“Whether a homestay or deluxe reservation in a five-star property, it is the experience that counts”
Shreejana Rana, the president of Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN) tells Travreport.com
As Nepal enters the year of Visit Nepal 2020 with an ambitious endeavour to bring two million tourists, the tourism industry is likely to face several challenges as well as opportunities. Shreejana Rana, the president of Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN), is hoping to address the challenges while delivering quality tourism with many initiatives in process.
Visit Nepal 2020 is here. How prepared are the hoteliers?
We have been gearing up to this year since the time this promotion was announced. Hoteliers know well that bringing in the numbers and filling rooms is not enough. It is the experience that counts. As the title of the initiative states clearly: ‘Visit Nepal 2020 Lifetime Experiences’. Whether a homestay or deluxe reservation in a five-star property, it is vital to ensure that tourists have a close to perfect experience. So hoteliers have worked hard to ensure that the quality of their service and product not only meets expectations but also exceeds them. A great deal of work has gone into updating our product and services. We are encouraging the rise of new avenues such as culinary tourism, something which hoteliers are well suited to promote. We are making the best use of social media platforms. For an undertaking such as this to succeed all key players must take ownership of the initiative. Hoteliers are fully on board and well prepared.
What role will HAN play in making the tourism campaign a success?
Whether a homestay or deluxe reservation in a five-star property, it is the experience that counts. Hotels play a crucial role in creating and marketing destinations. It is not enough to promote our existing destinations and to open up new ones. It is also crucial to provide supporting infrastructures such as quality accommodation and food that fits all budgets and needs. And for that, one must have quality service standards. So HAN is making the standardisation of training a priority in all provinces. From Housekeeping to the Front Desk, from the Kitchen to basic sanitation and hygiene, our training programmes ensure consistent levels of quality service standards. We have developed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for each facet of hotel services and operations. These will soon be available on line and all employees concerned trained on them in each Province.
One of our strongest assets, our national cuisine, has been undervalued in the past. HAN aims to change this by promoting the local cuisine and products of each of our seven provinces. We are a nation with a rich and diverse culture. It is our aim to help our visitors experience this.
It is of no use to have a wonderful product if no one knows about it. So HAN has been at the forefront in marketing VNY 2020 here and abroad. It has put in a great deal of time and effort in promoting not only its member properties but also Nepal itself, for the success of one depends very much on the other. It has done so in the years leading up to today and will continue to do so.
And last but certainly not least, all hotels are offering our foreign visitors significant discounts: 30 percent on rooms and 15 percent on food. So hotels are ready, offering ‘Lifetime Experiences’ at very attractive prices.
What strategies are prepared by the hospitality sectors in Nepal to fill each room with numbers of tourists, considering the competitions arose by the increasing number of hotels and restaurants from 2018 to 2020?
We are taking a number of approaches. Fundamentally it all boils down to Quality and Marketing. First and foremost we must ensure that our product more than meets expectations. By product, I mean not only our hotels and restaurants but also our nation and what it offers as a destination. That is where our emphasis on standards and training comes in. Without standards and training programmes to support them, there is no guarantee of quality or consistency. Now, we have revived these disciplines, emphasising their importance. Helping employees to enhance their skills and reach their potential benefits them as well as the industry.
The increase in the number of international chains arriving in the country has motivated all of us and increased competition in the hotel industry. However, we cannot lose sight of a fundamental point. Competition is good in theory. It is supposed to ensure each property performs at its best and offer visitors a more broad and exciting choice. But in reality, until the numbers of visitors increase, we have more and more properties chasing after the same number of guests. It is vital that our industry does not fall prey to the lure of a price war. We must not compromise on our rates. Many of us lose sight of the fact that our services are far more extensive than those provided by most hotels in the West. We must value them and be proud of ourselves. Underselling our product demeans us all. Our Average Room Rate (ARR) must be strengthened not lowered. And we do this by working together. This is a change in policy that the hospitality industry has taken on board.
As an industry, we understand that Marketing is something that we cannot compromise on both in quality and investment. It is pointless to have a great product if no one knows about it. We must also stand out from competing destinations. So we have and will continue to play our part in promoting VNY 2020 be it in travel and trade marts or our own marketing initiatives. Social media plays a huge role in marketing. Its reach is far more extensive and immediate that traditional forms of marketing. We must integrate this with other marketing methods to create awareness and better promote our products. It also enables us as an industry to respond more quickly to current trends and expectations. Bloggers and influencers also have a role to play and we as an industry have developed a very positive relationship with them. The aim is to have Nepal as a destination trending as a topic.
What major challenges exist for hoteliers in Nepal at present?
Infrastructure, connectivity and quality standards remain our biggest challenges. Infrastructure is vital for development, not only for the hospitality and tourism industry but also for all industries in Nepal. But road connectivity is poor and air connectivity is expensive. The country has taken steps towards renovating as well as constructing new infrastructure. But the pace is far too slow. Pollution, climate change and overexposure of some attractions make us a less attractive destination. Which means that hotels are pushed to fill their rooms.
The lack of skilled manpower at all levels is another issue. It is not just a question of a lack of proper training and professional qualifications. There is also the chronic issue of qualified employees seeking what are perceived to be better opportunities abroad.
