NALIN MANDIRATTA has been appointed the general manager of Soaltee Crowne Plaza Kathmandu, Nepal. He joins the Soaltee Crowne Plaza from Crowne Plaza Rohini New Delhi, where he was the pre-opening and opening general manager. Mandiratta has been with the
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) for over two years and has more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry with significant
expertise in hotel operations across reputed hotel brands like Hilton, Marriott and Carlson hotels. He spoke with Terence Lee of
THT Perspectives about plans and opportunities ahead. Excerpts:
How do you feel about being in Nepal and your new responsibilities?
I see an ocean of opportunities here in terms of making sure that the business develops. We’ve already seen a lot of growth in the last few years and things have got much better for the hotel, travel and airline industry. This hotel has also seen very good growth over the past two years. If everything stabilises in the country with the constitution and political scenario, I’m sure growth is going to be huge in all sectors, including tourism. At Soaltee Crowne Plaza, we are focusing on enhancing the product and had already taken some steps last year and this year where we had refurbished one section and the other wing will be refurbished this year and next year. The Garden Terrace — our all-day dining restaurant — is already in operation and we intend to renovate the China Garden, our Chinese restaurant and also look at interesting food and beverage concepts in other restaurants. The Alfresco will soon see a change in menu and Kakori — our Indian restaurant, will have a new concept. As we ensure the new products are moving ahead, we will also focus on the service aspect. Our hotel is already recognised for superior service and we are going to make sure we have modern amenities with focus on lots of learning and development activities. As the product increases, the service levels are also improved with new ways of working and we will ensure that customers enjoy the Crowne Plaza branded experience. This is imperative for us.
What would be the focus for the hotel? What are your expectations for the next few years?
We would like to focus on all segments of the business whether it’s the travel agent segment — which is the leisure segment, local corporate segment, meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) segment or airline segment as we do have a good hold on that business. We will focus on each segment as we have an interesting mix of opportunities whether for the business
traveller or leisure or social segment in regards to our banqueting. It is a very interesting phase we are passing through and we are slowly enhancing and dev-eloping facilities and going to the next level. Also apart from the US, Europe and India, even the Chinese market— which is a big market for hotels — is improving and the numbers are increasing. Looking at the next three to five years, I see very good growth if all the external factors are stable. Business will continue to grow and that’s good for the economy as well as the local talent to grow within the industry.
What areas fall under your immediate priorities?
While maintaining the rich heritage of the property, we need to focus on product development and make sure that we have the right product for our customers. Aggressive efforts are already on to see that we get our rooms refurbished and while concentrating there, we also have to
ensure that we train and develop local talents to take on more responsibilities in the near future. The focus is to grow and develop the local team to take on bigger responsibilities and challenges. If everything works well in these two areas, it results in customer satisfaction and hence profits.We have a very loyal and big customer base and we have taken their feedback and tweaked the product in such a way that the customers gain. We want to position this hotel as a hotel that values customers.
How are hotels affected by the brain drain? Do you see this as a problem for the industry?
I would say this sit-uation will continue till there are opportunities within the country.
However, after a certain period, everyone wants to grow and if opport-unities are not there, they will migrate and that’s a natural phenomenon. But ample opportunities, promotion of local talent or opening of new hotels will keep the brain drain in check. There is a lot of scope in this country, not just for leisure but for religious tourism and others and all we require are hotels in various locations throughout the country. If infrastructure develops here, people will want to come back to work in their own
country. Right now, Nepal is going through a phase. Once things get better, people will start coming back, as is happening in India already.
What challenges do you see for the industry?
The biggest challenge is the external environment. If that stabilises, it will be an added advantage for the industry. I’m sure it will in due course of time and we all have huge expectations, but I also see lack of infrastructure as another major challenge. It must improve at a good pace and should be able to make a difference. Apart from that, there is no other issue as everything else can be managed and will fall into place automatically. This is a beautiful destination and business is improving. We just need to market it more aggressively and returns will be huge.
Are there plans for expansion?
In terms of room numbers, we have a decent base with 283 rooms. So we wouldn’t want to increase the rooms until we see more opportunities and business growing. We are certainly
planning to improve our MICE facilities. We are also improving our restaurants and its services to meet the customers’ expect-ations and we don’t see the need to add more at the moment.