Quick Q&A: Michael Levie, citizenM

BHN’s Piers Brown talks to citizenM COO Michael Levie about the brand’s evolution and expansion plans.

• It was great to experience a stay at your new Bowery hotel, what drew the citizen M brand to this particular New York City location, and what are your aspirations for the property?
“Since its founding in 2008, citizenM has upended the rules of traditional hospitality by introducing the concept of ‘affordable luxury for the people’. This starts with selecting well- connected locations in the world’s most popular cities, so business and leisure guests spend the shortest possible time commuting. When we began looking for our next New York location, it became clear very quickly that Bowery is an exceptional destination. We don’t want to be just another building; we want to become part of the neighbourhood’s fabric while showing New York’s visitors a different side of the city. citizenM was founded for the modern traveler, a person who embraces diversity and values creativity. Bowery is known for its rich cultural heritage and vibrant art scene – anchored by the New Museum and emerging art galleries – and was the ideal home for our new hotel. Each citizenM property draw inspiration from the local community and for citizenM Bowery we commissioned the New Museum, and its incubator NEW INC, to supply art for the guest rooms.”

• citizenM has a big expansion pipeline in the US, what are the locations planned and ​​why does this particular market attract the brand more than other parts of the world?
“By 2020, we will have around 40 properties either open or in development globally – more than doubling our current portfolio. In North America alone, we plan to open a dozen hotels, in major cities including Seattle, Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami.”

“citizenM provides affordable luxury for the people. Since day one it has aimed to create a new, hybrid hotel that answers to the frustrations of many travellers. Its secret is giving everything that they want, and nothing that they don’t. This means citizenM can keep its prices low, even in the middle of hyper busy urban centres. Our properties give every guest a perfect night’s sleep, an inspiring place to meet and a continuous reason to smile with genuine, friendly touches.”

“But the citizenM experience is about more than just facilities and price. It’s a new state of mind for a new type of traveler: people who value personal choice, modern design, friendly technology and the proximity to a city – for an accessible price. There is demand for this type of hotel in the US and across the world. citizenM appeals to them because of its approachable, down-to-earth and worldly wise personality. While it takes its aim of providing a stylish and affordable hotel very seriously, citizenM also has a sense of humour.”

• citizenM revolutionised lifestyle hotels with an ‘affordable luxury’ hotel offering over 10 years ago, do you think the brand is still as compelling for guests as back then, and why?
“Seeing that there was a group of worldly and well-travelled people who knew exactly what they were looking for in a hotel – and what they weren’t – citizenM was born to provide the absolute essentials brilliantly well. Over the last ten years, these citizens have kept moving and we as a brand have continually redefined itself too. It has done this by continually improving its main four focuses on super helpful (and simple) technology, cosy and identifiable design, prefab architecture and specially commissioned art. The third version of its rooms in just ten years is in the process of being completed, for instance, and its tech system has just been revamped.”

“Today, mobile citizens still want a positive experience at a competitive price. Lots has changed in the last ten years, but affordable luxury for the people hasn’t. citizenM gives modern US travellers what they really want offering them all the luxuries they would expect from a high-end hotel in a prime location, but without sky-high prices.”

• What have you learned during this time?
“Focus, focus and focus are the three ingredients it takes…guest satisfaction stands central, followed by guest satisfaction and guest satisfaction.”

• What changes have you seen in the guest journey pre-, during and post-stay through this time? Is the guest profile still the same?
“When we started the smartphone was barely out, so a lot has changed, especially in the guest journey. Tech has taken away friction and enables many conveniences in our everyday lives. The guest and their profiles haven’t changed much, they look for a differentiated product fitting their own lifestyle.”

• What do you think will be the main challenges for a hotelier over the next three years?
“Up their tech game to get to data from all systems and utilise this wisely. Learn and apply that data for guest convenience and recognition. Personalised service will remain the real thing….”

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