Airbnb and Homestays are growing in importance and influence in the industry. Airbnb has a strong presence in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Bandipur etc. It offers tourists a cheaper option for accommodation, which increases the incoming tourist numbers to the country. But there are issues with reliability, poor services, trust and complaints and these impact the reputation and business hotels as well. Homestays have erupted in the heart of the city. While homestays do not have to pay taxes, they earn more revenue than hotels. Currently, this has become a challenge the hotel industry needs to prioritise and the government address.
Both the public and private sector have many plans and visions in place but are slow to implement them. It is vital that all of us in the tourism industry, government and the private sector, work hand in hand for progress to take place in the industry. There is a significant investment in the hotel sector and the Government must take measures to protect investors and their investment. Statistics and sustainability were not considered when licences for new hotels were given. As a result, the stress on the hospitality business has been considerable. We wish each other well; we can learn from each other. But we must not only survive but also thrive. We cannot do this alone. For this, we need our government’s support. We must work together to prosper; have the private sector be included in the decision and policy-making process. And then have the decisions and policies implemented promptly. The tourism industry is a significant contributor to our economy. It should not be treated as an afterthought.
How many hotels will come into running in the next five years?
I cannot give you an exact figure. But according to the data on Nepal Tourism Statistics 2018 from the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, currently, we have 129-star hotels and 1125 tourist standard hotels registered. In total, we have 1254 registered Hotels in Nepal. If we look at the trends in Nepal in the last 5 years, we can expect around 200+ star and tourist standard hotels to come into running in the next five years.
How many job opportunities will be created in the Nepali hotel sector in the next five years?
It is not possible to give an exact figure. Naturally, jobs will be created at all levels in the hotels themselves. But it is difficult to assess the job opportunities that will open not only in the hotel industry but also in sectors associated with it. For example, hotel employees need uniforms; to supply those uniforms will create a need for companies that can provide them; those companies will take on employees to deliver the product. When a new hotel opens, supplying its needs creates a demand for products and manpower along the supply chain. It is not a quantifiable number but the impact is substantial.
What is the role of hotels in increasing the length of tourists stay in Nepal?
Hotels are the largest investors in the tourism sector. They often create completely new destinations by their presence or complete or complement existing ones. I have said in my earlier responses, hotels are doing their part by ensuring the quality standards of their products and services and by playing an active role in promoting Nepal as a destination. We are one of the best countries in the world in terms of product, but we lack adequate marketing, infrastructure and connectivity. VNY 2020 has led to options for visitors beyond the well-trodden path to Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan. New destinations have been identified and developed. New destinations need accommodation for travellers who go there. And our hotels are there to provide food and lodging and a great experience for every budget.
What will the earnings from hotels be?
A Nepal Rastra Bank report shows total foreign currency exchange (less return) for 2018 stood at Nrs 69,750,584 thousand, (approx 617,263 thousand US Dollars). This is almost 17 percent higher in USD than in 2017, the previous year. But according to the data on Nepal Tourism Statistics 2018 from the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, the expenditure per tourist, compared to tourist arrivals, dropped to USD 44, an 18 percent decrease compared to the year before. I have given you data on tourism’s past earnings so that we can have an idea of what the trend in earnings could be in the future. But there are too many variables to be able to predict what future earnings will be for hotels.
What are your concerns about infrastructure like airports etc?
There is a fundamental need to upgrade our infrastructure. We are one of the most attractive destinations in the world. But there is no point in having some of the best products in the world if getting to them is a nightmare. Our infrastructure needs development on a crisis basis.
Travelling by road in our country can be a nightmare. Besides the impact of the delays of the new international airports coming on-line, we have a problem with the fluctuating service standards of our existing international airport. Travellers endure innumerable difficulties. It is the gateway to Nepal for the vast majority of our visitors. Yet the experience is a stressful one for travellers. Dirty toilets, long lines and delays are part of what makes our airport seem stuck in the last century. The rest of the world has moved on, yet it appears we cannot manage to provide on-going training programmes to provide consistent, professional services.
Developing new destinations and experiences are all very good, but we must also maintain and improve our current sights and experiences too. There is also the danger of overexposure when it comes to our most popular destinations.
When it comes to our infrastructure, a fundamental point to remember is that maintenance and development is not a one-time investment. Again, it is not enough to provide facilities (for instance public toilets) if we do not maintain them.
Are there too many hotels? What is the total supply of hotel rooms?
It is unfortunate that a more measured survey of the statistics and sustainability of the hospitality sector was not done before issuing licences for new hotels. But what’s done is done. Whether we have too many or too few hotels now depends entirely on the number of visitors that need accommodation. According to the data of Nepal Tourism Statistics 2018 from the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, we have a total of 11,146 beds in Star hotels and 29,710 beds in Tourist standard hotels total for a total of 40,856 beds, beds that ideally should be occupied each night. VNY 2020 is an initiative that hopes to raise the number of visitors to a figure that will come close to making this a reality.
How will you increase demand?
Our emphasis is on quality tourism entering Nepal. To help us achieve this, we have many initiatives in the process.
We are focusing on different areas of the country and promoting stories rich in culture and history. Spiritual tourism is a key component. For example, we are promoting Lumbini and its association with peace; and the Janaki Mandir in Janakpur with its connection to the Ramayana. Restoration of our historic architecture was prioritised in different parts of the valley.
Besides this, we are strongly marketing features that make Nepal unique and amazing – abundant wildlife; adventure tourism that includes rafting and mountaineering; and our diverse festivals and culture.
The Visit Nepal 2020 campaign is not just limited to 2020 but is targeted for 2020 and beyond. The campaign is a lifetime experience.