“You expect your needs anticipated when you meet a seasoned hotelier. You may also expect a touch of sophistication in the manner your needs are fulfilled. Delivery of services with marked sophistication has been a critical area in the hospitality sector that can make or break a brand despite everything else right in place,” says Lakai, sitting in his office surrounded by verdant greenery. On a second look, the entire campus would look resting on a cliff edge that overlooks a big stretch of human settlements downhill. Great Kathmandu topography, one must admit.
Young guns like Lakai who are armed with international education and right exposure are bringing about the much-needed change in the way hotel management education is seen and imparted in this part of the globe. And, the profession is back in focus and is being considered both chic and money-minting.
Talking to Lakai is extremely refreshing. Lakai’s beginning has not been far from modest. He topped his batch of trainees at Kathmandu’s Soaltee Oberoi, as it was known then, and got his first job with the five-star hotel right away. Towards the end of 1998, he signed up with Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality for a degree in hospitality management and left for Switzerland. Holding the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left in his first lessons in Switzerland brought smiles on his face. He used the opportunity to experience, learn and imbibe the fine nuances of Swiss hospitality that sets it apart and makes it a standard-bearer for the hospitality industry across the world.
Lakai, who is still in his 30s relentlessly travelled from one country to another, chasing his dreams. By now when he is settled with his hotel management college in Kathmandu sailing in calm waters, he has travelled to 57 countries. Last, he was in Australia to learn how vocational module functions in that country. “It’s very important to equip each individual with a reality of today and skills that go beyond managing livelihood,” he says. One of the Australian institutes will send 10 students to his college for vocational training under cultural exchange programme. These students will starts classes from October 3.
In a sense, Lakai was lucky to have worked out his goals early in life and had the wherewithal to pursue them. But, he certainly deserves kudos for his imagination that knew no boundaries, his motivation that kept him going even during difficult times when he was going through the grind of setting up a world class educational facility and his perseverance that actually changed the world around him. In the past years when he was globe-trotting restlessly to find inspiration and models for the development of his own country so that he can come back for good and lead a decent life, he became a global citizen -- not ready to accept what is not up to the standard and ready to accept every human being regardless of nationality or religion.
He reminisces with a touch of nostalgia his experiences of serving world leaders at World Economic Forum at Davos and hosting from the Royals, Hollywood celebrities to Formula race team during his stint at world famous Panorama resort in Zurich. Though it has been a decade since he left Swiss School, his demeanor still reflects his Swiss association– a definite plus for him in this part of the world where hospitality culture is still in infancy. He travelled within Switzerland from length to breadth and explored entire Europe by the time he completed his Hospitality Degree in Switzerland.
Armed with a Swiss degree and four-year stay in Switzerland, unflinching love for the hospitality sector, Lakai had no dearth of job offers from top hotels around the world. From 2001 to 2006, he worked in different capacities in different countries. He learnt German language while staying in Switzerland and French in Canada. While working as a freelance consultant in the Middle-East, he came across many Nepali workers who despite being hard-working, honest and ready to take challenges were languishing in low-paid menial jobs, which were also physically extremely harsh. Lakai had everything that he wished for – international education, well-paying job and a great career away from the clutter and cacophony of Nepal, which was going through one of its worst times in the form of internal strife and insurgency. He thought if these workers could be trained, for example, in bakery or coffee making, they could easily find better livelihood, which would not be as harsh as working for low wages in foreign lands. His idea gradually firmed up. He decided to stop working and earning for others and headed home.
Lakai was still very young but was beaming with confidence. He set up his dream project – a hotel management school aiming to meet the highest standards in its category. He and his team put in a handsome Rs 25 million in the project. Till then, hotel management education in Nepal was still out of focus and lacked glamour. Thanks to his education and exposure, he was cut out for the job and Kathmandu’s very first brand-conscious hotel management school began its classes in January 2008. Today, it runs a Swiss accredited bachelor’s programme in hospitality management apart from short-term vocational training in related fields. GATE enrolls over 350 students a year.
An experiment with needy students
“With our corporate guarantee, we convinced Sanima Bank to finance the cost of education for 60 students who were enrolled in vocational training of short-term duration. Out of them, 52 completed their respective programmes, got jobs and paid back their loans. You cannot sell the thirst but you can surely quench the thirst. Later on, the Swiss agency Helvetas partnered with GATE Vocational to provide scholarship to needy ones and we have been able to make significant difference for over 500 needy youth from all over the nation, regardless of their ethnicity and background. This is perhaps one of the best examples how vocational education can change the life of average youth through training and gainful employment.”