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Hotel Corner

Meet Matt Lawton, General Manager of Ovolo Group

Matt Lawton, an outgoing born-and-bred Kiwi, has taken the helm as Cluster General Manager at the fast-growing Hong Kong-based Ovolo Group. He talks about how his career brought him to Hong Kong, where he led the launch of the city’s first warehouse-to-hotel conversion

 

I came to Hong Kong 14 months ago from Australia just to open Ovolo Southside. It’s been an exciting project for us as it is Hong Kong’s first warehouse conversion hotel – we even kept the original truck turntable from the old garage and use it as a rotating stage at our events space!

The best thing about opening a hotel of this great fun calibre is that you can take your imagination as far as it can go.

As a child I wanted to be a professional skier or a policeman – but I don’t know whether the skiing was more about ambition rather than ability (laughs).

My first hotel job was when I was 18 in New Zealand. I walked past a hotel one day and it was just a hive of activity. People were dressed up, flashy cars everywhere... I remember looking into the foyer and thinking “wow what a great place to work, so much action going on in there.”

The next day I brushed up my one-page CV and dropped it on the desk. I started work the next day. I had two jobs at the same hotel – waiter by day and kitchen hand by night. 

I’d been working in Australia for about nearly 10 years when I was invited to work for a property in Dubai as Food & Beverage Manager. I ended up staying in the area for eight years.

I loved my time in the Middle East. It was the period when the whole region was going crazy in terms of development so it was a great time to be there. Hotels were being built left and right; it was in Qatar where I took on my first role as general manager.

I thought Asia would be another great opportunity. I used to transfer through Hong Kong all the time but you never really get a feel of the culture when you’re in a place just a couple of days at a time.

I consider myself as somebody who wants his staff to have a good time. At Ovolo we hire personality over experience. Obviously the job’s got to get done up to standard. But once that criterion has been met and staff don’t feel like they’re at work, they’ll enjoy it far more, translating into a more enjoyable experience for the guests.

Hong Kong never seems to sleep, it’s like everyone here wants to get the most out of life. People have a work-hard play-hard attitude, going 100 miles an hour continuously. Days seem much longer because people are stretching the day out as much as they can.

I didn’t bring my mountain bike and running shoes thinking there were no outdoor activities in Hong Kong. I thought it was all bars, restaurants and  party. Had I known how much of a sporty lifestyle scene there was, I would have brought them!

There are so many walking treks and islands here. I have a young son and we get out and about finding parks, beaches and open space on weekends. We live in the hustle and bustle of Central so it’s good to get some fresh air, find these bushy outlying areas.

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