Trade Talk: Girish Jhunjhnuwala of Ovolo Hotels

The group’s Founder and Executive Chairman tells us about its core identity, global expansion plans, and a recent pledge to go fully vegetarian.

All photos courtesy of Ovolo Hotels

How would you define the ethos or DNA of Ovolo Hotels for travelers who might not be familiar with the brand?

Ovolo is a boutique lifestyle hotel brand that is all about community, where we design our spaces to offer not just beds but creative, collaborative environments where fun, music, and wonder are at the core of every stay. We connect with our guests emotionally to make long-lasting impressions, and a big part of that is because of our belief in inclusivity and flexibility. There are many hotels that have a cool brand, but the experience itself is not so cool — and that’s not what Ovolo is about. Ovolo has done away with all the pain points I used to experience as a frequent traveler, so we offer a free minibar (alcohol inclusive, of course) and a welcome loot bag.

Our restaurants are run by restaurateurs, not hoteliers, and have completely different identities than the hotels they sit in. We do not want to just offer a “hotel restaurant,” but a restaurant as good as any. We also care deeply about our environmental footprint, which is why we are the first hotel group to offer fully vegetarian restaurants, where exciting menus have been designed to be good for people and the planet.

 

Ovolo has doubled down on its commitment to ethical eating with the launch of its global “Plant’d” initiative. Why was it the right time to make vegetarian-led offerings a permanent feature of the guest experience?

Ovolo treats the environment with love and respect and our aim is to be locally sustainable and conscious of our impact on people, the planet, and animals. We know that meat consumption is a major contributor to climate change, and going fully vegetarian allows us to be impactful in our ways to reduce emissions. Further, our Plant’d pledge is not only about the environment, but also our belief in the versatility and potential of plant-based foods. Food so good that you don’t even realize it’s vegetarian!

 

As a practicing vegetarian yourself, what tips do you have for those looking to cut down on their meat consumption?

People could opt to reduce their meat consumption one or two days a week and work their way from there. There are also some meats that are lower in carbon emissions than others, with red meat the worst, so people could substitute for fish or chicken to start with. It’s a good idea to start gradually, but I truly believe that people will realize how great they feel and look on a plant-based diet and how much more energy they have.

Paneer escabeche at Veda, the signature restaurant inside Hong Kong’s Ovolo Central.

The Quarantine Concierge packages at Ovolo Hong Kong properties have been “tailor-made for guests, by guests.” How did feedback from previous guests shape the design of the latest package?

We pride ourselves on getting close to our guests and at Ovolo, we wanted to be very responsive to their needs during this difficult time. After meals, activities, classes, or just on any random day, we call our guests and ask for their feedback and input. We also host a weekly social call where we often ask our guests for comments or suggestions, and this has been one of the best ways to get to know them, and the experience itself, better.

The difference with quarantine compared to a regular hotel stay, is that the team cannot easily go in and experience it themselves. So, we have had to rely that much more on what guests have had to say. As a result, we have continually innovated the quarantine experience over the course of the last two years, taking that guest feedback to deliver what they were asking for. For example, we added more healthy food options to give people variety in their diet through the course of their stay; we introduced Masterclasses with exercise, yoga, mindfulness and more to take care of our guests’ mental and physical health; and we tried to make the guest experience much more like a normal staycation than a quarantine stay.

 

How do you think the Ovolo experience will appeal to post-pandemic travelers looking for a hotel stay that’s out of the ordinary?

We try to make every stay at Ovolo out of the ordinary, pandemic or not. For example, while many hotel groups used Covid as an excuse to do away with minibars, we have kept our welcome minibar.  Secondly, instead of reducing touch points with our guests, as others have done, we have actually increased them. Everything we do is about making our guests smile and bringing joy to their day. In the post-pandemic world, people are looking for even stronger connections, and are far more conscious of sustainability than ever before. Today’s travelers want different experiences; experiences that are design-led, full of personality, fun, and that resonate with them. Ovolo is well-positioned for cater to those seeking a greater sense of connection and community.

Sun loungers beside the rooftop pool at the group’s newest hotel, Mamaka by Ovolo in Bali.

You recently passed the mantle of CEO to Dave Baswal to allow you to focus on branding, development, and bringing Ovolo to new markets. What excites you most about the change in leadership and your new role?

What excites me most is the chance to focus my energy on taking the Ovolo brand to new markets and new destinations. It is the perfect time to expand the network, as the industry recovers from the pandemic and as travelers seek out more design-led, boutique hotel experiences with a brand that is different from anything else in the market. Dave is someone who has really proven himself as a hotel operator, visionary, and leader since joining the group, and I am excited to see him continue to bring the group to new heights. I think the future of Ovolo is very bright.

 

What do you typically look for in a destination before establishing an Ovolo property? Are there certain traits it must have or conditions that need to be met?

We typically look for a location where people can enjoy the best of their destination, with bars, restaurants, shopping and attractions nearby. We also tend to pick locations depending on the nearby demographic — if the community in that area have similar values and are looking for elements that Ovolo can offer. The hotel size is typically between 120–180 keys as we feel this allows us to keep the guest experience more personalized and build stronger emotional connections. Right now, I am interested in expanding into wine regions and more leisure destinations.

 

Mamaka by Ovolo in Bali celebrated its complete launch last October. What projects do you have in the pipeline elsewhere in Asia Pacific and beyond?

The Ovolo brand has really connected strongly with Australian travelers, so we will continue to look for new opportunities in Australia, with Western Australia and South Australia on our wish list. We are also looking to expand into New Zealand, as well as Europe and the United States. Anywhere with a strong domestic market is obviously more attractive in the short-term, as people are still staying close to home, but we have big ambitions to take the Ovolo brand global.

A 50-square-meter Swagger suite at Mamaka by Ovolo.

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