In conversation with: Gaurang Jhunjhnuwala, CEO of Naumi Hotels

Naumi Hotels is a family-owned business that has a refreshing approach to hospitality – the design and sustainability-led hotel group is giving the industry a serious shake-up with husband and wife duo Arshiya and Gaurang Jhunjhnuwala leading the way…

Having recently opened the doors on the seventh property in its portfolio, Naumi Wellington was quickly listed as one of New Zealand’s hottest new hotel openings. We caught up with Gaurang Jhunjhnuwala, Naumi CEO to find out a little more about what it is that sets the brand apart in the competitive APAC hotel market.

Hotel Designs: Naumi is credited with developing ‘a whole new design’ of New Zealand hotels. Can you tell us what changes the brand has brought to the design table?

Gaurang Jhunjhnuwala: The design of every Naumi hotel is built behind a story of architectural and artistic concept brought to life by modern and cutting-edge design visions. Wherever our hotels are situated – whether that be New Zealand, Australia, Singapore or the UK, the vision of the property begins with its location, the history of the building and the surrounding community. The aspect that makes each hotel quintessentially Naumi is that it is anchored in the spirit of the location. Each property represents a definitive hospitality style fuelled by the desire to be whimsical, experiential, and innovative. An important factor of Naumi’s design process is breathing new life into an existing interesting property, rather than building from scratch – the essence of sustainable design: repurposing what is already there. Our most recent opening, Naumi Wellington, was originally one of many People’s Palace hotels that were built by the Salvation Army in the late 19th and early 20th century. It has been a delight repurposing the Edwardian-era building for the contemporary traveller. It is important for us to work with local designers and suppliers to support the local design and artistic community while creating an experience that is eclectic, bold, and colourful.

statement green arches with pink and yellow accents in the Parlour in Naumi Wellington

Image credit: Naumi Wellington

HD: Naumi talks about its take on modern luxury – what do you think are the new luxuries?

GJ: The Naumi guest is the epitome of modern luxury: those that prioritise high quality, well-designed spaces and features without paying above and beyond for them. Modern luxury is putting purpose and quality as the primary factors when making aesthetic and practical decisions. For example, it’s a given that all our hotels provide technology that a modern traveller is used to, like smart TV’s, USB cable points and easy access to fast Wi-Fi. It amazes me how often these tiny but significant details are missed in hotel rooms. I think the way dining experiences have changed reflect this too. Modern luxury is about being able to enjoy affordable world class cuisine that has been localised with fresh ingredients grown in the environs of a destination, innovative flavours, working with a close-knit community of growers and suppliers. Lola Rouge, our Wellington restaurant, and bar is an example of this. Our award-winning Executive Chef Kiran Ghate combines a stunning range of local ingredients, colour, flavour, and texture to reflect the Asian influences of Lola Rouge.

red walls and chairs in Lola rouge in Naumi Wellington

Image credit: Naumi

HD: Sustainability is a key issue in the hospitality industry and clearly one being addressed by Naumi – can you tell us a bit more about how this is being done in real terms?

GJ: People are at the centre of Naumi’s DNA, and we are supporting communities in the countries where we operate and where we’re from. Naumi’s goal is to help break the cycle of poverty in marginalised communities. We work on issues of food insecurity, hoping to provide children with an equal chance to a better childhood, where they can focus on their education and an increased quality of life. To date, we have partnered with KidsCan in New Zealand to provide 125 hot meals daily to children in low decile schools in New Zealand and we have supported the nutrition of 100,000 children in India and have fed 13,000 children from food insecure backgrounds in Singapore. In addition in Singapore, we have set up educational grant programs with institutions to provide financial support to women pursuing their undergraduate studies.

Through unique product placements in our hotel rooms,  we have supported  women with opportunities to up skill and create unique products for Naumi. One of the projects we are rolling out are our new lightweight bathrobes, made from waste sari offcuts by women in India. Previously, we have created our Hope Tote Bags that guests can use at all our hotels and then purchase, with 100 per cent of the profit going towards food insecure children. Working with marginalised women communities is fundamental to us. It helps us create products that are one of a kind while providing better opportunities for them.

It’s also important to say that sustainability is an ongoing process as we learn and strive to be better every year. Technology is continuously improving and that enables us to be increasingly sustainable and effective in how we operate. The key cards used in our hotels are now made of recycled wood and our amenity pouches are eco-friendly and biodegradable. One of the biggest challenges hotel groups face is land waste, to mitigate this we have eliminated all single use plastic at our hotels and restaurants. We are now also learning about and sourcing real solutions to keep land waste to a minimum. We must keep the momentum going to continuously strive to be better, which is key!

Blush pink mosaics, wood and gold surfaces in the Bar in Naumi Wellington

Image credit: Naumi

HD: With plans to expand into Europe, do you feel that the brand will need to make changes when moving into Europe – or is it more about introducing the Naumi hotel flavour to the European palette?

GJ: Our approach will be the same – find a building with an incredible history and design aspect and create a Naumi hotel for that place and space defined by its bold and colourful design. Working with local designers helps set the mood and tone to make sure that every project is different while maintaining the feel of a Naumi hotel.

HD: The design of every Naumi hotel is built on a story of architectural and artistic concept – how do you approach the design of a new property – do you use in-house designers, local designers etc?

GJ: For our New Zealand properties (two in Wellington, two in Queenstown and one in Auckland), we have worked with an incredible interior design firm called Material Creative, who are renowned for their unexpected design and for sourcing and working with local designers and creatives. We start with a seed of an idea that we take to Material Creative and then allow the brief to bloom and take form in collaboration. We plan to take this approach with all our properties. It’s been great working with up-and-coming Kiwi brands with our Naumi Wellington opening including Made of Tomorrow who have designed the bedroom’s unique bedside tables, coffee tables, and mirrors. One of my favourite artwork pieces is a sustainably designed kina, inspired by the spiky and plump sea urchin’s endemic to New Zealand, designed by local artist, Andi Regan, made from cable ties dyed in a multitude of colours. Collaboration with fellow designers allows real magic to happen and that’s what we’re about!

HD: Have there been any significant lessons learned during the journey and has the model changed or adapted with experience?

GJ: We were always clear that we never wanted to apply a cookie cutter approach to our hotels. Each Naumi has to be a unique and exciting experience. I always want each of the hotels to be different but with a shared DNA. Covid was a huge learning curve for us where we had to transition into various models. Some of our hotels were part of the isolation and quarantine facilities, and some had become long-term serviced apartments of sorts. I think one thing that I learned is fluidity in all of this. The model must serve the need of the hour and we need to be flexible and nimble to adjust to macro issues.

HD: Do you have a favourite property in your portfolio?

GJ: I think that is always my newest property because of the amount of work we all have poured into it, and it is great to see it in completion. From a sketch and concept to a final reality is very rewarding!

HD: Your dream destination for the Naumi vision?

GJ: I think there are so many cool interesting places where Naumi would be able to make a mark. I would be very interested to open hotels in Europe – Amsterdam, London, Manchester, Brussels. I am also looking at Dubai and Thailand as interesting markets. Watch this space…

HD: Finally, next steps – what’s in the Naumi pipeline?

GJ: As of now we are renovating Naumi Sydney and getting ready for its launch which I am looking forward to. It’s great for our guests to have properties in both Australia and New Zealand to stay in when they’re exploring the APAC region. We are on the lookout for new properties in Australia and New Zealand as well as newer markets.

Main image credit: Naumi