CitizenM's launch of its guest-facing app, which has been in development for years, has helped to create a contactless experience amid the pandemic.
AMSTERDAM—Creating a seamless hotel stay for guests during a pandemic might mean going completely contactless, and through a yearslong investment in technology, CitizenM has been able to do that.
In June, Amsterdam-based hotel owner and operator CitizenM announced that through its existing tech investments, it was able to roll out features in an app to facilitate a fully contactless guest experience. Guests can now check in and check out, order and pay for food, pay room bills and more all through a mobile device.
Michael Levie, COO at CitizenM, said from entering the front door of the hotel all the way to entering the guestroom without person-to-person contact gives not only comfort for the guest but it also shows how serious the brand is taking health and safety.
He noted that the hotel industry has been lagging others in terms of implementing new technologies. The airline industry, for example, is already offering contactless experiences and the hotel industry shouldn’t stay behind, he said.
“In our digital journey as an individual, we get served up so many new devices or new opportunities (and the) hospitality industry unfortunately is not keeping up with the same speed,” he said.
CitizenM has always invested in technology, but because of the pandemic, it was necessary to extend that further, Levie said.
Each guestroom, or what the company calls “smart rooms,” uses middleware software to connect all systems, he said.
“In every room, we have what we call ‘room controller’ … that controls temperature, lighting, window treatments, TV. Because we are able to from end to end connect everything and influence it, we have now created the ability on the app to do everything touchless,” he said.
He said technology used in the hospitality industry is mostly property management systems, which are functional for administration and inventory management, but were not set up as middleware.
Building the app
Levie noted that creating an app from scratch that does all that CitizenM’s offers takes years. Having an app that is easy for guests to use is also difficult, he said.
“If you do not have consistent technology or the ability to connect everything, it’s almost impossible,” he said. “The app is the user interface part … it is sort of the last layer that you put on top of it to connect all the technology that sits behind. If we did not have the smart rooms, if we did not have the middleware, if we did not have certain things already in place, it would have been impossible.”
He said the hotel chain was already working on the app for several years, which allowed CitizenM to be able to serve it up so quickly now. One of the reasons it was one of the few companies without an app is that an “app for us needs to be extremely functional” before launching it and expecting guests to download it, he said.
“Now it has become really useful because if (I can do everything touchless) and I’m taking the risk of coronavirus seriously, then there’s a real reason that I’d want to download the app,” he said. “We started immediately throttling it up. We had everything on the shelf; obviously, it needed to be revisited for the specifics we’re rolling out right now.”
Because CitizenM is both owner and operator of its global portfolio, that allows the team to be nimble during times like these.
“If you as a brand want to control your destiny, which we wanted, we chose for the owner-operator model,” he said. “All our rooms have the same technology installed and we can upgrade software and are able to roll that out … immediately companywide.”
How the app can enable social distancing
When deciding which features would be on the app, CitizenM prioritized offering guests what they are already accustomed to, such as digital payment options, Levie said. Digital payments will help facilitate not only check-in and check-out but other experiences as well, such as food and beverage.
Now that dining spaces are reduced because of COVID-19, it’s essential that guests can order F&B from the app or reserve a dining spot in the hotel restaurant, he said.
Most CitizenM properties are in central city locations, and the app will act as a city guide helping guests find local green spaces, running routes and other hot spots as outdoor experiences will become ever more important during the pandemic, he said.
Historically, printed city guides were expensive to produce and sponsored by advertisement sales, meaning the content didn’t always show what was the best of the best but more who was willing to invest in ads for the guides. In recent years, concierges would be the go-to source.
“We know our cities pretty well and have gone out and looked at those places that we think are cool for you to have … (it) has now been a little bit more curated and digitized so that you can find the same offer wherever you go and you’re not dependent on that one (concierge),” he said.