Tue, Oct 9, 2018 12:47 PM
Upaul Majumdar, General Manager of Soaltee Crowne Plaza, firmly believes in Nepal’s potential in excelling at Tourism and the changes that can be brought with belief and team work. Having graduated in Hotel Management from Delhi with MBA in Marketing from Institute of Management Technology Gaziabad. He worked at Oberoi Hotels chain for 7 years, then at airlines industry (Jet air and Air Canada) for about 2 to 3 years. Then he worked at Bangladesh for a real estate company for which he set up a hotel chain called Platinum Suites. After working at Bangladesh, he moved to Annapurna Hotel in Nepal and worked as CEO for 2.5 years. He then received an offer from Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) to work as the General Manger of Soaltee Crowne Plaza and he immediately accepted the same. This was a very trying and challenging time in July 2015, right after the major earthquake. He is in his second tenure here and proudly says that if he is given a choice he’ll never leave Soaltee and Nepal.
Recently Mr. Majumdar was awarded, the Best General Manager in Asia in hospitality industry by CMO Asia. Along with that Soaltee Crowne Plaza also successfully conducted the BIMSTEC summit, which gathered them a lot of praise from the ministries and government. On this backdrop, Rachit Agrawal, Aakriti Thakali and Krishna Khatiwada from Sharesansar visited Mr. Majumdar. The excerpts of the interview are:
What prospects and challenges do you see in Nepalese hotel industry?
The major challenge right now is to bring more tourists in the country. We still have only one international airport, although we have land route via India and China, tourism flow from land ways is not yet very effectively used. However, we also have a lot of prospects because we now have a stable government. Two more international airports are coming, one at Bhairahawa which will probably come into operation from next year and the other at Pokhara. Similarly, if we see the hotel industry in specific there is a major challenge in infrastructure and in quality service provided to the customers.
What kind of role do you expect from government to promote the tourism sector of Nepal? Are they doing enough to promote Nepal in world map?
The government is a facilitator and a regulator, so many times these two roles collide and become challenging. But I see the government has come up with a lot of reforms like the introduction of Tourism tax, which goes to the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB). NTB is a great example of public private partnership and they do a lot of promotions for Nepal all over the world. Similarly, they take active interest in organizing various travel marts. Like last year, we started Himalayan Travel mart, which was a huge success.
In addition to this, whenever I meet the ministers and other officials, they are very supportive and helpful. What I think we lack is an overall tourism strategy. So, once we figure that out, we can all work towards one direction and the synergetic outcome will be more beneficial for Nepal.
So, government, as a facilitator, can ensure that the laws in place are implemented. Similarly, to promote tourism we require more entrepreneurial spirit and investments, so government can shape laws that will incentivize investment in Tourism. For example, the tourism boomed in Thailand, Sri Lanka and India with a great contribution from government.
What kind of role is Soaltee Hotel going to play to make Tourism Year 2020 successful?
Soaltee Crowne Plaza is one of the industry’s oldest hotels in 5 Star segment and we pioneered hospitality in Nepal. Even today we take lead in many things like we’ve got HACCP (food safety and sanitation) Certificate which is not actually mandated by law. Similarly, we have installed sewage treatment plant which amounted to a expense of Rs 1 crore and we now ensure that not a single drop of our sewer will enter the public system.
Similarly, we work with many government agencies like police and army and take part in various government programs. We do trainings for them regarding VIP security and how it works in hotels. Last fiscal year we also got awarded as the highest tax payer in the hospitality industry. So we try and do our part to contribute to the entire industry and promote tourism inside and outside the country.
Do you do promotions outside Nepal?
Yes, in fact we do. Soaltee crown plaza is the part of Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) and IHG does worldwide promotion of all their hotels. We have access to over 1 billion IHG reward club members and so whenever we do promotions it goes out to all of them and to the 5500 other IHG hotels worldwide.
Tourism is one of the top 3 suitable industry of Nepal? How has the hospitality industry grown over the years of this’s hotels existence?
Nepal started off as an exotic hill destination and a religious center for Hindus and Buddhists. So we had these traditional pulls but over the years, it has developed into a very big adventure destination and a haven for people seeking spirituality. Similarly, we are very rich in culture, which was unexplored. However now we have started to showcase our cultural heritage to the world, like Indra Jatra and many such festivals. For example, Chitwan is a national park but we also have Tharu culture which attracts a lot of tourists.
So, over the years of this hotels existence, Nepal’s hospitality industry has become multifaceted in terms of its offerings to the rest of the world.
Most tourists come to Nepal to enjoy the natural beauty, trekking, rock climbing, mountaineering and so on. In this regard hasn’t Soaltee thought of establishing chain of hotels all around the country?
The Soaltee Crowne Plaza is a five-star deluxe hotel which is owned by Soaltee Hotel Limited (SHL). Soaltee hotel’s has plans to expand outside of Kathmandu and the owning company has put up its first hotel in Nepalgunj. I am sure they have plans to put in several such hotels in important tourist destinations in Nepal.
A lot of international hotel chains are now coming into Nepal, especially Kathmandu valley. So being a leader in hotel industry how are you planning to face this competition?
Now that all the international brands like Marriot Fairfield, Hotel Sheraton, Four points, Taj etc. are zooming in, it is actually good for the entire economy and even us. When international hotels come in, they will improve the standard of the entire industry. Similarly, I see the business also going up because these brands will promote their hotels all over the world which in a way will promote our country. So when the flow of tourists increases, it will be beneficial for everyone.
