King of Convenience

20th January 2009 (Last Updated January 20th, 2009 18:30)

Boundaries are dissolving to make way for a new guest type, who wants business sensibility and practicality on a budget. CitizenM CEO Michael Levie tells Nabeela Ahmed how the brand is tailored to suit the new hybrid traveller.

King of Convenience

Imagine a person who dresses in a pair of designer jeans, a cheap T-shirt and an expensive watch, drinks champagne on a night out and then takes the bus home. The typical hotel guest is more difficult to pin down than ever, according to Michael Levie, chief executive of the newest hotel brand on the block, citizenM.

The new lifestyle combines the excesses of luxury with business sensibility and practicality on a budget. This absence of one defining feature has inspired citizenM, a range of hotels to be launched across Europe for the new, mobile business traveller.

"We call them mobile citizens because these people are always on the road," explains Levie.

Convenience is the main aim for citizenM. The average business traveller is on the road for nearly 150 days a year and knows exactly what they want: a room with a comfortable bed, a power shower, a desk, free Wi-Fi and an efficient – though not necessarily spacious – room.

The average hotel stay for a mobile citizen is one night, so there is no pressing need for space, simply "a product that offers luxurious solutions for what the guest needs but nothing more".

CitizenM was dreamed up by Michael Levie after 18 years in the hotel industry, first with Sonesta International Hotels, and then managing the NH Hoteles' international, Netherlands and Benelux portfolios. Levie, together with a team of partners, conceived the brand after assessing what he saw as a stagnant mid-market hotel industry.

“We felt that the hotel industry business was repeating itself.”

"We felt that the hotel industry business was repeating itself. The budget traveller who had a smaller wallet, whether because of business restrictions or individual limitations, ended up in hotels that held no inspiration for them. If you look at the top segment, the deluxe market, there are plenty of choices. But as soon as a smaller wallet is involved, there's very little ambition or connection with what customers want, and we aimed to change that."

With a new crop of hotels catering for the mobile market, including the Japanese capsule-hotel inspired Yotel brand and Qbic Hotels – both launched in 2007 – citizenM offers another angle in an emerging niche market, combining comfort with affordability by minimising construction and distribution costs.

Levie welcomes a populous market. "There are several initiatives in which people have come to the same conclusion and we applaud that," he says.

"If there was only one budget airline, we wouldn't be where we are today, with a whole budget airline industry." In the Amsterdam location where the inaugural citizenM was launched, Levie is confident that he offers an alternative solution to those business or budget travellers faced with only five-star options.

"Hotels such as Yotel and Qbic are opening up a big potential market. The total amount of our rooms is insufficient to serve the whole market, so I don't think we interfere with each other. We fill in each other's niches, and there is plenty of space for all. It gets the conversation going," affirms Levie.

CitizenM has tried to tune in to the lifestyle needs of its guests, rather than follow a set template, by offering rooms for those with modest to mid-scale budgets, emphasising features such as luxurious furnishings and a catered lounge area, and working with big players such as Philips for the latest design solutions.

The initial plan is to roll out across Europe with 20 hotels in city locations, always accessible to, if not linked to, airports, to cater for the most mobile of guests. Amsterdam, Glasgow, London and Berlin will be among the first cities of the rollout.

The first hotel was launched in Amsterdam earlier this year. It is linked to the airport terminals of international and budget airlines, a mere 120m away, while conventional airport hotels still require a journey and waiting time, which defeats the purpose of convenience.

"People trip over us when they walk out of the airport," says Levie.

Service is the other key aim of the citizenM brand. Staff members, known as "ambassadors", welcome and assist guests without being distracted by regular chores.

A monthly incentive programme for the ambassadors further ensures high-quality service.

Levie explains that technology is now the best way to capture the modern, amorphous traveller. "The mid-market traveller is tech-heavy and hybrid; makes efficient use of the internet, is always on the road and can create an office anywhere for a couple of hours, so they need to make use of online communities and the internet."

“The mid-market traveller is tech-heavy and hybrid.”

CitizenM has space for blogging, facilities for guests to talk to each other and connections to social networks on its website, and aims to make use of this in reaching out to existing and potential guests.

Despite the high oil prices and credit crunch affecting the travel industry, Levie remains confident that citizenM has an advantage and demand will remain constant. "The low-budget market is always affected by rising expenses, as is the top end of the industry, but middle-market consumers, and especially people who have to travel for business, will always need somewhere to stay. Will there be a bit of change and adjustment? Yes, a little bit of a shakedown. But as we are in a five-star location [in Amsterdam], the economic situation may even have a positive effect on us, because we are an alternative solution for business travellers."

Despite the brand's emphasis on the contemporary hotel guest and on innovation,
the philosophy at the heart of citizenM is simple. A comfortable king-size bed, high-quality linen, a mood plan developed with Philips – which controls everything from temperature and lighting to the television, blinds and wake-up calls at the touch of a button – and a well-stocked kitchen and lounge area are the main ingredients of the citizenM experience.

"If we provide an environment like a home, people might use it more," says Levie. "It's an extension of the lifestyle of our clients."

CitizenM hotel opened its doors in June at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. A second will open in Amsterdam in April 2009, followed by a third in autumn 2009 in Glasgow, UK.