First West Coast citizenM perseveres despite hiring challenges

Over the summer, while the industry at large worried about how it would survive the pandemic and travel shutdown, citizenM was opening its first West Coast hotel in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.

The citizenM Seattle South Lake Union is one of the first to follow the company’s partnership with German project developer GBI, and is CitizenM's 20th hotel overall and first opening of 2020.

“While we always study a lot of market data, this location did not require much science,” said Ernest Lee, managing director, development and investments North America for citizenM. “We are a business hotel and are immediately surrounded by millions of square feet of office occupied by Amazon, Facebook, Google and the like.” Selecting the neighborhood was also made easier because the developers knew workers at these companies already were fans of the brand, Lee added. 

Pandemic Debut

The opening team was in the middle of hiring and preparing for a spring opening when the first Seattle COVID-19 outbreaks took place in late February and early March. “Over the next few months, the only thing that became predictable was how unpredictable every day would be,” Lee recalled. This meant everyone involved had to cope with impacts to the supply chain, availability of city officials and restrictions in movement, among other challenges.
“That said, the teams' resolve and creativity to overcome these challenges will always be something we are incredibly proud of,” Lee added. “For example, we would have never thought we could train people how to make cocktails over Zoom, but we did it and it worked. In times of crisis, teams either fall apart or get much closer together. For this hotel, it was very much the latter.”

The opening, Lee said, feels particularly timely. “Since the beginning, our hotels [have] featured many of the changes that owners and operators are just now incorporating because of COVID-19,” he said. “For example, two of the most common changes we are seeing today include introducing technology for guests to have control of their environment and a significant rollback in offering and amenities. These are not changes you can simply retrofit.” CitizenM has eschewed front-desk agents in favor of self-check-in kiosks for years, and the company’s ethos is one of “luxury for less.”

Art Centric

As with other citizenM properties, the Seattle hotel emphasizes artwork. “Art is a core part of our brand DNA and we worked with as many local artists as possible, especially in the most important areas of the building,” Lee said. 

The hotel facade is wrapped by a large art piece by Jesse LeDoux, formerly the Seattle-based art director of Sub Pop Records. Inside on the ground floor, the Native American artist Jeffrey Veregge (also a Seattle resident) contributed a large-scale, tech-themed mural in what the company is calling a “comic-book inspired style.” For the opening, a temporary photography portrait installation by local photographer Leila Fakouri was installed in some windows, celebrating nine creative, culture-defining Seattleites. The company’s long-time architecture partner Concrete Amsterdam and furniture supplier Vitra also contributed to the aesthetic.

citizenM Seattle South Lake Union


The business-centric hotel is located in Seattle, close to Amazon and Microsoft headquarters, the Space Needle, the Washington State Convention Center and Pike Place Market.

July 2020


Juriana Spierenburg




Hiring a hotel team in the age of COVID-19 can be rather overwhelming, especially for a company that hires based on personality rather than résumé, Lee said. “Finding kindness and empathy is hard on Zoom. When you’re [meeting] in person, you can use subtle nonverbal cues like someone opening a door for another or picking up a dropped object for a stranger,” he said. “Nonetheless, training over Zoom and developing a sense of camaraderie and teamwork was quite a challenge.  One of the ways we would do that was designated wellness days where the goal was to use fun  activities, like choreography or karaoke, to break people out of comfort zones and develop shared experiences. Whether it was discovering a colleague's hidden talent or just laughing together at how silly everyone looked on a work video call.”