Anil Malik has been working as the general manager of Radisson Hotel Kathmandu since August 2013. Prior to that, he worked as the general manager of Country Inn & Suites By Carlson Haridwar. Malik holds a three-year Diploma in Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition from Institute of Hotel Management PUSA. Similarly, he also completed BSc from Nagaland University. TOURISM NEWS DIGEST recently talked with Malik on several issues related to Nepali hospitality industry with focus on Radisson Hotel Kathmandu. Excerpts:
TND: Please tell us about your career in the hospitality industry?
Malik: This is my 15th year in the hospitality industry. I entered the industry in 1999 as I hold university degree in hotel management. Many of my friends have switched to other sectors because hospitality is a very challenging sector. Our aim is to look after the guests all the time. We need to make our guests feel that hotel is a home away from home.
I have seen lot of up and downs in my career. Talking about tourism in Nepal, it was on downward trend some years ago because of political reasons. Now, things have changed for good. Tourists have started coming. It is because of this reason that many hotels are in the pipeline.
TND: You said many new hotels are coming up. But arrivals haven’t increased significantly. How will they sustain?
Malik: When I speak about Radisson, I can go and promote it in the international market. It is an established brand. But when it comes to bringing in more tourists to the country, the government has to play greater role than the hoteliers. But increasing arrivals is something that hotels along cannot do. We need to improve our infrastructures – whether it is at the airport and other tourist destinations.
Unfortunately, I have felt that the government hasn’t taken much efforts to develop tourism in areas other than Pokhara, Kathmandu and Chitwan. But Nepal is not only about these three cities. There are many areas in the country which are rich in natural beauty. But nothing have been done to exploit the potential that these areas hold. It is high time the government came up with something like ‘explore Nepal’ campaign to explore potential areas.
NTB is marred in controversy. NTB should do much for identification of new areas and promoting them in international market.
TND: There will be cutthroat competition when new hotels open for business. What do you say?
Malik: Operating costs of hotels is increasing due to high inflation. For example, diesel price has increased by four or five times since I joined the hotel. Tourist arrival is growing at a slow pace and we are not getting the price that we are supposed to get. Some years ago, we were easily getting US$ 250 per room. Now, I hardly think of getting $100. With more hotels coming up, there could be some sort of unfair competition.
Tour operators of Nepal have a bigger role to play. We are not united at all. All the tour operators and hoteliers should fix minimum support price. Nobody makes hue and cry when fuel prices go up or airfare goes up. But when I tell tour operators that I have to raise price, they just don’t support. Lets not try to sell Nepal as a cheap destination.
We should understand that we ourselves are losing by involving in price undercutting. The government decided to upgrade five-star hotels to five-star deluxe category by adding some additional criteria. Why late? The government should have done that years ago.
TND: Your chairman BK Shrestha is the president of Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN). What role can HAN play in this issue?
Malik: I think it’s high time all hoteliers sat together and discuss the issue. When it comes to business, it has to be professional, not personal. HAN should, at least, come into the picture and set some guidelines for hotels. They should, for example, set minimum tariff for hotels according to their grading. There is no point promoting Nepal as a cheap destination. HAN has definitely a bigger role to play. With new president, who knows the industry up-close, at the helm, I definitely see some positive vibes from HAN.
TND: Some hotels say HAN has been doing nothing to uphold their interests and promote Nepal in international arena? Do you agree?
Malik: I think NTB has a greater role to play than HAN in this direction. The tourism ministry and NTB should go out to the world and promote and say what Nepal is all about. They should tell the world Nepal is not about climbing Mt Everest only. Other tourism attractions and destinations should also be promoted.
Individual hotels and tourism enterprises are participating in international trade fairs. But their focus would be on promoting their individual business rather than promoting Nepal as a whole. For example, if we participate in international fairs, our focus will be on promoting Radisson first.
TND: NTB has not been able to promote Nepal in international arena due to various reasons. In this scenario, how can individual tourism enterprises promote themselves?
Malik: My job in the hotel is to take good care of my guests, provide them quality service so that they choose Radisson when they come to Nepal next time. We have a good brand reputation and we have marketing representatives all over the world. They will help us bring more guests. For us it is easy. Hyatt and Crowne Plaza, among others, are also in the same position. But what about other tourism enterprises? They cannot promote themselves all over the world like us. So NTB definitely has a role to play in international marketing and promotion of Nepali tourism products and services.
Likewise, HAN, as an umbrella organization of hotels in Nepal, has also greater role to play. Apart from promoting Nepali hotels in national and international arena, it also has to safeguard the interests of the hotel and lobby with the government for that.
TND: Please tell us about the room occupancy at Radisson?
Malik: We don’t get equal number of tourists round the year as tourism here is seasonal business. We have off season and peak season. Our average occupancy is around 55-60 percent. That means there is a vacuum of around 40 percent. For that the government should help us.
TND: We don’t have a strong national flag carrier? Is it affecting tourist arrivals?
Malik: Definitely. Tourist arrivals to Nepal will start increasing once Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) starts flying far and wide. When tourists go on holiday, they prefer to fly with the national carrier of the destinations that are heading to. This is not happening here. The government must make fresh investments and help NAC get more aircraft.
TND: What should be done to bring more tourists to the country?
Malik: There have been lots of investments in hotel sector lately. This means there is going to be increment in tourist arrivals. Once we have proper infrastructure and once we have upgraded infrastructure, we will start getting more tourists. We don’t have to look elsewhere. We should focus in India and China. Nepal has very good weather. It remains good throughout the year. It is Nepal’s USP.
Rather thank talking about only Everest, let’s explore new areas. Let’s talk about medical tourism, spiritual tourism, sports tourism, among others. Nepal’s cricket team has achieved great success after Paras Khadka was appointed the captain. Nepali cricket tourism has drawn attention of the entire world. Now is the time to invest in infrastructures like stadium. Nepal can also promote pilgrimage/spiritual tourism as the country is home to Lumbini and Pashupatinath.
TND: How is the hotel management’s relation with the workforce?
Malik: The man problem is we lack skilled workforce. Though there are many hotel managements in the country, students to choose to migrate to foreign countries once they graduate. Labor problem is there. I think the government should make labor laws more flexible.
TND: We don’t have casinos now? Do you think casino is necessary?
Malik: Yes we need. Our occupancy has been affected one the casino on our premises was shut down. Many people come to Nepal to play in casinos. I agree that there were some distortions in casino business. But they should have been controlled. Closure is not the solution. Casinos were employing many people. I request the government to do the needful for reviving casinos.