Hong Kong-based Ovolo Hotels currently has hotels in Hong Kong and Australia, but founder and CEO Girish Jhunjhnuwala said the company is looking at opportunities in New Zealand, the U.S., the U.K. and Southeast Asia.
HONG KONG—Ovolo Hotels has been making its mark in its home base of Hong Kong and also in Australia, but founder and CEO Girish Jhunjhnuwala said the lifestyle hotel company focused on the modern traveler is looking to grow its presence in other places.
Jhunjhnuwala was born and raised in Hong Kong and decided to start his brand in his home city because the atmosphere fits the Ovolo brand perfectly, he said via email.
“It’s edgy, cultural and design-driven, with a booming tourism economy, all of which makes it the ideal location for our modern travelers,” he said.
The first Ovolo property, Ovolo Central, opened as a serviced apartment in Hong Kong in 2002, and was then opened as the first Ovolo Hotel in 2010, he said. The hotel was relaunched in January of this year.
“This relaunch was a major milestone for me, as we’ve opened 11 properties since this initial one throughout Hong Kong and Australia,” he said.
Over the past 12 months, Ovolo has launched four new hotels and four new restaurants across Hong Kong and Australia, Jhunjhnuwala said. Ovolo The Valley in Brisbane, which he described as a "whimsical oasis" of “rich color, commissioned artworks, vivid wallpaper and playful furniture," was among these hotel openings.
“At Ovolo, we don’t want to simply provide guests with a nice room to crash in, but rather an innovative multi-use space where they can be productive, collaborate, seek adventure and experience new things all in the comfort of our design-driven hotels,” he said.
Read through this virtual Q&A with Ovolo’s founder and CEO for more about the company.
Q: Ovolo currently has 10 properties—six in Australia and four in Hong Kong—what’s next in terms of growth for the company?
A: “Well, if you’re not moving forward, you’re standing still. So not only has Ovolo Central, our flagship hotel in the heart of Hong Kong, just been relaunched, we are in the process of adding two new suites to Ovolo Southside, the Rhapsody & Imagine suites—fit for rock royalty—as well as updates throughout every room and a completely new guest arrival experience on the ground floor. At Ovolo The Valley, we’re creating a new and unique restaurant and bar, inspired by modern Israeli, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences, which will also contain intimate event spaces, all of which are scheduled to launch in early July.
“We’ve also got two new hotels—Ovolo South Melbourne and Mojo Nomad South Yarra—the latter of which is the first building development for Ovolo Group and opens future investment opportunities. Mojo Nomad South Yarra will include a combination of private rooms and a floor of shared accommodation, with a café/bistro style restaurant and bar, all open to the public, event space, cinema room, games room and lounge for residents, as well as co-living/co-working spaces integrated into the design of the building.
“And we’re not limiting ourselves to Hong Kong and Australia either. We’re actively exploring potential opportunities in New Zealand, the U.S., U.K. and (Southeast Asia). In particular, we think our hotels will fit right in with the culture of Los Angeles, New York and London.”
Q: Ovolo properties offer a lot for free, such as the minibar, breakfast, Wi-Fi, snacks and more—what’s the return on investment of offering so many things to guests free of charge?
A: “I don’t think free amenities are necessarily a marketing tactic. They’re just the way I believe all hotels should be. Our effortless living ethos means that our guests simply don’t need to think about anything once they walk through our doors—their whole experience is taken care of and they can just relax.
“One of the main reasons that I started Ovolo was because whenever I traveled around the world, I was so sick of staying at hotels that would nickel-and-dime guests. Whether it was having to pay to use Wi-Fi or spending $6 on a pack of M&Ms from the minibar, it just wasn’t cool. So when I started my hotels I thought, I can finally get rid of all these annoying added-cost gimmicks. And it’s not just our signature freebies. … It’s also about making sure there are enough power points and USB outlets next to your bedside so you and your partner can charge your phones without having to unplug a lamp. Staying at a hotel should be as effortless as possible, which is why we’ve designed our hotels from a traveler’s point of view.”
Q: Your hotels appeal to travelers with a millennial mindset. There are a lot of brands out there trying to accomplish this, so how are you doing this and what sets Ovolo Hotels apart from the competition?
A: “Mindset is the key term here. You know, so many people these days are focused on millennials and how to appeal to them. Now, while they’re important, so are the baby boomers. So are Gen X. We don’t define our guests by age. It’s more about a state of mind. People who want to go out and have fun, who mix business with pleasure and who come back from meetings and can come down for a drink with other guests and have a bit of fun with everything—not just go and stay up in a boring room and do boring things. Like most things at Ovolo, we do it differently, which attracts a certain kind of person.”
Q: You have a focus on “enhanced communal offerings” in hotels that bring people together. Can you talk a little bit about some of these offerings and how you achieve this idea in your hotels?
A: “We want our guests to feel comfortable utilizing every part of the hotel when they stay with us. I hate it when hotels have an unwelcoming environment that encourages guests to lock themselves away in their room all day. We see our hotels as having the perfect balance of individual comfort in our spacious rooms and fun communal spaces in our lobbies, lounges and bars. Traveling is all about connecting with other people and why shouldn’t you do that at the very place you’re staying? At Ovolo, we have everything from Social Happy Hour to old school video games and pool tables which we hope will encourage guests to connect, network and engage with other like-minded travelers.”
Q: Your company also has a brand called Mojo Nomad. Can you tell me a little bit about that brand? How is it different from the Ovolo model?
A: “While we definitely encourage socializing and community at all of our Ovolo properties, Mojo Nomad takes this idea to the next level. Designed for a community of trailblazers, it’s all about co-living, creating, collaborating and co-working with other fierce, bold individuals. … Similar to a Silicon Valley campus, the Mojo Nomad model provides guests with everything they need to maximize their work efficiency. … Some of our guests just spend their working hours at Mojo Nomad, while many stay with us overnight as well. And because no two guests are exactly alike, we offer everything from private rooms with a private bathroom to 14-person rooms with shared bathrooms and everything in between.”
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the deals structure, facilities requirements, etc., under the Ovolo Hotels portfolio?
A: “Each of our hotels are truly unique, with their own distinct character, and they’re all personable. It could be a 40-room hotel, it could be a 180-room hotel, but it has to be personable. I think having that character is very important. I’ve often been asked how a group like us could compete with these big hotels. What will keep us apart? It’s probably one of things that least worries me because they will continue to think like a big brand. They won’t think like a boutique operator—this is the first key to the puzzle.
“Additionally, location is important for every Ovolo Hotel—being central and in a cultural hub, so the hotels can be seamlessly part of the city’s fabric and community. Restaurants are also important, I believe more in the B&F model which is more beverages, followed by food. You can be having a drink, but your drink should not be served with the fact that ‘Oh no, now I’ve got to eat.’ You should be able to continue drinking and have nibbles or food come out to you, and that’s what we’ll work towards. So, we’ve got that, and of course you can go sit down and have a proper meal, the choice is there for you.”
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: “In case you were wondering about the name Ovolo—it’s an Italian word which is a derivative of egg. Ovo is egg in Italian and therefore Ovolo is a derivative of a small egg. I think the egg form, how an egg encloses you, is quite interesting. We all evolve from somewhere and now Ovolo is the one evolving and growing. Stay tuned for the next stage of the Ovolution.”