#TravelTuesday: citizenM's brave new world shakes up the status quo in the hospitality industry
A couple is asleep on the bed. Visitors flit in and out of the room. Some pause for a selfie with the restful duo while others gaze on uneasily. Further down the corridor, a room pulsates with deep house music. Within, a pair of twins pour champagne from magnum bottles. Everyone who enters the room leaves with a bubbly treat. Then there's the cosmic punch bowl, where drinks are dispensed into upturned oyster shells before it's finished with nutmeg 'moondust'. It's an entirely surreal experience, with bizarre scenarios that wouldn't look out of place in a lucid dream. I am in the Museum of Sleep, an interactive theatrical experience that takes place within the walls of citizenM Tower of London. The hotel is celebrating its grand opening and in keeping with its modus operandi, there's nothing conventional about this evening soirée.
citizenM is somewhat of a maverick within the hospitality industry. The Dutch hotel group laid its foundation stones with a property in Amsterdam and has since expanded its footprint to key cities such as New York, Paris, Glasgow, Rotterdam, and London. Interestingly enough, approximately 70 per cent of its hotels have arisen from the ground by way of modular construction. "When construction comes together at the end, you have everybody—the painter, carpenter, electrician—together at the same time in the building. It's a disaster. It's very difficult to manage. They sometimes ruin the work the other has done," says Michael Levie, chief operations officer of citizenM. Instead, the modular construction approach allows the hospitality group to build prefabricated rooms off-site before assembling it all together in a Lego-like fashion. "We have way less waste, only 10 per cent, where the average building site has 30 per cent of waste," shares Rob Wagemans, founder and creator of Concrete, the company responsible for the concept and interior design of citizenM hotels the world over.
When it comes to the rooms, you won't find a deluxe room, superior room, or junior suite. There's only one room category to rule them all. Riding on economies of scale and value engineering, the identical rooms mean that moulds of individual components can be made, ranging from the bed frame to work station. This uniformity in production is not necessarily a bad thing. It gives citizenM the power to customise the room right down to the warmth of each LED lamp. When you check in, you know you're walking into a room with a spacious rain shower cubicle, wall-to-wall windows that let in plenty of light, and a generous, incredibly comfortable king bed sheathed in crisp linen. Not to mention a fluffy duvet to rival that of any five-star hotel.
The room is also smartly wired to move in tandem with the needs of a modern-day traveller. An intuitive iPad—which CitizenM refers to as a moodpad—allows you to commandeer every aspect of technology in the room, from lowering the blackout blinds to tweaking the temperature of the room. The foolproof device also allows you to switch up the mood lights in the room, which is really a novelty, but one that hints at the room's inherent technological prowess. Set a wake-up call on your moodpad and you won't have someone calling you on your phone. Instead, the blinds part automatically, lights and flat screen TV come to life, while the speakers explode with sounds of trumpeting elephants and hooting monkeys. Only a true deadweight can sleep through this ruckus.
Keen to finish watching Season 2 of Narcos on Netflix? Plug in your own playlist on Spotify? Simply do so via Apple TV or Miracast. There are no cables to fiddle with. No convoluted instructions to decipher. Just instant gratification. The reliable, high-speed Wi-fi connection in the rooms makes it a breeze to stream online content. Radio and television channels are accessed via the Moodpad, too, along with a complimentary library of movies.
This technological know-how extends to the back-end operations of the hotel as well, where guests preferences are recorded and woven in the hotel experience. For example, if you set your room temperature at 21 degrees Celcius, any citizenM room you check into on future visits will mirror your exact preferences. Starting from next year, the system will also note guests' preferred television channels and showcase them right at the front of the entertainment lineup.
While technology drives the heart of the house, the quintessential citizenM experience puts art and design at the forefront of each property. Textural Moooi carpets lie underfoot while Tom Dixon and Vitra chairs hold court in the same space. It's explosive, colourful, and unabashedly playful.
At citizenM, more is certainly more. On top of designer furnishings in the lobby, you'll find plenty of contemporary art gracing public areas in the hotel. Guests standing at the self check-in kiosks need only look up to behold the kinetic light sculptures of Dutch artist-duo Studio Drift bobbing within a glass-encased airwell. Union Jack motifs and antique riding boots create a sense of place, making nods to British soil that the Tower of London property sits upon.
In-room mini bars do away with over-priced snacks and are deliberately left empty, inviting guests to populate it with their own ammunition. Instead, canteenM is where all the action happens. Open around the clock, the bar and kitchen serves up everything from salads to sushi. Nightcaps can be had at SocietyM, the handsome bar occupying the top two floors of this eight-storey property. Come up at sundown for spectacular views of the Tower of London, The Gherkin, and The Shard.
Where real estate is concerned, location is everything. For citizenM, their strategy of siting properties in the core of the city—close to main transportation routes, cultural enclaves, and key business districts—make them a popular choice for the independent traveller.
This dynamic Dutch hospitality brand shows no sign of stopping. With nine properties on the map and 13 more hotels under construction, citizenM's footprint in Europe and North America is set to creep into Asia. A partnership with the Artyzen Hospitality Group will see the group bringing their savvy hotels into this part of the world, beginning with Shanghai and Taipei in 2017. A hotel in Singapore is on the cards as well, with preliminary talks still underway. Speaking about the group's expansion plans in Asia, Levie said: "What I found so exhilarating is that if you are in Shanghai, Taipei, or the growth cities that we're looking at, we're one world. We see exactly the same trends, needs, and desires in people. We think we could be very successful in providing for the global nomads in those cities."