Interviews.

CityHub’s Co-Founder on crafting a localised experience

Sem Schuurkes is the Co-Founder of CityHub, a tech-focused hotel which offers guests a localised experience by digitally guiding them around the city

by Nicola Donovan, Click. Travel Writer, Booking.com

Topic: Guest experience

Click. Takeaway

  • By using smart IT solutions, CityHub can be run entirely from its head office – helping to relieve operational pressures and allowing staff to focus on the guest satisfaction
  • People are now travelling more and are less inclined to go see a city’s main tourists spots. By connecting them with locals, hoteliers can help enhance the guest experience
  • CityHub has found that a lot of their guests are more interested in the places that locals like – it gives them the feeling that they’re having a more authentic experience
  • When you give guests a great, authentic experience they are more likely to become brand advocates, leading to better review scores and word-of-mouth marketing

Sem Schuurkes, Co-Founder of CityHub

Combining the comfort of a hotel with the convenience of a hostel, CityHub caters to digital natives with its tech-savvy lobby and futuristic sleeping units. During their stay, guests can download an interactive app that enables them to request real-time suggestions from a local as they explore the city. But what can Schuurkes’ take on localisation teach the hospitality industry?

Click.: Why did you decide to set up CityHub?
Schuurkes: When we [Schuurkes and CityHub Co-Founder Pieter van Tilburg] were younger we would travel a lot and end up in either a hotel or a hostel, there was nothing in between. Hostels were always fun and you met a lot of people for a low price, but you also shared your room with strangers. Hotels were often more boring and the budget sector wasn’t so nice, so we saw the opportunity to fill that gap. We started with developing a module that we call a ‘hub’, which is a small, L-shaped room, and the rest of the hotel developed from there.

We had no hospitality expertise before opening CityHub, but I think that’s why we become a success – we thought completely differently than the traditional industry. I see us as more ‘experience experts’.

Click.: CityHub previously received the award for Best Innovation in Hotel Concept, can you tell me about the hotel’s technology?
Schuurkes: We use smart IT solutions to make all hotel processes automated, including check-in and out which guests can do via a kiosk. Even the bar is self-service and allows guests to draught their own beer or make their own cocktails. All of this is connected to the IT system which records everything, creates a tab and then charges the guests’ credit card upon check-out. By using this technology we can run our whole hotel from the head office, which helps relieve operational pressures and saves cost by reducing the amount of manual work involved. Of course, the city hosts and a manager are still at the property, but they focus on the quality of hosting and enhancing guest satisfaction rather than admin tasks.

We have an app guests can download that controls the mood lighting in their hub. It also keeps our guests and their city host connected. For example, guests can share their location and ask for tips on things to do nearby, and then the host can send a list of suggestions in real-time. So far we’ve seen around 80% of our guests download the app and engage with the hosts.

Click.: Why was it important to connect each guest with a city host?
Schuurkes: Although we’re a tech-focused hotel, we didn’t want to take away the human element completely. And because people are now travelling more, they’re less inclined to go see the main tourist spots. Our city hosts then help them pick the best local places to go based on what they’re interested in. What we’ve found is that a lot of guests are more interested in the places that locals like – it gives them the feeling that they’re having a more authentic experience.

We feel the most important thing is that guests have local guidance when navigating the city

We also wanted to be accessible to our guests 24/7. By providing them with the app and a portable WiFi hotspot, and connecting them with a city host, we’re able to give them real-time information so they can have the best experience possible.

Click.: Being a tech-focused hotel, how do you encourage a sense of community?
Schuurkes: In the beginning, we really wanted to try to create a sense of community at the hotel itself, but we’ve changed this a bit because we noticed that when people are travelling to a different city they are very active and want to see as much of the new destination as possible. We feel the most important thing is that guests have local guidance when navigating the city. The communal spaces are still there for people to interact in, but the city hosts allow us to keep that sense of community alive even when our guests leave the property. I think a lot of hotels now invest a lot in communal spaces and try to keep their guests at the property, even though most guests are there to see the city. We’ve taken the opposite approach and, for now, our communal spaces are less of a focus. Because we have the app, we can also communicate events to our guests and bring people together that way.

Click.: Without offering many ancillary services, how can you ensure profitability?
Schuurkes: With traditional hotels, the model is to get the guests in and then try to upsell. Besides drinks at the bar, we don’t upsell anything. We ask a price and then everything from lockers to the portable WiFi hotspots is included. I think that’s something that exceeds the guests’ expectations. We’ve found this leads to better review scores and word-of-mouth marketing, which can help attract new guests. Our Amsterdam property, for example, has a 100% occupancy rate year-round. You can also look at raising your prices once you have high reviews.

Our guests feel that the hosts are there to help make their experience better, not to try and sell them things, which also helps build that trust. People want to spread the word when they find something good, so if you can give them a great experience then they will become brand advocates.

Hero image: credit to CityHub

Nicola Donovan is a travel writer for Click.

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