Interview with Michael Levie

„Follow the data flow and you will look at your hotel differently“

At the 11th International Hotel Investment & Design Club Forum (IHIDCF) we spoke to Michael Levie, Co-founder & CEO of citizen – the affordable luxury hotel chain – about the power of micro data.


AI, augmented reality, digitalization are the current buzzwords. Gaining and using data to support a tailored guest experience has been a topic at several panel discussions during this year’s IHIDCF. At the same time the data show that the majority of hotels do not have an innovation strategy in place.

Michael Levie: Hoteliers love acronyms and buzzwords. AI, augmented reality – blockchain is another one. But we need to be realistic, the hotel industry is dependent on the their property management systems and the transactional box has also become our data warehouse as well as the connector to all the architecture that sits around it. It was not designed for that. To give you an example: Someone checks out and the door lock sends this information to the front desk. But when you look at the details, you can find out much more. What is the temperature in the room, what are the lighting and television settings? So when you come back, I can choose a room that matches your preferences.


Which is step one of a data strategy?

Michael: We know today how to do data mining, but without the data we can’t do anything. So first of all you need the architecture of your tech system organized in a way that you can get to your micro data easily. Then you go a step further and find out what to do with this information, and then you can change your business process.


Have you changed things as a consequence of data analysis?

Michael: A lot of things. Once you look at the micro data you will start to look at your business differently. There are a lot of processes to improve, optimize, and a lot to learn about real guest behaviour. For example: Most hoteliers will tell you, they know until when to keep breakfast open, because theyknow. But when you follow the data flow you will get a completely different picture.


I missed the disruptors as a theme at the Presidents Panel. Is the competition of Airbnb something that well-known hotel brands don’t need to worry about?

Michael: Well, let’s face it, Airbnb is taking about 4,5 to 5,0 per cent of additional business and of course we are going to feel that, but not everybody is going to feel it the same way. Say if you own a convention hotel you are not going to experience that at all. I think it is more disrupting what is happening in the distribution landscape. A lot of people are making choices in the digital space differently and there are a lot of companies that are playing smart in this filed. The best example is It was not relevant 12 years ago and today they are a 99,9 billion Dollar company.


How careful are you about your brand citizenM and how do hotels maintain brand loyalty in the digital space?

Michael: We are very careful about the brand. That’s why we own our properties, because we want to have control. I think people are either uncommitted travellers or committed travellers. As an uncommitted traveller you go to maybe Amsterdam and you know you want to stay somewhere central, your budget is this and you need that. But if you travel to London every week, then you want to know that your hotel sits in a good radius of where you need to be. And if this is our hotel, you are not going to stay anywhere else for 20 or 30 Pounds difference. You will say: “When in London, that’ s where I am staying” – you are becoming a committed guest. The difference is loyalty. If you are big enough as a chain you can get lifetime loyalty. We are not big enough for that, but in our hotels the repeat clients are growing rapidly. People like our hotels. We are nice. Not complicated, just nice.