Vikram Singh, General Manager at Aloft Kathmandu Thamel is a seasoned hotelier and one who has weathered the storm of COVID 19 by keeping Aloft Kathmandu operational despite all odds.
He shared with Terence Lee of Nepal Traveller this amazing journey of Aloft Kathmandu, which battled this global crisis in its very first year of operations and the lessons learned and how the hospitality sector should gear up for the challenges ahead.
Aloft Kathmandu continued operation throughout the pandemic and lockdown. How has the experience been? What were the biggest challenges during this period?
The coronavirus is changing everything about how we live and work, so the experience has been one of an ongoing roller coaster ride which has made us understand the business like never before and dig deep into our core values and redefine us as individuals and leaders. The biggest challenges were at the macro level with the business steadily decreasing from January to almost scratch from March 2020 and then the domino effect.
Though we were lucky to have guests through this time, however, we had to go to the drawing board in every process and relook at the same from ground up in a leaner, more effective manner and on the flip side be very aggressive and ramp up the safety and hygiene systems / processes for our guests and associates.
However, keeping the hotel open through he pandemic so far was the best thing we could have done as it was baptism by fire and assisted us plan and then re-execute all our process in line with the new normal. We really appreciate our Chairman, Prithvi Pande and the owning board who backed us during this pandemic and thus kept contributing to Nepal’s economy and not have job losses in spite of major challenges.
You recently celebrated your first anniversary. How do you look back at the last year and what are your plans for the future?
The journey of pre-opening and operating Aloft has been a most satisfying one and to see the property and especially the team come into its own, over the last year even more so.
We are very proud to gain such high level recognition in a very short period of time and the local and international demand was a great appreciation for our efforts, we also are very grateful to the support of the media, suppliers, local community and especially all our business partners
We celebrated with a small gesture of a cake to all our well-wishers and in this journey, we never forgot our corporate social responsibilities to our internal associates and orphanages, old age homes, animal welfare among others
Then it was all about a restart with new process and systems from March due to Covid 19 and it’s been a year etched in memories one way or another for sure
The plan for the future is to consider how the hotel and tourism industry shall be moving forward and ensure those measures are built and implemented with safety, hygiene, deliverables, finance and services for all guests and associates.
However, by keeping open and being a part of Marriott International, we have already initiated most of these major measures and the rest we look at continually evolving for making it safe for tourists to stay with us and giving confidence to international tourists to visit Nepal in this new normal.
How do you think the hospitality industry should move ahead despite the COVID 19 pandemic which is going to be around for some more time?
The future unfortunately has far gone beyond our imagination and the foremost challenge the hospitality industry must tackle is lots of visible and invisible changes to survive.
This year is all about Survival and maybe so till mid-2021.
We may see a few mergers and acquisitions, some hotel projects shutting or shelved. Only hospitality products that can be leaner financially, have sound base, team and focus on qualitative safety and security processes shall cope well.
What are your suggestions for what the hospitality industry should be doing in these challenging times?
Hospitality companies will have to run with zero revenue modules till March 2020 and then maybe with single-digit growth.
All hotels have to now restart at the same level, no matter if they opened 40 years or 1 year, or 1 day ago, the yardstick is now cleanliness and hygiene, brand, trust, trained and open-minded associates and delivery executed not just in theory.
All hotels have to effectively communicate their safety and security actions to their clients, internal and external associates, while ensuring continued training for their associates. OTA and social media have made this a priority already.
The plans we can initiate and implement in the hospitality are becoming more and more varied but the final idea should be to adopt measures to work against Covid 19 and guide guests through to an enjoyable and safe vacation or work visit.
For Nepal as a destination what are the things that the entire tourism industry should be working on currently during this crisis?
We are in a unique situation where we must react quickly and socially in a responsible way while ensuring the safety and security of the tourists.
So the solution has to be spearheaded by the government with sincere intentions for the industry. Tourism should get its dues and importance as well as recognize the wider indirect contributions it has made over the past years to the economy.
I am also on the committee for Quality Assurance Standardization, Safety and Hygiene of the Hotel Association of Nepal and also SKAL. We, Nepal Tourism Board and the Ministry of Tourism among others are all advising the government with various points.
There must be a good chunk of the government budget for marketing Nepal as a safe and secure destination and giving major incentives to tourism players (who unfortunately are nearly out of gas) to restart their business as a part of this larger plan.
New destinations within Nepal can be looked at in this stage as they do not have large local populations and can safely have tourists enjoying exploring Nepal.
Tourists from China and India and closer which form the larger chunk of inbound tourists to Nepal can be initially targeted.
Nepal is a safe and easily accessible destination to travel should be the core message and honestly executed across all tourism platforms. Nepali hospitality is among the best in the world and this has to be marketed.