HIX/THINX: Should hotels bet on the Metaverse?

In virtual and augmented realities, the term ‘sandbox’ has emerged as shorthand for the promise of unlimited possibility; a malleable playground wherein the only limits are the borders of one’s imagination. It should come as no surprise then that a leading Metaverse access platform has taken this term as its name, nor that the endlessly creative citizenM hotel brand has chosen such a platform to launch its digital reality debut.

“We are thrilled to be the first hospitality company to build in the Metaverse,” said Robin Chadha, Chief Marketing Officer of citizenM. “As a brand that has always pushed the boundaries and challenged traditional models, this new venture in The Sandbox fits not only with our brand strategy but also the commitment we have to the creative community and to our guests both online and in the real world. We’re excited to further explore opportunities in the Metaverse in the years to come.”

But beyond the headline-grabbing claim of being the first hospitality brand in the metaverse, what is the motivation behind such a move? And what will the consequences be for the designers who give this industry form? Firstly, it is key to define the metaverse – a shared, digital environment that allows brands and individuals alike to populate virtual space with whatever structures, activities or communities they please – and then to understand that creating hotel assets within this environment is not a bid to replace their physical counterparts, but to enhance them.

For a sector that has long championed the virtues of human interaction and in-person service, entering the metaverse may seem anathema to the cause, but it remains unlikely that guests will seek out one version in place of the other. Rather, hospitality products in the metaverse will tide a guest over between visits, extending the reach of hotels beyond their physical state whilst consistently engaging the community with experiences impossible in the real world. After all, who says a hotel stay must end when the guest leaves the property?

Keeping guests within the branded remit during instances when they are not staying in a hotel is becoming vital in a crowded marketplace, but betting on the metaverse will involve more than simply designing an environment and populating it with activities and people. Instead, it will be the degree to which real-world assets connect with their meta-siblings that determines whether this move is genuine innovation or a passing fad.

Along with the digital art collections and tokenised electronic assets that have become commonplace in early branded metaverse ventures, citizenM is planning to eventually translate its digital presence back into the real world via rewards for those who have engaged with the virtual hotel. From discounts and free drinks at the group’s in-house bars to a vote on the eventual location of a real-world project funded by these online experiments, guests at the meta-hotel will find that their participation does not end when they log out, creating a continuum of constant interaction.

As Chadha told Hospitality Tech: “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.”

Indeed, where a world untethered from pesky planning regulations and so too the laws of physics might sound like a designers dream, it stands that the most commercially successful metaverse hotel designs will be those that retain a grounding in reality, and connect both spiritually and tangibly with the portfolios they serve.

There will be space for spectacle, of course, but this must not overshadow the built portfolio, as it goes without saying that these digital efforts would be in vain should a guest end up preferring a virtual hotel over the mothership. It is also important to remember that these initiatives will resonate most with younger guests already fluent in meta-lite platforms like Roblox, and any hotel designer interested in venturing into this field should first ground themselves in the developing language of the medium’s existing user-base.

The opportunities that a metaverse hotel presents guests and operators alike are immediately obvious. The former can test a virtual version of the property before booking, engage with a community of likeminded guests and interact with their favourite aspects of a brand. The latter, meanwhile, gains a new means of retaining customer interest and an environment that advertises their real-world assets in a more immersive manner. However, just like the real world, it will be the task of designers to breathe life into these virtual platforms and turn engagement into experience.

How best to approach this brave new world? Check out the HIX/TIPS below for our Metaverse hotel toolkit.


Play the game: The metaverse has emerged first and foremost as a gaming platform, with early successes skewing towards game-like activities interwoven with branded content. Hotels as a house for games, with different activities in each guestroom that highlight design and service elements alike is an exciting prospect that encourages repeated use.

Synergise for success: A real hotel cannot offer everything its digital counterpart will be able to (and vice versa) but metaverse initiatives can help fill in the gaps and extend both a hotel’s reach and functionality. Identify the shortcomings of each medium and design with synergy in mind to cover all experiential and service bases.

Design to direct: Metaverse hotels should always work to serve the built portfolio. As such, any journey through metaverse-based environments needs to end at a physical destination. This interactive traversal of a digital environment is where designers can truly leverage their expertise in user experience best practice.

Prioritise Privacy: The metaverse is all about community and shared space, but the early concerns have largely orbited issues of privacy. Just like a real hotel, any metaverse projects should work to ensure discretion and security whilst offering a platform for safe interaction and socialising.