The Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) in cooperation with the Embassy of India in Nepal and the West Bengal Nepal Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WBNCCI) organised the “Cross Border Tourism and Trade Expo-Festival of Bengal" at Soaltee Crowne Plaza hotel in Kathmandu from September 2-5. A delegation of WBNCCI was in Nepal to participate in the programme. The trade expo and cultural event was followed by a joint business seminar attended by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba as the chief guest of the event. In the programme, entrepreneurs of WBNCCI shared that they are eager to invest in hotels, education, film, medical, iron and steel, agriculture, tea-coffee and other economic sectors. DK Jaiswal is the President of WBNCCI and Chairman of HHI Group of Hotels who led the delegation of visiting Indian businessmen. In an interview with New Business Age, Jaiswal talked about the significance of the trade-cultural expo to promote bilateral tourism and trade, investment opportunities in Nepal, among other issues. Excerpts:
What role will the “Cross Border Tourism and Trade Expo-Festival of Bengal" play in promoting Nepal-India cross-border tourism and trade?
This is the second visit of WBNCCI here and the “Cross Border Tourism and Trade Expo-Festival” was organised at the request of the Embassy of India in Nepal. The main focus of the expo is to further strengthen the trade and cultural ties of the two South Asian neighbours.
Tourism is an important source of revenue for many countries of the world. Nepal has very prominent landscapes and natural resources for tourism but lacks infrastructure. The WBNCCI delegation includes entrepreneurs who can develop such infrastructure in Nepal. For instance, we have with us an eminent manufacturer with expertise on monorails and cable car systems. There are also other distinguished people with us from different sectors such as shipping, wagon and bridge building, railways and tea from West Bengal. We have met and held discussions with officials from ministries including commerce, industry, agriculture along with the Investment Board, Nepal (IBN) for investing in large projects here.
How do Indian investors view Nepal as an investment destination?
Nepal has taken the right direction in terms of policy initiatives. Similarly, the government led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has been taking a friendly approach towards foreign investors which has been creating a favourable investment environment in the country.
This has led to the growing confidence of both Nepali and foreign investors about the Himalayan nation as a destination for investment. We are convinced that Nepal definitely can be a place of value for investment.
As an hotelier, do you have plans to operate hotels in Nepal?
We have plans to open budget hotels in Nepal and Ministry of Industry (MoI) has also asked us to handle the management of some hotels in Pokhara that are not performing well due to various reasons. An exchange of letters and discussions with the hotels’ management are being done and the facilities will be soon operating with new management.
Similarly, the HHI Group of Hotels which has been operating four and five-star hotels in major cities of India also want to open its franchises in Nepal. We have already agreed in this regard and the process will start now. HHI Group of Hotels has six hotels altogether across India and we are opening a resort hotel in Goa which will be a five-star deluxe project with an investment of IN 250 crore. The hotel will come into operation from next year. Likewise, there are also other India hotel chains working to start franchises in Nepal.
Nepal is a beautiful country with huge potential in the hospitality and tourism business. We need to keep in mind that to promote tourism the three ‘Cs’- culture, cuisine and care - are important. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has an agenda to bring all neighbours together to develop tourism and hospitality in the region in order to share the mutual benefits.
Apart from tourism, what other areas in Nepal can be of interest to investors from West Bengal?
We own multiplexes and are also engaged in the film industry as well. We are working to bring movie units from Bollywood to Nepal. Indian movie companies and producers will come here where they will identify appropriate places for filming. It will also benefit Nepal as the country can be a venue for filming. Filming is also another form of promoting tourism as people are likely to visit the locations after watching movies.
We can also invest here in the education sector. We have a partnership with the Birla Group in running 46 schools in India and five more educational institutions will be added soon. We have plans to start a joint venture or to give training in the education field in Nepal.
Connectivity is a major impediment to the tourism sector in Nepal. How can the country address this problem?
Ensuring a sound level of connectivity is essential when it comes to trade and tourism. Nepal needs to improve in both land and air connectivity. Nepal has only one flight four days a week connecting to Kolkata. Kolkata for years has remained one of the biggest trading hubs for Nepal. This place is where Nepal converges with other countries for its foreign trade. So, it will be important for Nepal to significantly increase the frequency of flights connecting to Kolkata to promote tourism in West Bengal and all Asian countries.
What role will WBNCCI play to increase Nepal-India trade and tourism in the coming years?
West Bengal is an important neighbouring Indian state and WBNCCI has been playing a constructive role in strengthening the trade and investment ties between India and Nepal. Expos like the “Cross Border Tourism and Trade Expo-Festival of Bengal" and business seminars are a platform for both countries. Our aim in organising and participating in events like this is to bring entrepreneurs here so that they can observe the investment potential and help Nepal in its economic development initiatives.