Exclusive: Ovolo Group CEO Girish Jhunjhnuwala details global expansion

Founder and CEO of the Ovolo Group, Girish Jhunjhnuwalaplans to expand the company’s empire through new locations in Australia, New Zealand and around the world, he said James Wilkinson in an exclusive interview when he returned to Sydney recently, for the first time since the pandemic began.

Girish, welcome to Australia. You had the chance to see some of your property makeovers as well as your new property in Melbourne’s South Yarra. What were the highlights?

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

Many faces – old and new – did such a great job and it was wonderful to be able to see them all in person and celebrate the successes in person.

With Ovolo South Yarra, you have once again rolled out a fantastic catering offer. How important is having a leading offering for customers and residents?

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

This is part of our philosophy of emotional connection with our customers. This is how we make lasting impressions and keep our customers coming back.

Our hotels are intended to serve more than tourists who need temporary accommodation, but also locals who should feel welcome in our space to work, dine and be part of the local community.

This is why our restaurants always have an identity distinct from the properties in which they exist; because we don’t just want to offer a ‘hotel restaurant’, but a restaurant like any other. A restaurant run by restaurateurs and not hoteliers.

This is how Lona Misa in Ovolo South Yarra turned out to be! Run by some of the best names in food and drink, especially vegetarian/vegan cuisine. We are extremely happy with the success.

In Bali, your new property has also made its debut. As Bali is about to reopen to travelers from all over the world, what are your expectations in this market?

Even before the borders reopened, Mamaka by Ovolo, our Bali property, had a great comeback with the help of the domestic market. Locals love our hotel and our long-stay packages have done quite well.

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

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

Australia has been a big hit for us, so that’s definitely on our list. We are potentially looking at Western and Southern Australia as we are not yet operating in those areas, but we are also open to any great opportunities that arise.

Another area we are open to are wine regions, and potentially lodges in those regions, plus New Zealand and Europe will hopefully come next.

As for the preferred size, 120-180 keys is the sweet spot for us and allows us to provide a more personalized experience for our customers.

These two years have been exceptionally difficult for the hospitality industry globally. What have been some of your leadership learnings during this time and what are your expectations for 2022?

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

Here I learned to place the customer and employee experience in equal measure and something that caught my eye on my last trip was the importance of improving benefits for our employees.

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

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

Nicholas E. Crittendon