Ovolo CEO, Girish Jhunjhnuwala

Ovolo Group Founder and CEO, Girish Jhunjhnuwala, is looking at expanding the company’s empire across new locations in Australia, New Zealand and globally, he tells James Wilkinson in an exclusive interview while back in Sydney recently, for the first time since the pandemic began.

Girish, welcome back to Australia. You’ve had a chance to see some of the makeovers of your properties and also your new property in Melbourne’s South Yarra. What have been the highlights?

There have been so many! It is my first time returning after two years, so pandemic or not, a lot has changed and there was definitely a lot to see. However, I do have to say that one of the biggest highlights is simply getting to see the fantastic teams that make Ovolo.

There are many faces – old and new – that have done such a great job and it was wonderful to get to see all of them in person, and celebrate successes in person.

With Ovolo South Yarra, you’ve again rolled-out a fantastic food and beverage offering. How important is having a neighbourhood-leading offering for guests and locals alike?

Ovolo is all about community – as lifestyle hotels, we consciously design our spaces to offer much more than just beds, but also creative and collaborative environments.

This is a part of our ethos of connecting with our customers emotionally. That is how we make long lasting impressions, and why our guests continue to come back.

Our hotels are meant to serve more than just tourists who need a temporary home, but also locals who should feel welcome to come into our space to work, dine, and be a part of the local community.

This is why our restaurants always have a separate identity to the properties they exist in; because we do not want to just offer a ‘hotel restaurant’, but a restaurant as good as any. A restaurant run by restauranteurs, not hoteliers.

This is how Lona Misa in Ovolo South Yarra has proven to be! Run by some of the best names in food and beverage, particularly vegetarian/vegan cuisine. We are extremely happy with the success it has come to be.

Over in Bali, your new property has also debuted. With Bali set to re-open to global travellers, what are your expectations in this market?

Even prior to the reopening of borders, Mamaka by Ovolo, our Bali property, has seen a great comeback with the help of the domestic market. Locals are enjoying our hotel, and our long stay packages have performed quite well.

Now, with both Bali and Australia opening to travellers, we anticipate many Australians will take the opportunity to travel to Bali, as it has always been a popular destination for them.  Our outlook is strong.

You’ve been on the hunt for new hotels both locally and globally. What’s on the radar for you, in terms of locations and preferred size of the properties?

Australia has been very successful for us, so that undoubtedly sits on our list. We are potentially looking at Western and Southern Australia as we do not operate in those areas yet, however also open to any great opportunities that present.

Another area we are open to are wine regions, and potentially lodges in these regions, as well as New Zealand and Europe will come after, hopefully.

As for preferred size, 120-180 keys is the sweet spot for us, and allows us to ensure a more personable experience to our guests.

It’s been an exceptionally challenging two years for the hotel industry globally. What have been some of your leadership learnings during this time and what are your expectations for 2022?

I would say one of the biggest challenges is managing the industry-wide turnover. Understandably, many people started to transition to industries less sensitive to the pandemic, and we had to work extremely hard on our people and communications strategy to ensure all employees were motivated and happy.

Here, I learned to place both guest and employee experience in equal measure and something that has caught my attention during my most recent trip was the importance of enhancing fringe benefits for our employees.

Another one of my biggest learnings is to maintain agile, and to never stop thinking. Just because the world was taking a break, doesn’t mean we had to – in fact, it was even more reason for us to keep working hard.

I will definitely take this learning forward, and continuously adapt to surprise our guests with bold moves like Year of the Veg, Quarantine Concierge (in HK), Restaurant in Room, and now Plant’d.

James Wilkinson

Editor-In-Chief, Hotel Management