Think about arriving at a traditional luxury hotel.

You check-in at the front desk in the back of a spacious lobby. It’s elegantly designed, but serves no function other than to house guests waiting to check-in. The check-in process itself is tedious, and you wonder why it couldn’t be more efficient. When you arrive at your suite, it’s also quite large, and contains the standard set of amenities: a large desk, a chocolate on your pillow, and of course an outdated landline phone from 1997.

This is the model that hotels have operated under for the past 300 years, and this is the model that citizenM seeks to fundamentally disrupt. Co-founded in 2005 by Rattan Chadha and Michael Levie, citizenM is a “luxury hybrid hotel for today’s modern travelers.” A hotel where young, mobile guests can work, relax, play and be inspired.

The brand’s motto is to provide “affordable luxury for the people,” but this belies how it is fundamentally transforming the concept of hospitality.

The citizenM Approach

There is no concierge, no valet, no baggage handlers, and no room service. Chadha and Levie believe in “high-touch” service 一 but only when it actually serves the guest. For example, a traditional in-person check-in might technically be “high touch,” but adding 10-20 mintues to complete an administrative ritual isn’t enhancing the guest experience. So instead of a front desk, citizenM opts for a mobile self-check-in, with touch-screen kiosks in the lobby to process your reservation and room key. The entire check-in process takes only 60 seconds to complete. If you’re especially rushed, you can also check-in online, add amenities and extras, and receive a personalized QR code that gives you access to your room key. Your room keys also contain RFID chips that let them double as luggage IDs and a mobile payment platform.

Advanced mobile technology and data analytics lie at the heart of citizenM’s revolution in hospitality, but it does not pursue technology for technology’s sake.

“Intuitive technology can make the guest experience more frictionless,” says Michael Levie, “but technology cannot transform the guest experience by itself. We embrace technology wholeheartedly, but only insofar as it can make the guest experience more streamlined and memorable.”

“Mobile citizens want seamless technology and genuine authenticity, not in-room slippers or chocolates on their pillow.”

-Micheal Levie, Co-founder of citizenM

The citizenM brand was built with a very specific guest in mind. Before Rattan Chadha started disrupting the hotel industry, he owned a Dutch clothing company called Mexx. He wanted to create a hotel that his 20-30 something professional designers would want to stay in 一 at a price their market segment could afford. Chadha called the new venture “citizenM,” where “M” stands for “mobile.” Mobile citizens are international, forward-thinking, and socially conscientious. They are looking for a unique, streamlined and authentic hotel experience, at a price they can afford.

While they want their guest journey to be seamless and mobile friendly, they are less enthusiastic about traditional amenities such as on-site spas, large guest rooms, or in-room robes and slippers.

Chadha and Levie modeled their new type of hotel after these types of customers. citizenM is one of the first hotel brands to be built entirely from prefabricated rooms: Each room has the same 150 square feet of space, the same layout, and are all sold for the same price. Instead of excess space, the rooms feature a number of high-tech and high-end amenities designed to entice today’s modern traveler. These include a plush, wallto-wall super king-sized bed, a wall-towall window, futuristic rain showers, and Skype-based telephones. Rooms are also equipped with a MoodPad, a specialized iPad that lets the guest control every facet of their room.

Michael Levie elaborates: “The guest can completely and intuitively customize every setting in their room through an iPad device we call a “MoodPad.” The MoodPad controls the room’s lighting and color schemes, temperature, blinds, TV, music, and even pre-installed mood settings. For our loyal, repeat guests we also have an app that lets them make reservations, and check-in and out from their mobile phone, and also serves as a room key and handheld device for room settings.”

This laser-like focus on relevant amenities lets the brand deliver an authentic and luxurious experience while maintaining room rates that are 35-55% less than other luxury brands. As Chadha comments: “In the end, I’m a businessman. I’m not paying for a chocolate on your pillow that you’re just going to throw away.”

