Executive Director of the Hotel Association of Nepal MADHAV OM SHRESTHA is a well known person. He has served as the executive director of HAN for over one and a half decade. Shrestha spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues regarding the state of hotel business in Nepal. Excerpts:
What is the importance of the World Congress of International Hotel and Restaurant Associations?
At a time when Nepal is celebrating Nepal Tourism Year 2011, hosting an event like the World Congress of International Hotel and Restaurant Associations is very significant. This is the second time Nepal is hosting the World Congress. We hosted the first in the 1980s. Although we were continuously bidding to host the congress for the last three years, the organizers selected Nepal for this year.
How is hosting the Congress is significant?
As Nepal is promoting Nepal Tourism Year with an aim to bring a million tourists in 2011, one of the aims of the Congress is also to promote tourism. Thus, it has a very significant role in sending the message in the present context. This is also a great opportunity for us to sell Nepal to the international tourism market as many top tourism entrepreneurs are also coming to take part in the Congress.
What other advantages will Nepal have from this?
For instance, some of the participants are the owners of world’s renowned chain hoteliers. The conference will give them a chance to see the overall scenario of the hotel business in Nepal. They may find Nepal as a place for investment.
How many countries will take part in the Congress?
Many countries have shown interest to take part in the congress. We are expecting the participation of 30 to 40 countries. If you see the quality of participants, they are mostly senior hoteliers.
How possible is it to increase the participation?
Had the air fare and accommodation been cheaper, the participation would have gone much higher. The cost of air tickets in Nepal is very high and there is a very limited connection to several destinations. These are hindrances in the way to increasing the number of participation.
How do you evaluate Nepal Tourism Year 2011?
Given Nepal’s present situation, it has been a grand success. We have been able to bring nearly a million tourists. It is itself a great achievement. This also sets a new precedent showing a successful model for public private partnership. Despite lack of aircraft with the national flag carrier and the political instability, arrival of tourists has been significant. Had Nepal Airline had its own carriers along with political stability in the country, the arrival would have gone much higher.
What do you think is the reason behind the increase in the number tourists?
One of the major things was the decline in the number of bandhs or general strikes. As a mountainous country, Nepal has enough places that can lure the tourists and Nepal does not need to market its places. The Himalayan peaks as well as the religious and cultural sites of Nepal are well renowned. If we can guarantee the law and order, and provide adequate connecting flights, Nepal has a lot of advantages to sell its tourism potential.
It is reported that all the star hotels are packed now. Is that true?
Due to increasing number of arrivals of tourists, it is very difficult to book hotels. There are 10,000 rooms available in the valley out of 28,000 rooms available in the country. Due to conflict and uncertain political scenario, no one has invested in the hotel sector. Even some of the star hotels like Narayani, Sherpa, Kathmandu Hotel, Woodlands and a number of other small hotels are shut down due to the trade union labor problems. The recent results of lack of hotel rooms are the result of labor strike and uncertain political situation. Had labor law protected the interest of hoteliers and the political situation been normal, Nepal’s situation would have been much different.
What needs to be done to bring more tourists in Nepal?
The recent experiences have shown that Nepalese do not have to do anything to lure tourists. If political parties and other organizations denounce the general strike, the country will see a lot of tourists.
How do you see the state of tourism sector in general and hotel sector in particular?
Well. Some hotels were shut down during the time of conflict. Some even shut down due to labor problems. Hotel Blue Star, Hotel Kathmandu, Narayani Hotel, Woodland Hotel, and Sherpa Hotels are some examples. Some hotels like Durbar Hotel used to shut down from time to time as it had a little impact. Nobody knows when hotels will shut down. Small hotels are even run in rented buildings.
Despite all the difficulties, the partnership between the government and private sector has brought a lot of changes. We need to appreciate them. During the Nepal Tourism Year, we have achieved a lot. Although the budget allocated for the Nepal Tourism Year is yet to be spent, we have made a lot of progress. Even the budget allocated for the promotion of tourism is lapsed and a huge portion of budget reportedly spent on other purposes. Even the promotion budget allocated for the tourism year is yet to be spent. The new minister has said that the Nepal Tourism Year Program will not remain for the year 2011 but it will continue for another five years, giving assurance to tourism entrepreneurs that the budget will be utilized.