In an age-old industry, one would expect that every innovation has been tried. Hong Kong hotel entrepreneur Girish Jhunjhnuwala has proven that a bold new approach to hospitality can make a big difference. His way of running business hotels won him the title of ‘2016 EY Entrepreneur of the Year’ for the Hong Kong and Macau region. Club China projects the image of the successful Ovolo Hotels and asked Girish Jhunjhnuwala about his ideas on entrepreneurship.
Ovolo is one of Hong Kong’s largest independent family-owned and privately-operated hospitality firms. The enterprise currently boasts five Ovolo hotels and a service apartment in Hong Kong, and three hotels across Sydney and Melbourne. For its young and fresh approach to the hospitality industry, Ovolo has been recognized with many international awards, including ‘APAC Hotelier of the Year’, ‘Best HK Retail & Hospitality Brand’ and ‘Most Innovative Designer Hotel’.
Winning EY’s prestigious business title recently was the result of a lengthy process involving interviews, business performance analysis and multiple judging panels. What makes Jhunjhnuwala the entrepreneur he is? And why is Ovolo widely regarded innovative and even disruptive?
Designs, comfort, service and technology
On the surface, Ovolo Hotels may seem to be not much different from any of the well-known four- or five-star chains. Ovolo promotes itself as offering “award-winning interior designs, detail-driven comforts, focused all-inclusive service and cutting-edge ensuite technology, all done in Ovolo’s signature style.”
There are other reasons why Ovolo Group is regarded to be a trendsetter in the hotel and serviced apartment sector. In Girish Jhunjhnuwala’s words: “We design and service our hotels from a traveler’s point of view with smartly spaced interiors full of the latest tech, luxury hotel amenities and fun-loving features.” There is more. Different from other hotels, Ovolo Hotels offer important amenities for free. As Ovolo’s booking website announces: “Everything from the breakfast, mini-bar, Wi-Fi and even happy hour is all covered! … Why? Because we love you, man!”
What makes customers book
Offering certain amenities for free is disruptive – when these amenities are key in the well-being of business travellers. Girish Jhunjhnuwala has a keen eye for what makes his customers book – or not.
An interesting innovation that shows his particular skills in this is the launch of the ‘Mojo Nomad concept’. In short, it is the first ‘live-in co-working space’. In his Hong Kong hotels, start-ups can both work and live under one roof, for a discounted rate. The concept is believed to be very interesting for entrepreneurs that do not have a base in Hong Kong yet and prefer not to navigate a city they don’t know looking for Wi-Fi or work space. The Mojo Nomad initiative offers discounted prices for co-living and workspace environment at around US$100 per night, with monthly rates from around US$3,020. That amount of money gets startups a 24-hour space to work, free breakfast, gym, midday happy hour, self laundry services and access to networking events.
“Respond to changes”
What makes entrepreneurs like Girish Jhunjhnuwala stand out? EY EOY 2016 China Co-Chairman CK Lai offers his opinion: “Successful entrepreneurs are those who can actively respond to external changes, continuously make breakthroughs in addressing challenges, ride trends, and seize momentous opportunities to achieve strategic growth.”
Maybe true entrepreneurs are not necessarily trained and shaped in one industry only. Girish Jhunjhnuwala kicked off his career in 1984 when he began managing his family’s Hong Kong based OEM watch business. He decided to get into the real estate industry, acquiring and opening his first Hong Kong serviced apartment in 2002, which went on to become the flagship what later became the Ovolo Group.
When Club China asked Girish Jhunjhnuwala for his take on winning this award, he stated:
“When you have come up with a new idea to try in your business, you try to change something that has been around for a long time. It is difficult. You will find there are always a lot of nay-sayers around. If you know it is a good idea, wait. Be patient. Entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs because they have great ideas, they have a vision. If you know you have a good idea, the time will come. I was fortunate to have people around me that believed in me, who helped me. I have found that, if you question the norm, you question the status quo. That, to me, is the core of innovation: changing things for the better. We have made the changes that work for today’s modern traveler. That, to me, is innovation.”