Overnight revolution: A new breed of luxury hotel is shaking up the hospitality industry

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

They deliver the things we need, the way we need them, says Mark Jones.

"OK. You are now a Citizen." Robin Chadha, a co-founder of CitizenM, hands me a black laminated card. All I've done is check into a hotel but Robin makes it sound as if I've joined some clandestine international movement. And, in a way, I have. CitizenM opens its new hotel on London's Bankside this week. The Dutch owners are already in Amsterdam and Glasgow; next is New York, then Paris.

Theirs is only the most out-there version of a new and fast-growing kind of urban hotel: one that's doing away with many of the things we've become used to for, oh, about 300 years or so. These hotels don't have check-ins, concierges, dining rooms, and they question something even more fundamental: the very idea of what "luxury" is and whether the star system is remotely relevant today.

Chadha points out the breakfast bar, then asks me to lay my hand on an iPad and repeat this oath: "I, a member of CitizenM, pledge to overthrow the existing system of hospitality wherever I encounter it …." I made that bit up, to be honest. But it's not that far-fetched. CitizenM is on a mission to shake up the business of sleeping, eating and staying.

On paper, they and the hotels like them – Yotel, Z Hotels, Qbic, Base2Stay – pose no threat to the big chains. "We have 85 rooms out of 125,000 in London," says Bev King of Z Hotels, which is just about to open its next outlet in Victoria. "A drop in the ocean." But the philosophy that people like King espouse is a challenge, and a serious one at that. After 25 years running London hotels, he was depressed by what as he saw as industry greed and extortionate charges. "Hotels," he says, "have forgotten a sense of pride in what they do."

CitizenM's slogan is Affordable Luxury for the People. All the rooms are the same because that's "democratic". So, at check-in you're not told: "I'm delighted to say that you have been upgraded from a superior luxury twin to a junior executive double." In fact, you're not told anything unless you are struggling with your CitizenM card. That's unlikely, though. You've paid up front and online, so you just swipe, get your room number and up you go. Chadha aims for a one-minute check-in and a 30-second check-out. If you need a copy of your bill, you can print "the world's smallest receipt". Going paperless and fuss-free is part of the mission.

So, I've seen the future; and it's not all that surprising when you think about it.

The CitizenM check-in uses the same technology as airports. Low-cost airlines are another obvious inspiration, only this time with fun and proper customer care. Part of the mantra is: don't be greedy – your margins will be high enough if you get it right. At Yotel, near New York's Times Square, you can still check in the old way – but 90 per cent of guests prefer the kiosks. On the ground floor, a robot takes your luggage and stores it in a glorified filing cabinet.

At CitizenM, you have to take your own bag, but it's hard to imagine many guests will feel short-changed. Think of the usual fuss, stress and palaver. A man in a uniform opens your taxi door and expects a tip. Another takes your luggage out of the boot before you can wrestle it off him. He expects a tip too. You queue at reception going through a tedious ritual of form filling and small talk. You finally get to your room and wait 10 minutes for another man to bring your bag. And you know what he expects.

That ritual is rooted in an atavistic idea of "good service". But Chadha, who put in his time as a conventional international traveller, doesn't hold with the word "service". It implies an inequality. In CitizenM's world, all are equal – cleaners, bar staff, cooks, all eat at the same tables as the guests. The porters don't, but that is because there aren't any: 21st-century luggage has wheels.

The living room is the main area of CitizenM. It's a low-slung, colourful space, part airport lounge, part student union bar. The first generation of urban-radical hotels took their cue from the Japanese capsule rooms and that very turn-of-the century obsession with minimalism. If you'd always wanted to sleep on the spaceship in Alien – or in a morgue – you were happy. Now things have warmed up. There are books everywhere, and the kind of odd things people – slightly weird people, perhaps – collect on their travels: a model puffer fish, a crocodile skeleton in a bell jar, a tiny Statue of Liberty.

