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Sudima hotel chain built up over 20 years scoops the country's top tourism award
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Courtesy: Marta Steeman | News Source:

Hotel industry leader Sudesh Jhunjhnuwala is proud of the Sudima hotel chain being the only one in New Zealand to be CarboNZero certified.

The chain has just been awarded the country's most prestigious tourism award, Tourism Industry Aotearoa's Supreme Tourism Award. And it scooped the Employer of Choice Award and the Environment Award.

"We are just over the moon for what we have been recognised for. It's been pretty amazing," Sudima chain chief executive Sudesh Jhunjhnuwala said.

The judges said Sudima was getting better all the time, with a broad range of superb initiatives that were making a difference to the business, the environment and the wider community.

Sudima is the first employer to sign up for the 'wills for workers' scheme. Sudesh Jhunjhnuwala with Angela Vale from digitial wills provider Footprint.

Jhunjhnuwala has grown the chain from two hotels to six in the space of 20 years. "It's so fulfilling for me and for our team to be recognised for these awards."

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His three daughters were very environmentally conscious and one of them led the process of the first hotel in the chain to be certified CarboNZero by government agency Enviro-Mark Solutions. The certification means it has committed in various ways to reducing its carbon emissions and buying carbon credits to offset the remaining emissions so that it is effectively carbon neutral.

Three hotels now had certification and the new hotels would go through the same process to achieve that also.

"The young people of today are the ones who are the leaders of the future and they have a totally different set of values. I learn a lot from them."

"Tourism is the largest industry in New Zealand and we need more young people to keep coming in and take this as a career," he said.

The $30m, 120-room Sudima Hotel in Kaik?ura will be a modular design with the majority of the hotel built off site.

Running a hotel chain was more than just balance sheets and assets. It was about attracting skilled people, offering great service and being a great place to work, he said.

Sustainability had been a core value for some time and led to several initiatives including the CarboNZero certification. The cost of buying carbon credits was not large, about $5000 for one of the hotels, he said.

The Sudima chain started in 2001 with the Jhunjhnuwala family buying the Christchurch Airport Hotel and a hotel in Rotorua.

They later built another two hotels, Sudima Auckland Airport which opened in May 2011 just before the Rugby World Cup and the $40 million, 86-room boutique Sudima Christchurch City, which opened this year, and have two more under construction,  Sudima Auckland City near the SkyCity Casino and Sudima Kaikoura, which are scheduled to open in late 2020.

The Sudima hotel chain is owned by Hind Properties, a holding company for the family's hotels and commercial properties in New Zealand, and made a $1.57m profit for the 2018 year, its annual report 2018, posted on the Companies Office website, said.

Hind Properties had assets of just over $104m of which almost $35m is equity and the rest is borrowings and liabilities. The company paid $6.73m of dividends to its owners in 2018, the annual report shows.

The wider Jhunjhnuwala family have built their wealth over three generations, in textiles in Burma and watch making in Hong Kong, and now in property and hotels.

Sudesh Jhunjhnuwala's relatives are owners of the Hind Group which has the Ovolo Group of lifestyle hotels and serviced apartments in Hong Kong and Australia and the Naumi hotel brand in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Indian-born Birajlal Jhunjhnuwala, Sudesh's grandfather, moved the family to Burma, part of British-governed India at the time, and set up a business in Rangoon in 1918 which created textiles and garments. By the end of the 1940's, the Jhunjhnuwalas controlled 85 per cent of the textile trade in Myanmar, the Hind Group website says.

A new Sudima hotel in Wellesley Street in central Auckland is scheduled to open late 2020.

However the Japanese invasion of Burma during World War 11 drove thousands of people out of Burma and the Jhunjhnuwala family with them back to India, a huge journey much of it on foot. They later returned to Burma after the war but also opened offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and other parts of South East Asia investing in property.

Sudesh Jhunjhnuwala said in 1962 the family lost all its Burma assets when a military government ascended to power in Burma and nationalised business "taking everything we operated".

The family moved to Kathmandu in 1968 where he grew up. It imported products from all over the world to sell in Kathmandu, then shifted to Hong Kong in 1976.

The family already had a substantial portfolio of commercial and industrial properties in New Zealand, accumulated over 20 years, including Christchurch Airport Hotel and a hotel in Rotorua when Sudesh moved to New Zealand from Hong Kong to run the family's property business here in 2001.

He was not an hotelier so he needed to hire the right people- skilled staff to establish a culture and values, he said. The hotel developments were funded locally through banks and the family was able to source bank funding on the strength of its property assets.

The new $40m Sudima Christchurch City opened mid 2019.

"Had we gotten in other partners we could have grown a lot faster." But it was easier to keep it as a family business, he said. And building hotels involved a lot capital and risk.

The name "Sudima" was made up using his initials and those of his four brothers and a sister "with a bit of poetic licence".

In time the Sudima brand might also expand into the Pacific and Australia, he said.

The family was looking to take on the management of other hotels for independent hotel owners who did not want to deal with an international hotel management company where the personal touch may be lost and major decisions were made overseas.

Hind Management, the hospitality management arm, would be managing the new Novotel Hotel Christchurch Airport for the brand owner Accor, he said. The hotel's building owner is Christchurch Airport.

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