PSFK 2017 Speaker Interview: How To Appeal To The Next-Gen Traveler
We interviewed PSFK 2017 speaker Noreen Chadha about the idea behind building an affordable, boutique hotel that appeals to the next generation traveler
In the days of old, when people thought “luxury travel”, they thought private jets, a Moët & Chandon welcome, swan-shaped towels at the foot of the bed and a private butler in suit and tails. Pretty much like something straight out of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Fast forward to present day and the first thing people ask isn’t “is there room service?” but rather “what’s the wifi password?” After all, just like the age-old, “If a tree falls in the woods but no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound?” riddle, if you go on a beautiful vacation, but no one sees any instagram evidence of it, did you even go on vacation at all?
In other words, travelers these days care less about the shine of the lobby boy’s shoes and more about the experience the trip will shine on their life.
But who is this next-gen traveler? Defined less by a specific age bracket, but more by lifestyle and state of mind, they are urban contemporaries who are always on-the-go and looking for a perfect blend of comfort and authenticity. They might fork out $200 on a gourmet dinner one night and then chow down a $2 breakfast taco from a street cart the following morning.
CitizenM’s commercial director of USA Noreen Chadha has cracked the luxury-meets-laidback enigma that is the millennial traveler mindset. In her talk at PSFK 2017, Noreen will discuss the idea behind building an affordable, boutique hotel that appeals to the next generation traveler—someone who is mobile, tech-savvy and looking for ‘smart luxury.’
For those people out there who aren’t familiar with citizenM, can you describe what the company does and how the business concept came about?
citizenM was essentially born out of a frustration. Our founder Rattan Chadha came from fashion, he founded and ran a company called Mexx for about 30 years, and during that time he had about 100 designers on staff. They were always complaining to him about the types of hotels they had to stay in when they traveled. They were designers, creative people looking to be inspired and wanted to stay at sexy boutique hotels, but due to their travel budgets were forced to stay in more generic hotels such as holiday Inn or marriott. The question arose “why aren’t there any cool design boutique hotels, at an affordable price?”
How would you describe the ‘next generation traveler’?
We named them the mobile citizen – also where the name citizenM comes from – as they are urban contemporary travelers that are traveling to the big cities of the world, looking for value and comfort, but also inspiration and luxury. They want a great bed and a great shower, fast free wifi, no hidden costs in the room, everything easy and convenient, great coffee, great cocktails and genuine, human service.
When did your interest in the travel industry and affordable luxury first begin?
For me it was already when I was a teenager. We traveled a lot when I was growing up, and I was always fascinated by hotels, I loved thinking about every little detail and the choices that were made. So when I hit my senior year of highschool and it came time to pick a college, I only applied to one school – hotel management in Switzerland.
How has your upbringing, having lived in various melting pots and having an Indian father and Dutch mother, influenced your career path?
My father always taught us to “find our passion”, and emphasized the idea of finding ways to “add value”. I guess that thinking is always top of mind for me, and as CEO my father also perpetuates those values throughout our culture at citizenM.
What is the key to getting the best of both worlds when traveling – i.e. seeing the not-to-miss tourist sights but also getting an authentic local experience?
I always like to have a rough itinerary before I go anywhere, and making a list of a few “must sees” before I arrive, and then leave enough time and space for spur of the moment spontaneous activities, those are usually the authentic local things that you cannot plan in advance. By really exploring a city you will often just bump into things, or get a suggestion from someone you least expect it from like a shop owner or a bartender.
You’ve traveled to every corner of the world for your job. Which places have been most inspirational for your career and for you personally?
For my career I am always inspired by cool cities that have funky hotels and restaurants, I recently saw some incredible places in Reykjavik and Berlin. I like observing how other places deal with service/hiring and their attention to detail when it comes to design and aesthetics. I also spent some time in New Zealand in March this year and that was really incredible for me personally. So much nature, incredible views and not looking at my phone, tv, or a laptop for a while was really fulfilling. I also went skydiving there which was completely out of my comfort zone, and thus also very healthy! I got back and felt I saw things much more clearly.
What has been your favorite travel experience of all time and why?
Hands down a trip I made to Kenya in 2008 with my family. We started in Nairobi and then did several different camps, from eco camps with bucket showers to more luxurious ones. It was 10 days of pure quality time, no internet, no technology, and just spending hours and hours looking at nature and learning about the animal kingdom. Honestly a priceless experience.
What are some of the biggest ideas and shifts that we’ll be seeing in the travel industry in 2017 and beyond?
All the big brands are waking up and wanting to appeal to millennials, so we will see a lot of new concepts coming out of the woodwork.
The emphasis on local/authentic experiences is definitely an important one, perpetuated very much I believe by the success of airbnb.
I also think technology will play an increasing role and will continue to replace human contact. Front desk and room service robots already exist, and I also think the amount of services offered to guests via technology will continue to increase.
Modular construction (which we started with already in 2006) is becoming more and more popular as well.
Partnerships and collaborations (like Moxy or Edition) will also continue to emerge.
More transparency and (hopefully) more collaboration from hotels with local communities too. Not only putting a hotel in a city to house travelers, but also creating a home for locals.
What are the important consumer attitudes/behaviors around travel that you see shaping the marketplace?
Instant gratification, which is definitely a millennial trait, but I think we are all getting impatient and spoiled when it comes to waiting for anything. We want it all at a push of a button and that is definitely affecting our expectations when we travel.
I also think that ironically consumers are increasingly craving a “break” from our busy lives, wanting to switch off, meditate, eat healthy and take care of themselves. We are increasingly looking for places where we can feel at home when we travel, and I think in our ever changing world, wanting to hold on to the familiar. We notice in our hotels for example that if we put some old school games out in the living room like connect 4, people get beyond excited!
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt about the industry since you started out?
The industry is quite antiquated, and there are so many things in the hotel world that are still quite backwards to be honest. We have definitely realized we needed a re-design.
If you could go back and give the younger you advice about starting out, what would it be?
Don’t be so hard on yourself, and accept that you will learn things along the way, at the time that you are ready to learn them.
What can we expect next from citizenM? Are there any new projects in progress?
Lots and lots of growth! In the US, Europe and in Asia. We have an aggressive roll out plan and are also very excited to be launching some new initiatives related to our guest experience as well as our brand. Stay tuned! :)
Noreen is the General Manager of US citizenM hotels with a passion for exploring and eating out in the city. She helped launch citizenM in the US and is dedicated to crafting a unique and throughly modern guest experience.