Visit Nepal 2020 is now less than a year away. Are the country’s hotels ready to play their role? How?
All hotels in the country are promoting Visit Nepal Year 2020 in one way or another, and we are making sure that not only the agencies but also our guests are made aware of the campaign, especially those guests who visit
The hoteliers are concerned about extra rooms and how we were going to fill them. The government’s target of two million visitors is an ambitious figure, but with all parts of the hospitality sector and government agencies working together, we are optimistic that we will reach this figure. A great deal of work has been done in updating our products in terms of services, restaurants, heritage sites, etc. in preparation for the upcoming year.
What long-term impact do you think the national campaign will have on the Nepali tourism industry and the hotel sector in particular?
Marketing is integral to the success of any product and even more so in the hospitality industry. The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has been very enthusiastic about its campaign and has been marketing it rigorously. With effective and continuous marketing strategies, the campaign is bound to make a lasting impact on the Nepal tourism industry and hotel sector. A national campaign such as Visit Nepal Year 2020 does not end when the year is over. The momentum will undoubtedly carry on positively beyond 2020. We are all aware that it is not enough to bring visitors into the nation: we need to make their experiences amazing so they will want to visit again.
A national campaign like this also has the positive effect of encouraging different aspects of our industry such as restaurants, hotels and trekking agencies as well as different communities to work together for the betterment of each other. Also, this will continue not only until 2020 but also beyond that. Community and industry must stand together to benefit our nation – and this includes not only lasting benefits in Nepal but also with India. We have agreed with India to develop and promote the Ramayana/Buddhist circuit jointly. This exciting initiative will promote our rich religious and cultural heritage.
How is Annapurna Group of Hotels preparing for the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign?
With over 50 years of experience in the hospitality industry, we are confident we will look after our guests well and ensure that they have a pleasant and memorable stay. For Visit Nepal 2020, we will be emphasising professional service, quality, standards and training that will be a benchmark for the industry.
With our three properties - Hotel Annapurna in the best location in Kathmandu, Fish Tail Lodge with its unbeatable view of the Macchapuchhre and Fewa Lake, and Jagatpur Lodge, the epitome of luxury in the jungle - we are in the unique position to be able to offer our guests a one-window opportunity to experience the extraordinary diversity of culture, flora and fauna that makes Nepal so unique.
What are the new services you are planning for the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign?
As mentioned earlier, we have three properties in three unique locations in major tourist hubs of the country.
We are always in the process of updating our products. Recently, we revamped the Annapurna gym and introduced sauna and steam services at the hotel. Our enthusiastic employees handle guests’ requests with great care and ensure that they see it through. Service truly is personal at the Annapurna Group of Hotels. Besides this, we will be offering special packages for the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign.
The group already owns Hotel Annapurna, Fish Tail Lodge and Jagatpur Lodge. Are you planning new properties in other tourist hubs?
These are plans that every hotelier has, and certainly, we do too. However, in the current context, I want to focus on our existing three properties. Our newest addition, Jagatpur Lodge, has been a challenge primarily due to the poor roads and connectivity.
I have learnt my lesson - I will not expand unless I am 100 percent confident about the existing infrastructure and business scenario in any proposed new location. Moreover, I am confident the government will prioritise infrastructure in the coming years.
What is the average occupancy rate at your properties and how do you expect it to grow in 2020?
Average occupancy rates fluctuate depending on the season, not only at our properties but also throughout the industry. However, as previously mentioned, naturally we expect the occupancy rate to rise in 2020. We have been working on updating our products in terms of our services, restaurants, heritage sites, etc. in preparation for the upcoming year.
It has been 54 years of the operation of Hotel Annapurna. What are the reasons behind its success?
From the day we opened in 1965 to now, we at the Annapurna have never lost sight of the fact that we are here to make our guests feel comfortable and special. The consistency of service is paramount. While we, like the rest of the hotel industry, have had many ups and downs, we have benefited from having operated the Annapurna for over half a century. I emphasise on personalised service, standards, quality and training at all times. However, I also realise that now it is time for the property to undergo a major refurbishment and we are planning for that.
We believe firmly in the need to continually invest in our product, from technology to rooms and services—and, most importantly, our employees. Employee training programmes must be ongoing, not a case of showing them once and leaving them to it.
It is just as important to monitor and mentor them, to help them achieve their full potential and to identify and encourage future leaders. In the hospitality industry, there is never a time when we can say we have done it all: there is always room for improvement. We are always looking for new avenues to add to the guest experience. As the first five-star hotel, we have a unique position in our industry. I would like to see that legacy shine through the coming years.
What strategies have you implemented to sustain the business in the difficult years?
Our existence and success are intertwined with the promotion of our hotel and tourism industry. We work on providing the best services and product to our guests. We emphasise on personalised service, quality, standards and training at all times. Adapting to current scenarios and expectations is an ongoing endeavour. We strategise, identify and get to know our target groups. To be effective we work with local experts, customising special packages and our product accordingly. In difficult years, we must position our rates carefully. However, I firmly believe that a rate war is not the answer. Whether in good times or bad, we at the Annapurna walk the talk of providing the best service in an unbeatable location for all three properties in our group. And we ensure this fact is disseminated well in the market.
How competitive is Nepal’s hotel sector?
Like any sector, the hotel industry is competitive. With an increase in the number of international chains arriving in the country, all of us are motivated. To give you an analogy, while we have made significant additions to our room inventory, there is genuine concern that there are too many hotels chasing the same slice of the pie (number of tourists) while the pie has not increased in size. All of us are hopeful that Visit Nepal 2020 will address this situation.
What significant challenges exist for hoteliers in Nepal?
As I mentioned previously, the major challenge for hoteliers is that our hotel industry is intertwined with the promotion of tourism industry. We need to improve infrastructure, marketing and connectivity. Our product must be able to compete against a variety of attractive tourist destinations and hotels in our region and globally. Standardisation of services also remains an issue, but things are on an upswing. NTB’s initiative of reviewing our hotel quality standards is a welcome step. Thanks to the support from the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, policies on paper are becoming a reality. It is not enough to have the roads and airports in place or to have our heritage sites developed and operating at global standards. Our product is the majesty of the Himalayas, the wonder of our natural world, the splendour of our architectural heritage and the joyous mix of ethnicity that makes us who we are. We must protect, preserve, and build on them.