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04/18/2022

HT Exclusive: citizenM Talks Metaverse

CMO Robin Chadha discusses why the hospitality brand has decided to build a hotel in The Sandbox, a decentralized gaming virtual world.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor (Hotels)
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CitizenM metaverse

In a recent press release, citizenM announced it will acquire a LAND site in The Sandbox, a decentralized gaming virtual world, in order to begin building a hotel in the metaverse. According to the company, it is the first hotel group to purchase LAND in The Sandbox – a metaverse where users can create and monetize their own distinct worlds and game experiences on LANDs or non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that represent virtual real estate.

[Both EV Hotels and Wendy’s have also recently announced forays into the metaverse.]

To learn more about why citizenM has taken this step and what it might mean for the hotel industry as a whole, HT reached out to and spoke with citizenM’s Chief Marketing Officer Robin Chadha.

Why does citizenM think building in the metaverse is a good idea?
 
Because digital engagement isn't a novelty — it’s just how we live our lives now. The metaverse is simply a further acceleration of a dynamic that’s been emerging for years, in which our digital and real lives blur, and in which online and in-person are completely overlapped. This is a dynamic that we believe the traditional hotel industry doesn’t adequately address. It’s our responsibility to meet our guests where they are and continue to explore how citizenM can better serve their needs.
 
A good way to think about this from a guest-centric perspective is that when citizenM is exploring potential locations for a new hotel in the real world, we look at where our customers are going, and work to anticipate where they’ll go next. Our approach to the metaverse has the same strategic basis and it’s an exciting way to engage meaningfully with our audiences.
 
What does the company hope to gain from this new frontier?

 
citizenM was founded under a belief that hospitality must address the digital experience. Our goal with the initial foray into this particular space is to learn how hospitality needs to keep evolving, in order to better meet consumer behavioral shifts.   
 
We’re curious about who and how many people engage with us in the metaverse, and what they do in our spaces. We may also trial some new ideas that our team can then roll out in our real-world locations. Ultimately, we hope that our presence helps us to deepen relationships with our existing customers and develop new relationships that introduce more people to citizenM. We also hope it stimulates other new ideas and ways of thinking about digital engagement within citizenM, and the relationship between digital and physical, so that we can continue to serve our guests well and build loyalty. 
 
Why did citizenM choose The Sandbox?
 
We do things very intentionally at citizenM, so we wanted to find a platform that offers tangible value for our customers and that aligns with our brand. We did a lot of research and are still tracking Decentraland and other platforms, but The Sandbox felt like the best fit for this particular venture. It allows us to maintain intellectual property rights, it offers useful tools and branding options, it’s accessible from a range of devices including desktops — and it’s also a platform where we see our customers engaging. The Sandbox resonates with a dedicated and passionate user base, much like citizenM itself, so it’s a strategic decision on several levels.
 
Do you think other hotel brands will follow suit and build properties in the metaverse?
 
The hotel industry needs to recognize that the metaverse is an element of the blended digital and physical world we already live in every day. It’s no longer possible to ignore the ways that virtual and real overlap. 
 
We see the question becoming less about whether or not other brands build in the metaverse, and more about whether those initiatives will actually be part of a holistic re-evaluation of the hospitality experience and the guest journey. How will brands integrate their digital efforts into that broader strategy?