In many hotels, the lobby functions as a glorified waiting room for check-in. At citizenM however, the lobby is designed as a multifunctional social space, reflecting the individual culture and feel of the city where it’s located. The brand’s open-plan lobbies feature a “curated chaos” of designer furniture (including pieces by Tom Dixon, Vitra and Moooi), eclectic pieces of contemporary art, and kitschy artifacts unique to the property’s location. In short, their lobbies are designed to look like “the living room of a very well-travelled person,” with “books everywhere and the kind of odd things people 一 slightly weird people, perhaps 一 collect in their travels.”

The lobbies are subdivided into functional sections for lounging, reading, socializing, eating and working. Instead of formal restaurants and room service, citizenM has canteenM, a 24/7 grab-and-go-style eatery serving everything from coffee and cocktails, to entrees, snacks and breakfast 一 all organic and locally sourced. canteenM operates on the honor system, and because your room key doubles as a payment method, it’s possible to grab the food you want and go 一 without having to hassle a waitress for a check.

The public areas also feature unique coworking spaces designed with the mobile and tech-savvy “business nomad” in mind. Called societyM, these stylish, creative meeting rooms feature ergonomic furniture by Vitra, chalk and whiteboard walls, and all the free pens, paper, notebooks, coffee, tea, water and WiFi you could want. They’re also equipped with a Smart TV loaded with Clickshare, Apple Wireless, Windows Wireless, HDMI and VGA. Even if you are not staying as an overnight guest, you can make use of their coworking spaces for a modest daily-rate.

Using Technology to Revolutionize Hotels… and Hoteliers

citizenM has not only revolutionized the concept of a hotel, it has also revolutionized the concept of a hotelier. The staff is not siloed into compartmentalized roles, so there is no receptionist, no concierge, and no front desk manager. Instead, they hire multifaceted ambassadors who are empowered to help guests find whatever they need. Ambassadors are chosen based on their warm and genuine personality, and how well they reflect the mobile citizens that they serve. Michael Levie explains:

citizenM has an extremely entrepreneurial culture, where all ambassadors are 100% accountable and have 100% freedom to deliver guest satisfaction.We empower our ambassadors to provide extremely personal, warm and honest service, as one would experience visiting a best friend.

Levie was serious when he said that ambassadors had 100% freedom to delight their guests. He encourages all staff to engage in “ROAKs” (Random Acts of Kindness), where they take advantage of special moments to wow their guests. If delighting their guests involves a cost, the ambassador can simply ring it up as an “ROAK” 一 without having to worry about a strict spending limit.

Ambassadors are also supported by advanced data analytics. Levie elaborates:

“We use a system called ReviewPro that consolidates and filters all third-party data sources. Furthermore, all of our hotel systems are connected through our service bus/ middleware, which allows all our data to flow through one pipe. Additionally, we created dashboarding to intuitively monitor and accumulate all relevant and actionable data.”

The Central support dashboards take data from each room’s MoodPad, relaying information on virtually all guest interactions, including lighting, HVAC, TV, and auto-blinds. This means that staff will immediately know when the room is in order, and can proactively ticket all actionable items before they become an issue for the guest. Staff members can also monitor social media posts to ensure that its guests’ needs are being met. In one example, a guest tweeted that their MoodPad wasn’t working. Ambassadors were immediately notified of the issue through their reputation management system, and within minutes, a staff member was knocking on the guest’s door with a new MoodPad.

citizenM’s innovative combination of high technology, customer-focused amenities, and entrepreneurial service has been a hit with guests. They consistently receive rave reviews on TripAdvisor, with travelers describing the brand as a “high tech-modern art manor,” with “technology that rocks,” and a “flawless” guest experience.

And this is exactly why citizenM was built in the first pace. According to Levie, “Ultimately, everything we do is for our guests. Only through the measurement of guest satisfaction are we able to continue with improving this effort. […] Guests are the very reason of our existence.”