The Iron Lady of Nepali Tourism

Ambitious, articulate and debonair, Mrs. Ambica Shrestha, the president of Kathmandu’s landmark Dwarika’s Hotel, is one of the most influential entrepreneurs in Nepal. With typical Nepali culture oozing out from every nooks and corner of the property, Dwarika’s Hotel has remained one of the top hotels in Nepal every since it came into operation. This year also, Dwarika’s has been named one of the best hotels of the country, and the backbone behind this is the charismatic and very passionate Mrs. Shrestha.

Mrs. Shrestha, the renowned women entrepreneur in Nepal, has always inspired youths, women and any other people, in general, to make a mark in entrepreneurship. She made a foray into the sector with Kathmandu Travels and Tours where she worked hard for many years. This was the time when she started her work to showcase Nepal and its wonders to the world. He husband Mr. Dwarika Das Shrestha was running Paras Hotel after leaving his government job. Their journey went up the hill from this point.

Mrs. Shrestha says that with a country like ours, we can prosper any way we would like to. “We have all the ingredients for tourism. May it be cultural or geographic, we have it all.”

When Mrs. Shrestha first started out, there were not many tour operators in the country. She worked very hard on the tours and travels segment for many years. Her company was among the ones to participate in ITB ((Internationale Tourismus-Börse Berlin) — the world’s leading travel trade show held every year in Berlin. Since then, she has been a regular there until very recently. In international travel marts and fair, Mrs. Shrestha always promoted Nepal before her company. “It was always Nepal first for me,” she shares. The people there even enquired if she was from the tourism ministry. Mrs. Shrestha says that it is very important to take a stand in events like these, for this really helps in drawing tourists to Nepal.

“There are so many things we can showcase but still we lack in our advertisement skills. Therefore there are so many things that need to change. Instead of just sitting in the cubicle, we can make it more attractive to bring in visitors,” she says, adding: “We could have a Lakhe dancing. We need to work more sensibly.”

She also says many officials and tour operators participate in international markets just to travel and enjoy. “Are we there to work and promote our country or to enjoy ourselves?” she questions. “The political problems, instability, and changing of officials also take its toll on tourism. Officials are very quick to say tourism is the most important sector of our economy, but action should define it.”

Mrs. Shrestha did have to go through many hardships to get to where she is right now. Her husband started collecting age-old wooden windows, beams, and doors when he saw them being sold as firewood. The couple even broke away from the house and they were the outcasts. But they worked really hard to establish themselves. They had a shed and this was where the spark for the fire was ignited. Their American friend had to write, and therefore needed a secluded space to work in peace. So, Mr. Shrestha placed the old styled window and furnished the shed for her. The friend liked it so much that she even brought other visitors to look and they marveled at the authentic Nepali architecture.

During late King Birendra’s coronation in 1975, there were many visitors but very limited hotel rooms. So one week before the coronation, the American friend brought a Japanese team and asked the Shresthas to accommodate them. Taking two houses nearby, they furnished it up to accommodate the Japanese group and they also had a kitchen for them to use. The Japanese group liked the place so much that they tried to book the place for another tour.

“But that is my home” is what Mrs. Shrestha said. But they were persistent with their demand. The Shresthas then shifted to another place which immediately made 10 rooms available. Now that they lived elsewhere, they started converting it into a hotel and registered it formally in 1977. Late King Birendra inaugurated the hotel. Slowly, they upscaled everything. The present day’s Dwarika’s is the result of all this hard work.

When her husband passed away, Mrs. Shrestha had to face a big loss in Japan and India because many people looked down on her as a woman. When she first went to Japan, her agent did not look at her to address her, but her employee who was a man. “If you let them, they will not consider you, even till now, there are people who discriminate. You need to fight it, but we go through, we have perseverance. Or else we would not survive”.

She did it eventually to be as renowned and inspirational as she is now. She also points out that hospitality is ingrained in women and is most important in the tourism sector. “Multitasking skill, which is more in women, is so much more necessary than the one-track mind in the tourism business. From arranging travels, to arranging food, to looking after the arrangement, everything should be taken care of,” she shares. Despite the discrimination and hardship she had to go through, she says: “Let us not be pessimistic, we have to be optimistic. We have to see the light and go ahead. It might be dark, but there is the light, get there!”

Mrs. Shrestha also says that we cannot avoid dignity of labor. “It is their work and we respect people for what they do. Janitors have the most important job, but many people look down on them. Why should any work be any less than the others?” she wonders. “Even if I go and wash dishes it is not something to be ashamed of!”

The inspiring entrepreneur says that if you bring your mind to it, you can have any work you want to do. “You need to create opportunities! You also need to be innovative and dynamic. If you do it properly, you can really make it and there are so many examples around us,” she adds.

The theme for this year’s World Tourism Day is ‘Sustainable Tourism: A tool for development’. Mrs. Shrestha points out you have sustainable tourism, only if you have visitors. “If you don’t get people coming, how is it sustainable? There is unrest here, other countries are begging them to come. The way they are selling themselves, people are running there.

We have everything, but we need to promote more,” she says. She vehemently opposes the decision to waive off visa for some visitors. “If you get anything for free, people think twice before accepting it.  Why is this free? What is wrong with this?” she says. “If people really want to come, they come by paying. The free visa is even resulting in us losing high-end customers.”

Mrs. Shrestha has spent decades working for the tourism sector and promoting Nepal and its culture. Even today, the aura of sophistication and passion radiates out from her, adding to the essence of anything she says. “Anything you do, the sky is the limit. But if you look for profit overnight, you are on the wrong track,” she said before concluding.

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