Girish Jhunjhnuwala was tired of his travels being tainted by frustration. The kind caused by inconveniences that could be resolved so easily – if only things were designed better. Things such as paying ridiculous prices for a snack from a hotel minibar, for instance, or not being able to use the bedside lamp plugged in if he wanted his phone charging nearby. In a nutshell, Girish felt that the hotel industry was overcharging and under-delivering. It was time for someone to shake things up. So he did.
Inspired by his own pain-points as a traveller Girish opened the first Ovolo Hotel, Hong Kong’s Ovolo Central, in 2010. “I had a vision to revolutionise the hospitality industry,” says Girish, “…to bring fun into all of our properties and, most importantly, offer our guests effortless living experiences.”
While providing guests with a pleasant and personable experience when away from home is at Ovolo’s core, it is each hotel’s highly curated and bespoke aesthetic that makes it stand out. “I’ve always loved art and I’m heavily involved in the design of all our hotels, so this design-led focus came from my personal values and passions,” says Girish, “Our hotels are filled with personality – even if you removed all our branding, you could still walk in and know you’re in an Ovolo.”
“If you removed all our branding, you could still walk in and know you’re in an Ovolo.”
The strength and consistency of Ovolo’s brand presence in each of its eight locations spread across Hong Kong and Australia is no small feat. Especially given that there is no such thing as a master style-guide paving the way. Rather than restricting designers and curators to adhere to a set of rules or brand guidelines, Girish prefers to take a collaborative approach to design, tailored to the specific location and cultural context of each addition to the Ovolo family.
“It’s very much a collaborative process… we always make sure we work with teams who get our aesthetic,” he says. “The most important thing we take into consideration is the location of the hotel and the vibe of the city and suburb it’s located in, we don’t take one cookie-cutter approach and apply it to all our hotels. We like to celebrate the best bits of the location, whether it’s the graffiti in Melbourne or neon signs in Hong Kong, so all our design partners take this on board.”
It’s clear from the way that Girish speaks that he feels a personal affinity to each Ovolo hotel. And understandably so, given his level of involvement in the design of each. Even so, there is a special place in Girish’s heart for Ovolo Central in Hong Kong. Not only does it represent the first of the Ovolo hotels, but the building was also Girish’s first property when he started out in real estate in 2002. Adding to the sentimentality of it all, it also happens to be located on the street on which Girish grew up. It is perhaps this deep connection to the first Ovolo site that has inspired the sense of pride of place is characteristically evident in each and every rendition of Ovolo.
“We like to celebrate the best bits of the location, whether it’s the graffiti in Melbourne or neon signs in Hong Kong.”
“I love that each one of our hotels has a unique design to it while maintaining that Ovolo feel,” shares Girish, “Ovolo Southside in Hong Kong is a Design Hotel and it’s a great use of the warehouse spaces that Wong Chuk Hang is famous for. It’s also home to some of my favourite neon light art pieces. Ovolo Nishi‘s design is so uniquely Canberra and designed using sustainable materials, and Ovolo Woolloomooloo’s design truly celebrates the historic finger wharf buildings.”
Although today Ovolo might technically be considered an international hotel chain, it looks and feels anything but. This is no accident. From the bespoke design aesthetic right down to its level of personal service, each Ovolo has everything you could want from a boutique hotel – and some. Retaining Ovolo’s boutique feel while mitigating all that comes with growth and success is yet another balancing act that Girish seems to have mastered.
“When hotel businesses grow, it can be easy to lose that personal touch – after all, there are more team members to train and more guests walking in and out of your doors every day,” ponders Girish. The solution? Simple: human-centred service design. “By placing people at the centre of everything we do and considering the guest experience at every touch-point, we’ve retained that personal touch,” shares Girish, “and it’s that feeling that keeps our guests coming back.”
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