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Strathclyde Business School

CitizenM – redesigning hotels with you in mind

By Matthew Alexander - Posted on 21 March 2013

Marketing lecturer, Dr Matthew Alexander, discusses the recent guest lecture from hotelier, Michael Levie, and asks; should more businesses take a ‘blank canvas’ approach?

What does a blank canvas mean to you?

For a student, approaching an essay deadline, it might induce terror, while for an artist it might represent a world of possibilities.

And for a business?

According to Michael Levie, Chief Operating Officer of CitizenM Hotels, it should be seen as an opportunity to innovate, excite, and challenge convention.

Discussing the hotel chain’s establishment, which he founded with three non-hospitality specialists drawn from the worlds of fashion and luxury brands, Michael described how his blank canvas and ‘blue ocean’ approach  saw him break with the norm to establish a truly innovative, hotel concept.

Rather than imposing ‘traditional’ hotel ideology, Michael and his colleagues decided to start with the people most important to any business – its customers.  In combination with innovative construction methods, a wholehearted embrace of technology, and a contemporary approach to human resources, it is this customer-focused approach that underpins CitizenM.

Describing his approach, Michael outlined four key considerations in the design and function of his hotels.


Consulting customers throughout the design process, CitizenM found while people like large beds, they are less concerned about the overall size of their hotel rooms. The simple solution? Design the room around a king-sized bed.

With rooms no larger than shipping containers (and around 1/3 of the size of an upscale room) this means more rooms can be fitted into a smaller footprint.


The ‘shipping container’ approach to the chain’s hotel rooms also extends to their construction. A  standardised room means they can be built off-site, shrink wrapped and delivered to a new hotel ‘ready-made’.  Once on site these modular rooms can be stacked, as Michael says, “like Lego”, drastically speeding-up construction (by 50%) and reducing overall costs.

Technology and Service

As Michael puts it, “when you buy a car, you get to decide on colour, engine size etc, so why not do this in hotels?” SMARTpads in each room allow the guest to ‘customise’ their room, controlling lighting, blinds, colour, music and entertainment to suit them.

Free high speed wireless, free to view films and low-cost telephones, are all also included to give customers access to the same luxuries they have at home. Each room also has three wall sockets, one UK, one European and one American - a simple but effective innovation.


Staff are encouraged to eat their meals alongside the customers in order to break-down barriers between them and guests, while an automated check-in system, also gives staff more time to welcome guests and saves the hotel around 50% compared to the sector average.

An organic management structures also promotes innovation, improves motivation and increases employee retention through empowerment.

CitizenM offers a glimpse of the hotel of the future, and there is much to like. By eschewing the well-trodden paths of hotel design, and service, it is able to offer an upscale experience for mid-market prices.

By starting with the customer, as the example of CitizenM demonstrates, hotels can improve efficiency and focus activities on the critical areas of the service encounter. The concept has already generated considerable interest amongst competitors and alongside Glasgow, Amsterdam and London, the company are now opening hotels in New York and Paris.

CitizenM’s Success has been rapid and, who knows, it may encourage more hotel businesses to dip their toe in the blue ocean of innovation.

How can the hospitality industry do more to innovate? What is your experience of employing customer-focus to improve service? Let us know in the comments below.

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