CitizenM wouldn't exist without connectivity: M stands for "mobile". The Wi-Fi is free, of course, and there are screens dotted around. But the designers have embraced the spirit of therapeutic slowness. Its predominantly business clientele is on the go and online all the time, even inflight. Robin Chadha thinks – knows, because he is one – that sometimes business travellers want to switch off the phone and sit in a quiet corner with a coffee and a Grisham.

If you want to take your Grisham away and leave a Graham Greene, you can. The library works on an honesty basis, as does the food, placed in a 24-hour grazing area where you can get a Danish, sushi, sandwiches or a dish of something warm depending on what your body clock and metabolism are telling you. "I don't know where you are coming from," says Chadra, "so am I going to tell you when you come down at 9.31am – 'sorry, breakfast is over'?"

He's also not going to have waitresses bring you your cheque. If you want to fill up at his "pit stop", then leave without paying – well, frankly, you can. But he thinks people won't. And, as is the way in radical urban hotels, there's doubtless a cold cost-benefit analysis that says money saved on staff more than covers the occasional dine-and-dash guest.

The other, and crucial, piece of financial analysis is the room. The point about radical urban rooms is that they are not roomy. The smallest I've stayed in was at the Z Hotel off London's Cambridge Circus. Think of it as three strips. Strip 1 was a terrace, just wide enough to stand on. Strip 2 was the passage way, wide enough for a bedside table and a suitcase. Strip 3, the widest, housed the double bed and the bathroom. But here's the point: it felt luxurious. Firm organic mattress, 100 per cent wool-filled duvet, expensive lights, powerful shower. People don't spend much time in their rooms; the things that matter are a good bed and shower, and state-of-the-art technology. The CitizenM room is a bit bigger, a bit more expensive and the spec is quite a bit higher. You get a tablet which controls the blinds, the colour and mood of the lighting (party/relax/ romance/business) and a library of free movies.

The last place I saw that was this compact and luxurious was the new BA First cabin. That's no coincidence. When Simon Woodroffe – founder of the Yo! Sushi chain – got upgraded on BA, he came away with an idea. He'd seen capsule hotels in Japan and thought there was a better way. Jo Berrington, marketing director of the Yotel chain he created, puts it like this: "One: create transformable flexible spaces with great design. Two: create amazing luxury in a small space."

It wasn't a wholly revolutionary idea. In 1994, the Malmaison hotel group was founded to take on the Holiday Inns and Hiltons with the mantra "hotels that dare to be different". So, you got small rooms with massive shower heads, solid furniture and nice toiletries that you were urged to nick and a bar downstairs. It appealed to the urban "wet" crowd (those who spend lots on booze and food) and a new generation of business traveller.

The former chief executive, Robert Cook, has now taken over the De Vere Village hotels. He takes a big black box of a building, puts in a health club, a gastro pub and a Starbucks. The rooms, like CitizenM, are 18sq m. The bed is 2sq m housed in a wooden shack with surround sound and a 52in plasma screen. You begin to see how the new hotel arithmetic works. Add to that a "bloody good shower, fluffy towel and better linen", says Cook, and you have a formula that combines "great basics and brilliant touches".

All of which makes the old star rating for hotels pretty redundant for the new breed of user. Bev King of Z Hotels says his place wouldn't get a star under the AA and RAC system because the bed is against the wall. "As if," he says, "that matters."

Travel essentials

Staying there

CitizenM, 20 Lavington Street, London SE1 0NZ (020-3519 1680; citizenm.com). A double costs £113.05.

Z Hotel, 17 Moor Street, London W1D 5AP (020-3551 3700; thezhotels.com). A double costs £132.

Base2stay, 25 Courtfield Gardens, London SW5 0PG (020-7244 2255; base2stay.com). A double costs £124.

Yotel Heathrow Terminal 4 (yotel.com). A double costs £71 (12 hours).

All prices based on an overnight stay for two people on 20 July, room only.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit