Among the many new five-star hotels in Nepal that have opened their doors to guests this year, Aloft Kathmandu Thamel is unique as it is nestled in one of the country’s largest shopping malls - Chhaya Devi Complex at Thamel.
Aloft Kathmandu, which formally opened in July of this year, is the second five-star property managed by the US chain Marriott International, Inc in Nepal. Aloft hotels across the world are Marriott’s efforts at establishing trendy boutique hotels that are unlike its other properties. Keeping with that theme, Aloft Kathmandu is a stylish property that incorporates modern technology.
Aloft Kathmandu has made such a significant splash due to its brand name that it did not need any significant advertisement or publicity push. Reena Sherchan, director of sales at Aloft Kathmandu Thamel, reveals that Marriott ventured into Nepal to do something in terms of hospitality in a country where the tourism sector has opportunities to grow. From the beginning of its operation, it has exceeded expectations in terms of business as well as customer satisfaction. “Aloft itself has more than 146 brand networks across the world. So, it has its own clients who know what kind of brand it is and what service they can expect from the Aloft brand. For those clients, it is a good option to have a hotel like Aloft in Thamel because globally, Thamel is known as one of the major tourist hubs in Nepal. So, Aloft Kathmandu can guarantee its customers that their expectations of getting quality services and facilities will be met,” explains Sherchan.
She further shares, “Even if we talk about our local scenario, local clients in Kathmandu are really surprised by the look of the hotel itself. Once they enter the hotel, they are amazed to see a hotel with such superior service, decors and facilities in Kathmandu.”
The standard and services of Aloft Kathmandu resemble the quality of five-star hotels. But unlike other five-star hotels, Aloft’s staff members are more casual and amiable, which sets the hotel apart from other five star properties. Sherchan mentions that everybody in the hotel is dressed casually in jeans and t-shirts and the like. “In general, most of the hotels are formal in attire and also while addressing the staff. However, our staff members are trained to be casual so that anybody can enter here without any hesitation in casual apparel. Any formality like addressing the staff as Sir/Ma’am is also not required in this hotel.” Sherchan believes that casually treating the guests can help them get intimated with the hotel. At the same time, Aloft Kathmandu always prioritises excellent hospitality to its visitors.
Aloft Kathmandu is spacious enough to accommodate people visiting here for several purposes such as business meetings, conferences, social gatherings and accommodation. A total of 167 rooms including 154 standard (loft) rooms, seven junior suite rooms and six higher categories of suite rooms, all with modern amenities like Wi-Fi, LCD TVs etc. are available at the hotel. The standard loft rooms start at USD 120 approximately. Likewise, banquet halls of the hotel can accommodate 450 people. According to Sherchan, among the Rs 5 billion that was invested for the construction of Chhaya Devi Complex, Rs 2.5 billion was spent on the construction of the hotel.
At present, the hotel is serving different native and exotic cuisines through Nook, an all-day dining restaurant. Another restaurant, Nilgiri Sky Lounge, a rooftop eatery, has not opened yet. “We will be opening Nilgiri Sky Lounge by November 15 which will be serving Spanish delicacies.” One will be able to enjoy a beautiful view of Kathmandu from the restaurant.
Meanwhile, Live@Aloft, the internationally acclaimed concert series, will please music lovers that visit the hotel.
Aloft Kathmandu has two other lounges - W XYZ bar and Akua poolside bar. According to Sherchan, the bars are meant to offer a space for the locals to hang out.
Although all the rooms are not operational at present, the hotel has been providing employment opportunities to around 170 people so far. It is on the verge of recruiting more people once the remaining 23 rooms come into operation. According to Sherchan, it hired staff through open competition. “We did not announce any vacancies in local newspapers. Lots of people also came for an open interview,” shares Sherchan adding, “We are focusing on women employment and empowerment as well. Our target is to recruit at least 60 percent of women staff in the hotel.”
