INTERVIEW: GAURANG JHUNJHNUWALA, CEO AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND, NAUMI HOTELS
A growing brand in the Asia Pacific region, Naumi Hotels is fast making a name for itself as one to keep on the design radar. With grand plans for further expansion over the coming years, Editor Sophie Harper caught up with Naumi’s CEO Gaurang Jhunjhnuwala to find out more.
In less than 15 years, Naumi Hotels has become a brand synonymous with modern luxury and prime locality. Founded by Surya Jhunjhnuwala with the first hotel opening in Singapore in 2007, Naumi now has seven boutique properties to its name with more openings planned for this and next year. Prided on its commitment to its customer’s experience and ‘aesthetic functionalism’, each Naumi Hotel represents a luxury travel experience that is both accessible and intuitive, and therefore speaks to a wide audience.
CEO Gaurang Jhunjhnuwala describes the Naumi philosophy as creating spaces that people are drawn to, from the overall design to the impeccable customer service. “At Naumi Hotels we say to expect the unexpected,” he says. “Design-wise, our hotels offer a riot of colour and pattern, they have a certain energy… some people call it eclectic, some call it artistic. We like to show our guests something they’ve never seen in a hotel before. Service is familiar, natural, not contrived – it just makes you want to spend time with us.”
Born in Hong Kong and growing up between there and Singapore, Gaurang says travel and an international outlook has always been in his blood, even before embarking on a career in hospitality. Following his studies at Babson College in the US, he worked for marketing agency TBWA and then InterContinental before landing his current role at Naumi. “I’m based in Singapore – I usually travel frequently for work but in the past year I’ve never spent so much time in one place!”
Typically, Gaurang’s day begins by checking through daily reports from the seven hotels and guiding the team on any issues that might have arisen. “We have excellent management teams within all our hotels, allowing me to focus the majority of my time on helping the Naumi brand spread its wings and grow,” he affirms, “whether that’s looking for existing hotels to buy and reimagine, or other opportunities for the next new Naumi property. When it comes to the decisions I’m faced with in this respect, it’s all about identifying whether a property or site has the raw potential to make a great Naumi hotel. The structure or bones need to be there – can we create a whimsical, beautiful place here? The location of an asset in a city is also key in my decision-making process.”
Gaurang’s role is multi-faceted, and he has to have his finger on the pulse of not just what’s happening with Naumi and the hotels that operate under the brand, but in the hospitality market in general from travel trends to consumer interest, and he says the best thing about his role is that each day is different to the next. “I can have a design driven day one day and focus more on the financial and operational aspects of the business another. The element of working in the hospitality industry that I find most rewarding is the fact that we are dealing with consumers – our guests. We can create something new and get an instant reaction from our guests. Which is exciting, challenging and ultimately so rewarding.”
Each Naumi hotel is quite different, but design and statement features come as standard in all: from the vibrant and contrasting prints on the walls at The Dairy and the moody jewel tones at The Central (both in Queenstown, New Zealand) to the pop colours and floral explosion at Naumi Studio Wellington or playful but sophisticated styling at Naumi Singapore. I ask Gaurang how important design is to the brand and he tells me it’s paramount. “Gone are the days that hotels are simply commodities. Today each guest has so much choice and is much more demanding when it comes to what they expect from the places they stay. Hotels have to offer unique spaces and experiences within themselves and that translates so well into design. Aside from service and food and drink, the way we can delight and surprise our guests is the look and feel of our hotels, our public spaces and guest rooms. Hotels have to be memorable – at Naumi I want our hotels to be the type of places you want to tell your friends about – spaces that spark conversations.”
Gaurang has a keen eye for design and plays a key role in the layout and look of each Naumi hotel. “I like to work with designers who are first and foremost creative – willing to experiment and push boundaries when it comes to texture, pattern, and colour,” he says. “I look for those that aren’t too set in a vision of how a hotel should be. One of the firms we have worked with (Material Creative, based in New Zealand) hadn’t designed for a hotel before, but I loved the aesthetic of their work and that’s what caught our attention. We’ve also worked with Ellery Muir architects, Undercurrent, and Foster and Melville in New Zealand, and White Jacket and Eco ID in Singapore.”
The overriding principal for the success and continual growth for the brand though comes down to people and the teams that ensure Naumi guests have the best experience possible whilst staying at their hotels. “Service is so important,” Gaurang says. “Without people, even the coolest design hotel is a bare shell. Great service and the human interactions guests have during their stay are key to the overall experience. Then it’s the architecture and interior design of a property – that should speak for itself, hotels should offer a place in which people simply want to spend their time away from home, whether they are travelling alone or with their loved ones.”
When quizzed about the most important aspects of hospitality, Guarang tells me how crucial food and drink is but also technology and the practicalities of staying somewhere unfamiliar. “Technology is high on my personal list. We offer complimentary high-speed internet as standard across all of our hotels so guests can stream movies, host Zoom meetings, catch up on Netflix through our smart TVs. My pet peeve is a lack of power points – so there’s no unplugging of lamps so you can charge your phone by the bed at my hotels! It sounds like a small detail but having universal power points and USB chargers built-in makes things seamless.”
Following the three new hotel openings for the brand in New Zealand in 2020, Gaurang and the Naumi team are preparing for further hotel projects from this year onwards. “We’re currently working on our second property in Wellington, New Zealand – Naumi Hotel Wellington, which will be an all-suite hotel, opening in Q4 this year and joining our first new property in the city, Naumi Studio Hotel Wellington. Further along in the pipeline is Naumi Studio Sydney, on George St, opening in 2022. We’re looking at expanding Naumi assets further in the APAC region and other key cities around the world.”
It doesn’t stop at new business though as Gaurang explains what he’s most excited about for the brand and in general over the coming months and years. “We are involved in a variety of philanthropic activities with the mission of reducing food insecurity among children in underserved communities in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and India, and I’m excited about a new partnership we have been working on, led by my wife Arshiya, with World Food Program (WFP) in India and KidsCan in New Zealand to provide support to feed children.”
“What else am I most excited about? Travel coming back to some ‘normality’ – like everyone else I think! I’m looking forward to all those people who have been waiting to celebrate milestones: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries… being able to get together, and being able to experience the wider world in a safe manner once again.”