Tourism has become an important economic activity in all the countries of the world. It creates various direct, indirect and induced effects in the economy. Over the past several decades international tourism has gained distinct importance around the globe and it is one of the major
(Fourth Largest) sectors on Nepal’s economic stage. From the government through big hotels, small hotels, restaurants, bars and shops, each and every average person working in the tourism industry and related services, relies heavily on the performance of this industry. The entire travel segment was hugely impacted by the Covid pandemic and is still on the road to recovery. As a lot of people rely on this industry for sustenance, it is very important to revive it by attracting more tourists into the country. It is important that all involved parties, both, private and government act together in unity to promote Nepal at the international travel forums.
Arabian Travel Market (ATM) which is one of the three most important fairs for our destination was recently held in Dubai. Marriott Nepal representation supported the platform however a better collaborated representation could have been a huge support to promote the country as a destination, thus giving a boost to individual hotels, travel agents and all related businesses.
In conversation with Piotr Madej, Cluster General Manager of Kathmandu Marriott Hotel and Fairfield by Marriott, we discover his experience at the ATM and what concerned agencies like Nepal Tourism Board and Hotel Association of Nepal could do in upcoming World Travel Market in the London.
What was your reaction when you realized that Nepal had no representation at the ATM?
Honestly, I was surprised and sad not to see any representatives of Nepal at the ATM. Apart from Marriott Hotels I have only come across a representation of The Soaltee Hotel – whom I was happy to see and share few meetings with, despite being a competitor hotel. I do believe that united we stay strong, and thus, I had expectations to see a combined stands for Travel Agents and Hotels. In my previous experiences, such initiatives were always driven by Tourism Boards, Travel Organizations or Ministries directly. There were big stands and expositions of various countries like Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Zimbabwe but Nepal didn’t have any stands over there which I felt was a big, lost opportunity.
Do you think there might be any reason in not participating at the ATM?
A stall at the ATM costs around $30,000 and I understand it’s a lot of money. Local travel agencies or individual hotels will not be able to bear that cost. This is why, as practiced in many countries, the related state tourism organization would book a stall and divide it among 30 travel agencies. This way, cost could be divided and would come to an affordable range. Promotion at Arabian Travel Market would have really boosted the tourism in Nepal.
Did any travel agency ask for your help to promote them at the ATM?
Before I left for ATM there were a lot of local travel agencies mostly, people who organize mountain flights and to the local areas were visiting me with their brochures, asking me if I could take their brochures with me. I cannot take 30 different brochures but I can choose one company I work with and promote them there. That is exactly what I did, so I feel on behalf of Marriott I could support my reliable business partner. I do this not only for the hotel, but for the entire destination.
Were there any inquires like people asking about travelling to Nepal?
There were various people at the ATM asking me once we arrive in Kathmandu what would happen next. As a hotelier, I only provide accommodation, but I was there explaining to all that they could do. Chitwan, Pokhara, Lamjung, entire Mustang Valley are in my opinion jewels of Nepal’s travel and tourism potential. We just need to actively promote it instead of relaying or basing our business that has always been there - expeditions. In reality, hotels have a much smaller scope and do not have a wide-spread contact list as the organizations do. It is important that we speak one language, or maybe better said – sing one song, but we need all participants on board, collaboratively and strategically.
Have we been only promoting the expedition side of Nepal?
Expedition has always happened and will always happen and this is a business which has not been focused and promoted really, because ultimately we will always have mountaineers and access to Himalayas like no other country in the world has. There is also the side of Nepal that needs promotion like Chitwan. Tourists only come to know about them after arriving in Nepal. Nepal has an abundance of natural beauty that the world has never seen before. This is the side we as industry leaders should focus on promoting because nobody promotes that aspect. Very often I feel that beauty of Nepal is undiscovered in 95%. We should promote tourism purely for the people who don’t necessarily need to go to the mountains. Let them see the untouched areas of natural beauty.
It will be important how Nepal, as a destination, will perform in London at the World Travel Market. A united presence of hotels and travel agencies necessary to keep up to speed of ever racing competition. If we don’t promote ourselves other countries will go ahead and the tourists who could potentially come to Nepal may eventually be attracted to other destinations.
Where do you think Nepal stands right now in the tourism industry?
Tourism in the small Himalayan kingdom of Nepal is a relatively new phenomenon as the country was opened to the western world in the early 1960s. I will divide Nepal into three different sections of tourism: there is corporate tourism purely based on business needs and development, the leisure tourism would be purely expeditions but that expedition part is limited to seasons. The other part of tourism is purely leisure part not focused primarily on summit push and competitive mountaineering - and that tourism in Nepal is not promoted enough. We are not promoting what Nepal has to offer in terms of various seasons. If we don’t consider the mountaineering part of Nepal, we stand in a queue with 100 other countries. We might be the choice but we also might lose out to countries that do promote wildlife safaris, photo-safaris, hot springs, agricultural stays and recreational mountaineering.
What should concerned agencies do to promote Nepal in the international platform?
There needs to be a common initiative from government assigned bodies, and also industry players as united organization of Nepal. I keep saying, “united we are strong” and this is where it is important for all of us to work together. And it is important that these government organizations and the industry leaders from private sectors should sit down and discuss how we could use each other’s potential. We must work seriously to promote Nepal as a top travel destination. These initiatives should contain in monthly meetings, reporting and planning.
Have the promotions of Visit Nepal Year 2020 helped in any way?
It did help a few but not all. In my perception as an individual hotel operating with access to world’s biggest travel hospitality loyalty program we were able to benefit from Marriott’s own resources more than any other initiative. It is just not about promoting tourism for a certain period of time or discounted rate, it is about creating an impression so that they would want to visit Nepal time and again. Playing by price-point is very risky in terms of repetitive business and we have also chosen not to discount our services, as we believe more in the quality, building a long-term loyalty and trademark.
How could we solve these problems?
It is important to have a good talk with many representatives as well as leaders of different businesses and obviously from various hotel categories. I am sure Nepal Tourism Board and Hotel Association of Nepal do have many valid ideas. If private business players can step into it and use the resources at various market points – we can all benefit. Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation to it and if we sit together and discuss we can create effective strategies that helps each and every one of us from the industry to promote ourselves at World Travel Market in London. Once again, there needs to be a voice of unity driven by travel organizations, with advance planning and reporting. There needs to be availability of talks with related industries, allowing hotels to seek support in terms of financial solutions, sustainability programs, access to international marketing programs and many more.