Ovolo CEO, Girish Jhunjhnuwala

Ovolo Founder and Executive Chairman Girish Jhunjhnuwala was among the global executives to join the 2022 Australasian Hotel Industry Conference and Exhibition (AHICE) via a live-cross from Hong Kong to Adelaide last week.

Jhunjhnuwala spoke candidly about Zoom-powered construction projects, global expansion plans and the return of tourism to various markets including Bali.

Remote builds

Ovolo opened its first new-build hotel, Ovolo South Yarra, last year – a property that Jhunjhnuwala saw first the first time in person during a recent visit to Australia.

Jhunjhnuwala said his involvement with the build was entirely remote and that it was a “really good feeling” to see the finished product in person.

“We built a hotel on Zoom, pretty much,” he said.

“I saw the land when I bought it. And then after that, for the next two years it has been a construction [site]. I did it all over Zoom. It’s good to see the product come alive – and a great one. I’m so happy, I’m so proud of it.”

Mamaka by Ovoloso, part of the by Ovolo Collective, was another Zoom-centred project that opened in Bali in October last year.

Jhunjhnuwala said he was really happy to see the finished property and that tourism in the region has picked up quickly since borders reopened.

“Just two days ago, I spoke to my GM and he said, ‘we hit 100% [occupancy] again today’. International travel is definitely picking up in Bali. We’re really excited to see that,” he said.

“Literally three weeks after [borders reopened] a lot of the international flights started coming in and boom – the tourists were back in action and back to revenge [travel].”

Europe, Southeast Asia and New Zealand are among the key markets that Ovolo is looking to advance its presence in, according to Jhunjhnuwala.

“I think US maybe a little bit [further away] now, but we’re definitely focusing on Europe … so Amsterdam, Portugal, London, and across Southeast Asia. We are looking at how Bali has bounced back, and that gives me a great feeling and hoping that Hong Kong is the same when they open up.”

“We’re really keen on New Zealand. If anyone out there has a property that they think fits the Ovolo way of doing things, please reach out to us. We’re very connected to New Zealand, especially Auckland and Queenstown.”

Leadership changes

In March, Jhunjhnuwala announced that he was stepping back from the position of Chief Executive Officer to focus more on the branding, development, and strategic growth of the business, with Ovolo’s Managing Director ANZ, Dave Baswal, promoted to CEO. 

Jhunjhnuwala told AHICE that it’s the right time for Baswal to take control and it allows him to take Ovolo’s ambitious growth plans to the next level.

“He’s been doing a phenomenal job in Australia,” he said.  

“I’m very proud of [the progress in Australia]. We’re very happy to have him there. I’ve been focusing on the fun stuff and looking at more acquisitions.”

For Jhunjhnuwala, business has to be fun and it’s essential that customers remain at the heart of everything the brand does.

“It has become a passion of mine – seeing hotels do well. When we started building the [brand], it was just a totally different, unique experience of how we connect with the customers emotionally,” he said.

“We really understand today’s traveller. Ovolo is designed to work with customers. That is what works for us. And that’s the most important thing that keeps evolving, and we keep evolving.

“That’s the unique situation when you own the property and you manage it, because we are able to move fast. You can be nimble … we learned a lot from COVID in these last two years. We had our challenges, but we came out pretty good.”