bars, restaurants, and has great transport connections.

Every hotel is built with the same unique design, which is instantly recognisable and reflects the concept of Smart Luxury. Spaces are designed to make people feel 'at home away from home', foster socialisation and have a sophisticated yet friendly design that makes extremely efficient usage of space.

On average, every citizenM hotel makes twice the number of rooms over a smaller floor area compared to other hotels. This is possible because of the extremely efficient construction technique adopted by the chain: every citizenM hotel is in fact entirely made of prefabricated rooms, consisting of modular blocks directly assembled on-site, allowing a perfect organisation of space. This wouldn't be possible without a centralised business model: the company in fact designs, builds and run all its hotels.

Smart Luxury though does not only mean great location, affordable price and high quality of the offer but a unique hybrid concept: for citizenM a hotel is not only a place where you can rest and spend your night but a place to relax, live, work, play and where you can meet new people. It's a concept that goes beyond the traditional way a hotel is seen, a concept introducing a new 'lifestyle'.

A Unique Vision and Branding

By redefining the way luxury is seen in hospitality, citizenM has created a completely new approach, reshaping the way hotels are developed, operated and experienced by guests.

All of this wouldn't be possible without developing a clear mission and an extremely strong branding strategy. The mission of citizenM is very clear: to become the leading transformational hotel chain.

To reach this ambitious mission, citizenM has decided to focus its efforts on a specific target segment: the 'mobile citizen'. The mobile citizen represents a wide group of modern travellers which are always connected, tech-savvy, smart and price sensitive. Within this group, millennials, young professionals and digital nomads represent the main target.

Reflecting the overall mission and the characteristics of the target audience, the company has succeeded in creating a truly successful lifestyle brand, which keeps a strong but fun personality.

We are what we say, and we say we won’t conform to old-fashioned standards. citizenM is a brand with attitude, and a strong but fun personality. A brand that connects with the young at heart, targeted to the global traveller of today. - citizenM

The concept of lifestyle brand goes beyond the traditional branding schemes, formulating an entirely new proposition for the target audience: the brand doesn't only represent the company values but directly connects with the lifestyle of the audience. The 'Mobile Citizen' is the lifestyle around which citizenM has created its brand. A dynamic and young lifestyle where technology, connectivity and fun represent the core values.

This lifestyle is smoothly blended into the brand design: from the colourful, stylish and arty hotel spaces, to the smart and techy in-room solutions to the user-friendly website and in-app features to manage reservations, everything is shaped in accordance to the needs of the mobile citizen.

Smart Solutions and Contactless Experiences

Having clear in mind the needs of mobile citizens, citizenM has developed the whole customer experience around their lifestyle, developing efficient and cost-effective technology solutions directly in-house. These solutions are integrated along the whole customer journey, from reservations to check-in and checkout.

A Smooth and User-Friendly Website Experience

CitizenM has developed a website that is not only elegant and modern in design but is extremely user-friendly and efficient, enabling customers to make direct reservations in just a few clicks. Each reservation can be personalised with add-ons such as breakfast and late checkout.

Every now and then special offers are created with discounts on room rates and deals on local shops, restaurants and activities. Every customer is always sure to get the lowest possible rate, as reservations are dealt with internally without any further commission.

Blending Artificial and Human Intelligence

The website also uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to answer customers enquiries, integrating a chatbot that allows guests to receive ultra-fast answers on a variety of topics ranging from opening times to room availability and recent updates and offers.

If the chatbot isn't able to find an answer to the customer's request, a real human from the customer service takes over the conversation, ensuring 24/7 customer support. Alternating the use of artificial and human intelligence allows citizenM to improve efficiency, reduce costs and ultimately improve customer experience.

Contactless Smart Technology

Smart technology also plays a key role during the actual stay of the guest. Here, technology is mainly used to ensure a comfortable and smooth guest experience.

Already before arrival, citizeM allows the guest to do an online check-in through the website or app:  after the check-in is completed, guests receive a QR code that can be used on arrival to pick up the room key, and all in less than 20 seconds.

The contactless experience is not only limited to the check-in but pervades the whole in-room experience. In fact, at the centre of the guest in-room experience, lies the 'MoodPad', a tablet which allows guests to control in-room features, such as lights, temperature blinds and smart tv, all without getting out of bed.

With the launch of the new citizenM app (which we will talk about later) the contactless experience has become even smoother, allowing guests to use one central hub to book, check-in and organise their whole stay.

The adoption of smart and contactless technology doesn't only help citizenM to improve the guest experience and efficiency, but also act as a unique differentiator, allowing the company to differentiate its offer from the competition.

Thriving Through the Pandemic - Technology as a Competitive Advantage

As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the globe, citizenM found that the smart technologies they were relying on weren't only a tool to improve the customer experience, but could become a true competitive advantage for the company.

By relying on an intelligent mix of technology and smart, flexible and creative solutions, citizenM was able to tap into the new needs of the market, making their offer even stronger and ready to tackle the pandemic by ensuring customers safety and premium guest experience.


