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Breaking with tradition

Published on Friday, 21 Feb 2014
Dirk Dalichau
Photo: Ovolo

Ovolo Group COO Dirk Dalichau is looking for 120 people to staff a new kind of Hong Kong hotel

Hotel operator Ovolo is embarking on an aggressive recruitment drive in preparation for the opening of its most ambitious project to date – a 162-room, brand-new hotel in the up-and-coming former industrial district of Wong Chuk Hang, due to open by early June.

Touted as Hong Kong’s first-ever New York City-style warehouse conversion, the new hotel is named after its address at 64 Wong Chuk Hang Road. It will take advantage of the expected boom in tourist arrivals in Hong Kong over the long term, as well as the revitalisation of the former manufacturing district – which includes the completion of the MTR’s new railway connecting Admiralty to Hong Kong Island’s Southern District next year.

Nowadays, Wong Chuk Hang plays host to a new generation of art galleries and gourmet home kitchens hidden amid inconspicuous industrial former factory buildings and warehouses. The result is a vibrant cultural scene which Ovolo hopes will play to the new hotel property’s advantage when it opens.

Featuring rooms decorated to a modern industrial motif, as well as a gym, a full-service restaurant, lounge and roof-top bar with panoramic sea views, 64 Wong Chuk Hang Road targets the booming lifestyle-business-traveller segment – people who travel for work but are seeking an experience beyond that offered by traditional five-star hotels.

“We have a more forward-looking product and it’s about a sense of being able to enjoy yourself and having a little bit of fun at work,” says Dirk Dalichau, chief operating officer for the Ovolo Group.

He adds that demand for lifestyle hotel accommodation is expected to outstrip sector-wide growth for the foreseeable future. “Our segment is a little bit under-represented at the moment. Lifestyle hotels are a little bit different from the traditional environment with hotels which look the same, and are more formal, traditional and opulent. We don’t want to be that, and we don’t want to appeal to that kind of traveller,” he says.

“If you look at the more traditional hotels, some of the top ones are struggling because their old customer base is not coming back and the young ones just don’t want to sit under a big chandelier with classical music in the background.”

To staff the new property, Ovolo will hire over 120 people across the entire hotel-jobs spectrum – everything from room attendants, concierge, technicians, chefs and barmen to senior hotel management. The additions will increase headcount at the 300-strong, 11-year-old company by more than a third.

It is currently recruiting for the senior roles, which will report to the new hotel’s incumbent general manager. This includes the director of food and beverages, hotel manager, front office manager, housekeeping manager, and chief engineer. This will be followed by a recruitment event later in March – details to be announced – for the remaining vacancies.

Dalichau says that in keeping with its intended lifestyle niche and fun attitude, Ovolo is seeking candidates who may not necessarily fit the traditional and timid hospitality service sector mould. “We don’t want people who blend in. We like people who stand out and are a bit quirky and edgy, have something to say and have an opinion, and bring their knowledge and points of view into our business. Of course, there are rules, but we feel that it’s important for employees to be themselves,” he says.

He adds that individual character is as important – if not more – than prior hotel experience, especially in frontline roles. This is because successful candidates get comprehensive training that will teach them many of the key skills.

On joining the company, newcomers will be given at least four weeks of training in preparation of the hotel’s launch. This will include a week of induction covering the group’s core identity and key components of its service-delivery philosophy. This is followed by training in job-related skills and team-building exercises, conducted by in-house experts and consultants.

Looking ahead, Dalichau says the opening of the hotel – the group’s biggest and most ambitious project to date in terms of the number of rooms – marks the shape of things to come. Formerly a serviced apartment specialist, Ovolo changed its strategic direction in 2011 with the launch of its first hotel property in West Kowloon. Since then it has expanded with four new additions to its property portfolio: two in Central, one in Aberdeen and one in Melbourne, Australia. It also operates two serviced apartments in Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun.

“At the moment, our hotels have between 42 and 85 rooms. This is the first one with 162. The future is going to be between 150 and 200 rooms. That’s why this is quite important and gives direction to what’s coming next,” Dalichau says.

He adds that Ovolo is focusing its immediate expansion efforts in Sydney, Brisbane and potentially, Perth – to emulate the success of its Melbourne venture which opened in 2012.

In the long term, the group is also eyeing locations in major Asia-Pacific hubs, as well as London and New York. As Ovolo expands across Asia, it will also likely offer local staff the chance to work in other hotels in various countries.


Dirk Dalichau talks about the qualities he will be looking for in job candidates for 64 Wong Chuk Hang

Individuality “We are looking for people with personality – character, basically. We don’t mind piercings and tattoos and funky hairstyles. They need to be clean and tidy, but we don’t want to take away their individuality. We want people who show their personality and bring it into the business, because that’s what makes Ovolo personable and unique. It is the individuality that reflects what life is about today.”
Friendliness “Skills can be trained, but you cannot train someone to smile naturally, to like the company of others, or to be outgoing and engaging. Experience is not a bad thing, but it’s not our only criteria.”
Passion “We prefer people who have talents outside of their work – whether they be singers, musicians or sportsmen – because people who approach their personal lives with great passion and motivation quite often inject these qualities into their professional lives too.”

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