Gaurang Jhunjhnuwala is the CEO of the New Zealand and Australia region at Singapore-based hospitality company, Naumi Hotels. He spends his days shuffling between headquarters in the city-state and checking on everything from business partners to blueprints – he’s hands-on.
Passion for hospitality is a consistent theme in Jhunjhnuwala’s life. In high school, he worked on floorplans and interior design which piqued his interest in hotels, and he went on to study entrepreneurship at Babson College. He’s been working in hospitality since. “I love that this line is ever-changing,” Jhunjhnuwala said. “There’s never a dull moment.”
His family are originally from Rajasthan but relocated to Rangoon, then Hong Kong, and finally Singapore. They were textile and garment traders, and then watch manufacturers; the entrepreneurial spirit is strong in Jhunjhnuwala’s family.
Jhunjhnuwala interned with both InterContinental Hotels Group and TBWA, giving him early insight into both hospitality and marketing. These are traits he took into his work, creating a uniquely appealing brand identity for the Naumi hotel chain.
“The voice of Naumi is that of a charming lady,” explained Jhunjhnuwala. “She furnishes her ‘home’ with fine art, furnishings and food, and aims to win you over with her warmth and personality. As you journey through Naumi, you’ll find glimpses of her everywhere, from cheeky humour to authentic art, and you won’t get enough of her.”
The design concept at Naumi is simple: be memorable. The hotels use both local and international artists to keep each building uniquely interesting. The marketing strategy is similar – attention-grabbing, modern, and cheeky.
In his spare time, Jhunjhnuwala collects images of designs and art pieces that inspire him – they go on to inspire Naumi’s upcoming plans.
Jhunjhnuwala’s enthusiasm for the industry has paid off. Naumi may be a boutique brand, but despite lacking the same purchasing power as large accommodation corporations, it’s been successful. They’ve received awards and accolades from industry experts like Forbes, GQ, and Wallpaper. “We even won the best suite design in Asia for our property in Singapore,” said Jhunjhnuwala, proud of his win against ‘the big boys’ in hospitality.
One of the biggest challenges in hospitality is its constantly-evolving nature, but this works in Naumi’s favour. Because each hotel is uniquely designed, the chain is well-placed to test suggestions and trends.
“Peer-to-peer reviews were non-existent in the past. Now, guests have a barrage of options to look up a review before booking on travel sites like TripAdvisor and Agoda, rather than relying on the source put out by brands itself. It is extremely important for the hotel to ensure every single touchpoint is done right, as all these will be reflected online.”
Jhunjhnuwala recognised that customer needs are always changing.
“The industry has to keep reflecting what guests want or need in the offerings they present. Guests may have preferred a price that comes with many add-ons but nowadays, guests are looking for more than tangible perks that come with a room.”
Showing that online technology can work in a hotel’s favour, Naumi has recently incorporated 360-degree property tours into its website. This gives guests an honest and immersive feel for the hotel.
Naumi has two hotels due to open in New Zealand next year, both in Wellington, and Jhunjhnuwala is looking to expand the brand into Queenstown, Christchurch, and Auckland over the next three years. High demand from Asia-based travellers fuels this expansion, as well as millennials and honeymooners seeking out Australasian locations as they realise it’s lighter on the pocket than holidaying in Europe.
Long term, the company plans to gain a strong foothold in Australasia and then branch out to other locations. It’s already grown significantly over the past few years, all while staying true to its unique vision. “We will always remain true to our ethos – that each Naumi hotel will create bespoke micro experiences for our guests.”
Jhunjhnuwala is quite a traveller, having grown up in three different countries and continuing to travel as part of the hospitality industry. He doesn’t just build hotels; he spends a lot of time in them, and knows what makes the experience perfect – it should be like staying in a friend’s stylish home.
His number one tip for staff at accommodation providers is straightforward: “be unique, have fun, and don’t forget to smile.”