An App for a Safe and Contactless Guest Experience

At the core of the new guest experience lies the citizenM App. Developed in-house by the company, the app allows guests to use one central hub to run all operations, from booking a room to the check-in and the organisation of every aspect of the stay.

First of all, the app can be used to book rooms in any of the hotels: compared to the website, the app contains extra discounts that can be used on standard room rates. Before the arrival, the app lets the guest the possibility to select a specific room on the way to the hotel.

The app also allows guests to do rapid check-ins before arrival, reducing the risk coming from in-person check-ins. Once at the hotel, the app can be used to unlock the room and control all in-room features such as lights, blinds and temperature. The app can also be used as a remote controller for in-room entertainment. By controlling every feature from their smartphone, guests don't need to touch surfaces, considerably decreasing any risk of infection.

The app is also used to make payments for all in-hotel purchases and, for example, to ask for in-room services such as cleaning and wake-up calls. In this way, service stays efficient and human interaction is limited to when it's really needed.

CitizenM though didn't only think about safety whilst developing the app, but also about upgrading the customer experience. As travel restrictions pushed many guests to extend their stay, citizenM has thought to provide them with in-app tips to explore the best the city has to offer in terms of attractions, experiences, and things to do, all with a focus on safe and fun experiences.

To invite the guests to explore the city, the app includes local perks like restaurant discounts and gym passes within themed lists such 'best green spaces in town' or 'after work bites'.

With such a comprehensive app, citizenM is not only able to enhance safety standards and optimise the efficiency of operations, but is also capable to add value to the customer experience, giving guests the opportunity to have everything at their fingertips. The citizenM app is an excellent example of how technology can become a crucial competitive advantage for any hospitality and tourism business on the way out of the crisis.

Creating Competitive Advantage through Flexible Solutions

If the citizenM app is a demonstration of how technology can be a true game-changer when it comes to safety and customer experience, the adaptation of the offer with flexible and creative solutions is another critical success factor helping the company to thrive through the pandemic.

Alongside safety, the company has also put flexibility at the core of its updated offer. With travel disruptions on the agenda for almost everyone, the chain responded by developing intelligent flexible plans for its guests.

Taking bold action in this direction citizenM gives the opportunity to customers get free cancellation on every booking till the end of 2020. Guests can in fact cancel or modify any booking up to 2.00 PM on arrival day, with no extra charge. Cancellations are made smooth and efficient through both the dedicated website page and citizenM app, with customer service available 24/7. This extremely flexible offer not only boosts customer confidence but also sets aside citizenM from the competition.

Product Diversification and Innovation

The concept of flexibility, even if important, wasn't considered enough by citizenM to attract new guests. The company took even bolder actions by developing new creative and flexible offers for its customers, focusing on product diversification and innovation.

Tapping into the new trend represented by remote working, citizenM developed a clever hospitality-concept addressing a new market segment: remote workers. Knowing the hassles many people are experiencing by working from home, the hotel chain has opened up its rooms for daily bookings. Anyone can now book a room for a day at extremely competitive rates, benefiting from '10 hours of quiet bliss', ultra-fast free wifi and all the in-room features coming with a traditional booking.

Time alone is the new affordable luxury - citizenM

The approach developed by citizenM represents an excellent example of product diversification: by targeting a new segment, the company was able to create a new business stream, tapping into the new needs of the market and attracting a completely new audience.

For the company, product diversification goes hand in hand with product innovation, two concepts that are at the core of two other popular initiatives citizenM has developed to make the offer even more appealing to its guests: 'No-flight Gateways' and 'Global Passport'.

Partnering with local experience providers and tour operators, the 'No-flight Getaways' initiative aims to tap into the staycation trend by providing guests with exclusive deals on local activities and experiences. For this, citizenM has created special packages including accommodation, guided tours and deals with partners around every city. The initiative broadens the spectrum of action of the hotel chain, creating new synergies with local stakeholders and enriching the guest experience.

Going back to the smart working trend, the 'Global Passport' represents another extremely clever initiative to respond to the new needs of the market. Thinking about their customer base, traditionally made of young and dynamic travellers, citizenM has developed a new offer allowing them to "exchange working from home for working from anywhere". The Global Passport in fact allows anyone to stay for 29 continuous nights at any citizenM hotel around the world, all at a fixed rate.

The initiative represents a unique opportunity for those travellers who do not want to give up travelling and working at the same time and is another excellent example of how to make the offer more appealing and flexible, responding to the new needs of the post-pandemic traveller.

Despite the company's ironic statement "we didn’t know we were building a pandemic-proof hotel", the success of citizenM is not only the result of the technological innovations adopted in the past, but also of careful strategic planning, where creativity, product innovation and diversification have been fundamental to develop effective solutions in response to the new needs of the market.

CitizenM ultimately represents an exceptional case of entrepreneurship and resilience, where careful planning, quick adaptation and strong branding blend to create a successful strategy: an example of best practice that every business in the tourism landscape should be inspired by.

Key Takeaways

Published on:
May 2020
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