Sasha Wood chats to Robin Chadha, Chief Marketing Office for CitizenM, about establishing and growing a new hotel brand in an already crowded marketplace
“A brand is a living thing that has values, heritage, personality, tone of voice and DNA that never changes. Human beings have all these things but a strong brand has them too,” says citizenM’s Chief Marketing Officer, Robin Chadha.
He is the man responsible for growing the hotel brand into a distinctly recognisable set of 13 hotels in seven countries (so far) since its inception back in 2008.
The group aimed to establish a luxury hotel brand with a unique identity that is predominantly aimed at business travellers. “We looked at the market and said ‘let’s disrupt this traditional hotel industry model’,” says Chadha. With his design partner at Concrete, Chadha set about deconstructing the traditional hotel model, deciding what aspects to streamline or change.
Not quite a ‘disruptor’ in the modern sense, the group is nevertheless showing how things can be done differently in the hospitality industry. It’s found a gap in the market for affordable luxury and it’s identified its core customer in the savvy urbanites and creative millennials that travel the world’s cities for work and play.
“If you look at strong brands such as Tesler, Virgin and Starbucks, they all have personality and a tone of voice,” says Chadha. He knows from his experience in the often fickle fashion industry that establishing a strong and unique brand identity is half the battle.
His family used to own Mexx – the US fashion company – which once had a staggering turnover. But Chadha says when they sold the company, the new owners made too many changes, forgot the core identity, confused the customer, and ultimately the brand was dead.
Chadha’s father’s experience running Mexx also provided the lightbulb moment that led to the founding of citizenM. Mexx was quite cost-conscious so when the designers and buyers travelled for work – to Tokyo, New York, Paris, Milan – they could never spend more than 100 euros per night on hotels.
This led them to stay in non-descript places right outside of the city centre and they’d always come back a little loose-faced and lacklustre. A gap in the market was identified for hotels that combine great design, good locations and top amenities at a price that doesn’t break the bank.
Chadha is very clear about what citizenM represents: “We’re accessible to everyone, we’re urban and we always offer value. We always try to be below the market,” he states.
The core brand values have filtered through to every aspect of the hotels from the design ethos to the friendly staff ‘ambassadors’ who are picked through a casting process and trained in every aspect of hotel management.
Its properties manage to be both smart and quirky. The living room – essentially the hotel’s lobby lounge – is scattered with the kind of interesting objects you might find at a friend’s house, and bar staff act with the familiar ease of flatmates.
The ambassador concept has also been very successful in delivering high levels of service: “In New York City we rank 9.4 for service, while the Four Seasons ranks 9,” Chadha proudly boasts.
He knows his customers too. Chadha says they have four core customers including ‘cultural citizens’ and ‘business citizens’ but acknowledges that we can be all things at different times. “You may be travelling for work, in meetings during the day but checking out the latest cocktail bars and restaurants in the evening,” he says. And the brand is designed to reflect that.
By walking in guests’ shoes, citizenM has also changed the way hotels traditionally operate. Self check-in has proved particularly popular, eliminating the need for guests to queue at a reception desk and instead use a kiosk to receive their room key in less than a minute. And by the end of 2019 it will have launched the citizenM app which will bypass check-in and check-out altogether.
“Everything we do is for the good of the brand, but eventually for the good of the guest too,” says Chadha. Following recent openings in Boston, Zurich and Amsterdam, additions in 2020 will include hotels in Seattle, Geneva and Washington DC.
You must travel a lot for work – do you have a favourite city? What makes it special to you?
I travel the world for work, which is fantastic. My two top cities would have to be New York and London. They are full of inspiration, subcultures, incredible food and beverage concepts, and both have an amazing art scene too.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I’m always working! I enjoy spending time walking the streets in Amsterdam, visiting art galleries, eating out with friends and family, catching up on reading and, of course, I’m addicted to my Apple TV.
You only have one room category at citizenM hotels…
It is a unique thing about citizenM that we only have one type of room. We’ve emphasised the bed, comfort and Italian linens, put in state-of-the-art rain showers and lots of natural light, but all our guest rooms are the same, offering everything you need and nothing you don’t. It’s much more about the experience and easing the journey for the guest.
Robin Chadha is the Amsterdam-based Chief Marketing Officer of citizenM. His career began on the floor of Wall Street’s New York Stock Exchange as a specialist clerk for Vandermolen. He then worked in fashion for a number of years. In 2005 Chadha moved into hospitality, launching Rain, a unique design-led food and drink experience venue in Amsterdam. He sold the business in 2008 to join citizenM, founded by his father and Chair of the brand Kul Rattan Chadha.