According to her, Aloft Kathmandu had carried out the ‘Women in Leadership’ campaign, under which it hired three different staff members in the finance and housekeeping departments through a written test and an interview. Aloft Kathmandu focuses on hiring Nepali workforce who have a good experience of working in hotels. “There are lots of 5-star hotels which are being run by expats at the top level. This trend is minimal in our hotel,” claims Sherchan.
"Aloft Kathmandu is all set to operate fully for VNY 2020"
Are you prepared for Visit Nepal Year (VNY) 2020?
For this season, we are still a new hotel. Luckily, we tried to make sure that all our hotel rooms are ready for this season. One of the reasons we opened in July is that we are prepared to serve the guests in season. Though it takes a couple of months to build a smooth operation and for the staff to settle down, we are ready to provide the services because we are experienced in the job. Regarding the facilities, almost all the facilities are ready except our Nilgiri rooftop restaurant. Though the hotel was opened in July, the core people were hired quite early in terms of marketing and sales. So, Aloft Kathmandu is all set to operate fully for VNY 2020. We have been working closely with the VNY 2020 team and also participating in different events, residential conferences, trade fairs and we do promotion and marketing. VNY secretariat calls several meetings, and we participate in them. Our hotel has also hosted around three meetings. Our team is also trying to brainstorm on how to promote tourism. Recently, we went to Thailand to attend a Trade Fair which was focused on Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions (MICE) tourism. As a hotel, individually we can’t do much to bring in clients, but we will be supporting tourism with good services and hospitality.
Lots of MICE activities take place in Nepal. Many hotels these days are generating good revenue from MICE facilities too. How important will the MICE activities be for you? How are you positioning for MICE at Aloft Kathmandu?
MICE is more about residential and meetings. We have a banquet hall with a capacity of 450 people. Our rooms compliment that. Even in November, a big conference will be happening in Nepal. We are also giving rooms to the people attending the conference. Next year, one of the non-profit organisations (NGOs) will be organising its annual gathering in Nepal, bringing 1000 people. We will be trying to allocate some rooms for those delegates. As a product, we will also launch lots of international campaigns primarily to promote our hotel as a destination.
Which specific countries are you targeting?
India is the targeted country as the country’s citizens can visit Nepal easily, even without a Visa. Shanti Hospitality Management Services (SHMS) is our management company where we have a regional sales team (RST) that visits different parts of India like Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, among others. The team does marketing, sales and promotion of Aloft.
The last few years have seen tremendous growth in Nepal’s hotel sector. What opportunities and challenges do you think exist for a hotel like Aloft Kathmandu?
It was very challenging to recruit people these days because it is very difficult to find the workforce because many big hotels are being opened right now. Also, there is a trend among people of migrating abroad for a better job, especially to the Middle East after the completion of Bachelor of Hotel Management (BHM). However, Aloft Kathmandu is focusing on hiring Nepali BHM students. They are capable, and they also carry out an internship programme for six months in the sector. Similarly, we are also trying to bring back migrants working in the hotel sector in places like Dubai, Middle East or India who hesitate to return to Nepal in the absence of opportunity and a suitable brand to progress their careers. Since they can now work in an international brand in their country, Aloft Kathmandu can bring change in this regard as well.
Sustaining the hotel for the long term could be another challenge for us. However, as a new international hotel, there are opportunities for us as well. Many hotels are not renovated. People are tired of visiting the same hotels for the past 12 years. If they had maintained their standard, there would have been competition. I think each hotel must go forward with its own facilities, products and services.
What plans for expansion do you have for the future? Is there any plan to increase engagement for locals?
We are trying to establish ourselves at first. Our target occupancy rate this year is around 29 percent which will increase next year.
While opening the hotel, we ran a ‘one-for-one’ campaign for a month through social media which was like an opening promotional programme to attract locals so that they could visit and experience the facilities here. We introduced the ‘buy one get one’ offer for the public on bread, breakfast and dinner. People from all age groups visited, which we were not expecting. We will be continuing such programmes in the future as well.