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Creative partners: how citizenM is reinventing the affordable hotel experience

From the cobbled streets of Amsterdam to the bright lights of Times Square, citizenM is reinventing the affordable hotel experience.

The prefab philosophy of budding Dutch hotel group citizenM has been met with resounding approval, particularly since opening in Glasgow in 2010.Starting life at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport in 2008 before expanding into the south side of the city and then over to the UK, the most recent address for the chain is citizenM London Bankside.Keeping the momentum going, this year will see the brand break America as it opens citizenM Times Square, while 2014 holds in store a hotel in the Bowery, one at Charles De Gaulle airport, and two more in London – citizenM Tower of London and citizenM St Paul’s Cathedral. Rumours also abound of setups in Hong Kong, Istanbul, Shanghai and Singapore.All of which raises a very valid question: how has this young pretender, in a notoriously difficult industry to crack, managed to expand worldwide in the space of three years?citizenM was founded by Rattan Chadha, the man behind the Mexx clothing company, and from the outset has peddled its very own brand of ‘affordable luxury’ as it caters to a new generation of technophile travellers. Borne out of frustration with outdated conventions in hotel accommodation, the hotel instead aims to provide an experience better suited to today’s traveller. In the words of CMO Robin Chadha, the son of the founder, it “started a revolution in hospitality”.The ‘affordable’ element of the budget boutique’s offering is the result of its prefabricated modular design which keeps construction costs low, with rooms built and furnished in the Netherlands in a factory owned by the company before being stacked, like shipping containers, on top of a living room space. It has also removed the stale conventions of the hotel industry, such as employing someone to carry your bags despite the fact you’ve probably just managed to carry them halfway across Europe without any help.It is the ‘luxury’ element of its offering, however, that has positioned it as a cut above budget hotel chains, and this is in no small part due to some of the inspiring partnerships it has fostered.Step into any one of its sleek open-plan lobbies and you will witness citizenM’s dogged commitment to high design, from an eclectic mix of furniture from Swiss furniture company Vitra, to bookshelves laden with the latest on fashion, photography, architecture, interior and graphic design, all curated by Amsterdam-based bookshop Mendo, the self-styled ‘candy store for book aficionados’, as well as branding by renowned Amsterdam creative agency KesselsKramer. The overall effect is not that of a stuffy hotel lobby, but an oversized living room.These partnerships play a large part in the brand’s approach to marketing. The company’s relationship with KesselsKramer in particular is “extremely important”, Chadha tells The Drum. “They are part of the founding citizenM family. They have grown along with the brand, and continue to be a driving force behind our creative decisions in every city we are.”Amsterdam as a city has also inspired the brand’s character and development – a strong foundation from which to launch its global expansion, explains Chadha.“Amsterdam is the birthplace of the brand, and definitely set the stage for the launch of a larger movement,” he says. “It was a great initial place to start as it is close to home for all of its founders, and an excellent example of a place where affordable luxury is sought after.” The brand has a multichannel approach to its marketing, with online and offline communications equally important, according to Chadha. “We invest a lot of time and effort in our communication to our mobile citizens, but also in the face to face conversations our ambassadors have in the hotels.”And the brand’s emphasis on conversations is evident in its approach to social media, which has played a “large part” in citizenM’s communication methods. “It has given us the chance to receive direct feedback, but also to connect to our guests on a more individual level,” says Chadha.“We have also taken a lot of the guest feedback from social media into consideration when building future hotels. The hotel is built for them, so if they have an opinion, we want to hear it.”THE PARTNERSRoy Rietstap, co-founder, Mendo“This partnership just makes sense. People who prefer citizenM over a traditional hotel will understand the difference between buying a book and visiting Mendo. And it works the other way around as well: if you choose Mendo over your regular book store, you’re gonna love citizenM.“We’re in the most wonderful business, spreading the love for all these beautiful publications about photography, architecture, interior, graphic design and fashion. And over the last decade we’ve learned that we’re not alone. We have connected with people from all over the world who share this passion. By means of our partnership with citizenM we are able to take a next step, to meet more people.”Hanns-Peter Cohn, CEO, Vitra AG“Vitra is delighted to partner with citizenM’s innovative and refreshing hotel concept. Our co-operation shall be beneficial to citizenM guests and offer them the memorable experience of living and enjoying this environment.”Camiel Bulder, planner, KesselsKramer “The founders of the hotel were fed up with the conventions of the hotel industry. The useless square meters, trouser presses and lousy room service. They believed a hotel should not be about how many stars it has, it’s about offering affordable luxury for the people by investing in what really matters for modern travellers: a large bed, comfortable shower and a luxurious lobby decorated with design classics.“On the other hand, the hotel they developed is built out of shipping containers, has no reception desk, nor room service. How to create a name and experience around such a dual concept? How to marry budget and luxury in one brand?“Conventional hotel brands mostly talked about themselves. This brand, however, values the needs of its visitors so much that it has named it hotel after it: citizen mobile. The hotel became a form of communication on itself, using design as a medium to communicate its philosophy in every interaction with guests. Everything expresses what citizenM is about, ‘affordable luxury for the people’.“A brand is the sum of all its actions. So while KesselsKramer’s involvement started with creating the name, it didn’t stop anywhere near there. From text on coffee cups, to shampoos in the shower, to wake up call recordings, all were developed according to the motto “budget meets luxury” by KesselsKramer.”

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