Robin Chadha

Chief Marketing Officer of CitizenM

It began when Rattan Chadha, the Indian-Dutch businessman had a proverbial lightbulb over his head. As part of the Mexx fashion empire (sold to Liz Claiborne in 2001), he had designers travelling the world for work. But, being a thrifty fellow, he only allowed a very strict travel budget. So they would go to Paris Fashion Week and stay at the Holiday Inn Express. Realising there was a gap in the market for affordable luxury, he created the CitizenM concept in 2008, the central tenets of which were that the hotels had to be fun, young, luxurious and in great locations. Today, his son Robin Chadha is spearheading CitizenM’s new growth path, as it looks to expand from its traditional homeground of Europe into Asia. Here, he talks about what makes CitizenM so different and what lies in the path forward.

On being disruptive
It was necessary for us to be disruptive simply because we were coming from a different industry, which was fashion. That used to be highly delineated – there was high street and there was haute couture. Nowadays, there is a lot more cross-proliferation, like Karl Lagerfeld working with H&M. So we came in and found that just like fashion used to be, hospitality was very traditional. The surface may have been done by Philippe Starck or Christian Liaigre, but under the hood, it is still the same. So we started by asking ourselves what are the key frustrations of hospitality? Things like long lines at check-in. Extra charges. Too many room types. Tipping. Chocolates on your pillow. And we asked ourselves, how do we solve this? We didn’t set out to be disruptive, but it naturally became that way because of the issues we were tackling.

rsrsrobinchadha__1On the difference at CitizenM
So, at CitizenM, we wanted check-ins to last no more than a minute, leading to our check-in kiosks. We have just one type of room, which comes with an amazing bed, an amazing shower and where everything – lights, TV, heating, alarms – is controlled on one device. Our staff aren’t specialised; they are called ambassadors with multifunctional roles that could evolve from concierge to barista, waiter to housekeeping in a day, which means anyone can answer any question. Lobbies are usually a lot of wasted space, so we turned ours into a communal hub, where people can gather together and work. Our furniture and amenities are modular, so they can be re-used all across the properties. Our technology is also quite disruptive. Everything lives on the cloud and from our data centre in Voorschoten, the Netherlands, we can monitor and control every single CitizenM in the world, operationally and financially. We want to be the Apple or the Tesla of hospitality.

On Asia
Why not Asia? There are so many opportunities popping up all over the world, and most of them are in Asia. As a small, nimble company CitizenM as a brand needs to be in these key markets.  While we are almost always owner and operator of our properties in Europe, in Asia we partnered with Artyzen (the luxury hotel arm of Hong Kong’s diversified Shun Tak Holding, founded by Stanley Ho). Pansy Ho was looking for something that was a lot of luxury and a little bit hybrid, so there was synergy there. The first CitizenM in Asia will be in Taipei in April 2017, followed by Shanghai. And many more to follow!

On expansion
When we are looking at our expansion plan, we always ask ourselves – where are our customers? Where are people flying? Where are they going? Is it a conference city? A business city? Is demand more seasonal? Is there a key airport or train terminal? In Europe and America, that takes us to the key gateway cities – London, Paris, Amsterdam, New York – not necessarily secondary cities. In Asia, this would be places like Singapore, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur. The goal in the coming years is to hit 20 CitizenM hotels.

On the CitizenM customer
Basically, we want to give our clients a great, luxurious experience at a value price. We also want to be where it is hip and happening, which is why we opened in Shoreditch and Bankside in London.  Because our clients skew to the younger, newer generation. They are typically creative and business types that come into a city, stay for one or two days, then jet off to the next place. They are dynamic, multi-cultural, tech savvy, social, urban , urbane and plugged in – they know how to compare pricing in an instance to find the best value at any given moment. The M in our name stands for mobile; our clients are the mobile citizens of the world.

On his best and worst hospitality experiences
The best was when I was 18, living in Washington DC. I had to head up to New York City to accompany my father for some business. I was only given an address and I pulled up to the Royalton. Under Ian Schrager at the time, two guys in Giorgio Armani suits opened the doors and I walked into what seemed like a nightclub. There was glitter. People dancing. On tables. People smoking! I had to walk through all that to check-in. It was a real eye-opener on how different hospitality could be. The worst? I don’t want to name names, but I once missed a flight because it took so long to check out. I was like, you already have my credit card details on file! Why’s it taking so long? It’s one of the things we are trying to change with CitizenM – eliminating the bureaucracy and empowering our people to decisively react to any situation.


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