HB ON THE SCENE: CitizenM ramps up North American expansion

CitizenM New York Bowery takes inspiration from its surroundings.

NEW YORK—With the opening of its second property in New York City this month—which is also its second property in the United States—CitizenM has officially launched its rollout plan for significant expansion in North America. With 12 properties total—CitizenM New York Bowery Hotel will be its 13th—the brand plans to add a dozen more properties across the U.S. and Canada in the next few years.

Robin Chadha, chief marketing officer, said, “From east to west, we’re doing Boston, Washington, three projects in Miami, two in Los Angeles, two in San Francisco, one in Silicon Valley and two in Seattle. It should all be doable in three or four years.”

Chadha elaborated on CitizenM’s North American target markets. “We made a list of key tier cities, looking at market dynamics, looking at economics, looking at hotel market specifics,” he said. “We narrowed it down to a short list and then we went deeper. The cities I mentioned are the main target cities. The only two or three that are not on there in North America are Chicago—we’re still looking—Toronto and Austin. But we’re open to other cities.”

The fact that the company’s second North American project is in New York, following the opening of CitizenM New York Times Square in 2014, shouldn’t come as a surprise. “We always have a strategy to do multiple hotels in a city. We try to do 1,000 rooms per city,” Chadha said. Indeed, CitizenM has two hotels in Amsterdam, and three each in London and Paris.

For CitizenM, the Bowery site was ideal. The company bought the site several years ago, knowing the evolving neighborhood would be the perfect spot for its prototypical travelers. “The location must be right: city center, very accessible, airport or train station,” Chadha said. “We’re upping the game now; I would say this is the standard for location going forward.”

In keeping with this, CitizenM revealed information about the location of one of its upcoming Miami properties: a 348-key hotel located within Miami Worldcenter, one of the largest private mixed-use developments underway in the U.S., occupying 27 acres in the heart of Downtown Miami.

For its part, CitizenM Bowery will be the tallest building in the neighborhood—according to Chadha, the area recently changed zoning, so it’s likely to remain the tallest—standing 246 ft. high. Designed by Amsterdam-based firm Concrete, the building offers a public plaza at the outset, with trees, benches and picnic tables, as well as an art-wall facade.

The hotel draws inspiration from the local community for its interior, which is filled with a mix of contemporary art, photography and objects from local artists. This is clear from the moment guests step inside. “We did a project with a photographer in the neighborhood,” said Chadha. “We said we want to find individuals who live in and around the Bowery.”

Photos of these individuals now adorn the building’s facade and the wall of the lobby when guests first arrive. The photographs were taken by Lower East Side-based activist and photographer Christelle de Castro. Her concept was to shoot 60 black-and-white portraits of people (residents and workers) who represent the Bowery, including Karen Wong of the New Museum, Linda Simpson, who was performing at the Bowery Poetry Club’s Drag Queen Bingo in the 1980s and 1990s, Michael Musto, legendary Village Voice scribe, and restaurateur Kazusa Jibiki of Bowery hot spot Lovely Day.

All guestrooms are the same, allowing for modular construction.

“That’s something that’s very important for CitizenM,” Chadha said. “We always try to find the local fabric of the community, the neighborhood, and try to be good neighbors. You can imagine if you’re living here a long time and all of a sudden a hotel comes in, it might not be so nice, so we try to blend in with the neighborhood.”

The lobby offers the brand’s signature spiral staircase leading to the lower ground floor, which features double-height ceilings, bookshelves designed around the hotel’s curated art pieces, and a 24/7 CanteenM bar. Another outdoor space is also available for guest use.

“Any CitizenM will have a similar look and feel,” Chadha said. “It’s very inviting, it’s very colorful, very vibrant. There are a lot of little elements that you experience as you walk through… The narrative for this particular hotel is a little more pop art because of the Bowery heritage of the art scene that took place here.”

As is the case with all CitizenM properties, the Bowery location will offer self-check-in/out kiosks and other technology features. “One thing we noticed when we started CitizenM was there were all these frustrations; traditional hotels were designed in a new way but they were still thinking old fashioned,” Chadha said. “We made a list of every frustration we had: waiting to check in, nontransparent pricing, all of the different room categories, bad water pressure in the showers, all of these switches and not knowing how to turn the lights in the room on.”

But the biggest was check-in. “There’s nothing more frustrating than an eight-hour flight from Amsterdam to New York, and then you wait in line. We have a check-in kiosk,” he said. This also enables CitizenM’s employees—known as ambassadors—to make more meaningful connections with guests, instead of merely taking their credit card information.

Upstairs, bright guestrooms offer king-size, wall-to-wall beds, an HDTV with a library of on-demand movies, plus streaming options and free WiFi. Guestroom art was supplied by the New Museum and its incubator, NEW INC. And, in keeping with the company’s tech-savvy ethos, the room is controlled by an iPad—blinds, TV and lights with changeable colors and mood settings.

“We have one type of room,” Chadha said. “There’s 300 of them, but it’s one type. We don’t have a junior suite or double room. It’s one room. Everyone is equal at CitizenM.”

Because all rooms were the same type, the company was also able to build them modularly. “There’s three main reasons we looked at modular: We look at the costs (with construction, if you’re doing the same room, there’s a lot of cost efficiencies); time; and, of course, the quality,” Chadha said. “You can really control the rooms.

“About half of the hotels are built modular and the others aren’t,” he said, noting that modular builds might be easier in the U.S. than in Europe, given the availability and space of the potential sites.

While North America is certainly a focus for the company—it will double its holdings globally over the next few years with planned developments here alone—Chadha noted that CitizenM is focused on Europe and Asia as well, with 40 properties expected to be open or in development globally by 2020.

“We’re doing three more projects in Paris, another one in London, Geneva, Zurich, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur this year as well; next year, there’s another one in Amsterdam and Copenhagen,” he said. “In total, we have more than 22 projects that are in development right now and looking for more.”

But regardless of where CitizenM sets up shop, Chadha said one thing will remain the same about the brand: “We’re not trying to be the cool kids on the block—we’re friendly and open to everybody. We offer a contemporary brand in the way we think and operate as well as value—always.” HB

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