Initially it will be challenging because the supply is more, but the demand is less, but I’m sure through better marketing it is going to make a big difference.
SHL’s profit has climbed by 16.36% in the last quarter of 2074/75, which was falling in the previous quarters. What was the hindrance that caused the decline in profit?
Well first of all we have to acknowledge that the flow of tourists declined after the massive earthquake and the economic blockade afterwards. So, we had to put in a lot of effort to get the tourists back. Nepal is a completely leisure driven market with only 20-25% corporate visits. So business was down, during this period of time, but I must commend the owning company Soaltee Hotel Limited because even at such difficult time it continued to invest in the product.
We’ve got a brand-new wing of 176 rooms with the theme of Classic Heritage. This year we are adding two more floors with the same theme representing the Nepalese hospitality. So, because of the non availability of rooms due to this complete renovation the sales were lower resulting in reduced profitability.
How do you see the Nepalese Tourism industry 10 years down the line?
Ten years down the line I see a lot of developments happening in Tourism, especially in state level. After the establishment of federal government, the provinces have been formed with local elections already conducted. So now the states will promote their tourism individually which will be more effective and will provide chance for the unexplored parts to gain attention. I see tourism flourishing because it is the only sector where all the customer takes back are happy memories. You don’t have to manufacture and send something out. The resources remain with you, they just visit, spend and return with tons of memories.
So, 10 years down the line Nepal will be extremely sought-after tourism destination. Nepal is a unique country. In an altitude of 80 km, you can go from nearly sea level to the highest point on Earth and because of this difference we can find a wide variation of flora, fauna and climatic conditions. This uniqueness can be found nowhere else in the world.
The gap, as I see it is, Nepal hasn’t been able to market itself very well. Recently I visited a travel mart abroad and there were Nepali stalls too. When people came to those stall and asked where Nepal is, they said,” you see India, you see China and the small country between them, that is Nepal” and I think that is a poor marketing of our country. When somebody asks me where Nepal is I ask them, do you know the highest place on Earth? And they say yes, its Mount Everest. Then I add that is exactly where Nepal is. We are right on top of the world.
However, this is possible only if we do it right. I have seen many beautiful hill stations and tourism destinations in India and other countries that have lost their charisma over the years due to pollution and lack of proper waste management. So, as we progress, we need to be constantly aware of the environment we are in and its protection. We should ensure that the standards are being followed and everyone along with government is proactively involved in proper waste management.
How was your experience hosting the BIMSTEC Summit?
The BIMSTEC Summit was a huge event for the government and us too. After the formation of new government, it was actually the largest event that had happened so far, and it was a matter of National pride. So, the government was very enthusiastic and wanted to ensure that everything happened successfully. So, we took it on from that spirit and I think we did a flawless job. There were seven head of states and all of them stayed at Soaltee. Our entire team did the best to ensure that there was no stones unturned to deliver true Nepalese Hospitality. Actually, you should see my comments book, they have written very nice things about us. So to sum up, it was a great experience and I think we delivered what we were expected of.
You have this wonderful charisma and a zest for doing everything and recently you were also awarded as the best General Manager of the entire Asia in Hospitality Industry. What is you mantra for success?
My mantra for success is, “Work with your team because you are as good as your team and you can do nothing alone”. That’s the philosophy I believe in. I was very surprised when I got nominated for this award because it was not applied for. At the beginning of this year I was also awarded as the best GM in India and Nepal. So what they did was take all the winners from different countries all over Asia and the top 5 were nominated. I went to Singapore after I was selected as the top 5 and then I also won the award. So I feel it’s a vindication of my team and the work we do here at Soaltee Crowne Plaza and I think it’s a great vindication for Nepal too. There were 22 Asian countries and for Nepal to win this award is a huge recognition. So, I say that this award provides three recognitions – one for myself, one for my team and Soaltee Crowne Plaza and one for the country Nepal.
The beauty of Nepal is, if you look at positive things there are a lot of good things going on and if you look at negative things then there are a lot of problems too. So when I first came to Nepal the famous term was “k garney” (what to do next?) and I said “work garney” and that is how we achieve what we want to achieve.
What would you like to say to the young generation out there?
The first thing is, the youth of Nepal must believe in Nepal. I’m an outsider but when I came here I had a fabulous experience and am still here because I believed in Nepal and the potential it had. When you want something, first you believe in it and then make it happen. That is what I tell my team and that’s what my team does. I am just one man with more than 400 employees in this hotel. Whenever we have to do something big and nice, everybody is working. It’s not the GM who meets and greets every guest, it’s the front line employees and if they didn’t believe in themselves and what they do, then we would have never reached where we are today.
So, I want to appeal to the youths to believe in yourself, believe in your country and believe in your ability to make things happen. If you feel that nothing will happen for me here and I’d rather go abroad then you won’t be able to do anything here and whatever you do abroad won’t be as good as it would have been in your own country. So, if you believe in yourself, your ability to do things and in your country then we can turn mountains. Today, thanks to internet and social media, youths at Nepal are as smart as anywhere. They all listen to the same music, they comment on same topic, they wear same clothes – some of it I don’t understand, but still they are the same. So, I think the youths here have as much opportunity as anywhere else in the world, they just need to believe in themselves.
If you see all the countries’ average age, Nepal is probably one of the youngest countries and that is a great plus point for us. However, nothing happens overnight, things take time. So, you have to be patient and at it. You should not give up and complain. We’ve got everything in place, we just have to patiently move towards it. It’s about vision and vision is a desired future state. If I have a vision to reach somewhere then I need to believe in it and eventually we’ll reach there.