I’ve been following the discussion on the ‘Nepal Tourism Think Tank: Into the Future’ Facebook group. I was interested to hear that the Hotel Association Nepal (HAN) was working along with the Ministry of Tourism to look at the possibility of utilizing empty hotels as self-quarantine centers for returning migrant workers, particularly those arriving by flight. With no one being particularly clear on what steps are being taken, I talked to several hotels that I have personal contact with to see if they had been approached in this regard.
I then read an interesting article at the weekend in another news media that had talked with HAN and established that it is expected that 10,000 hotel rooms would be used for quarantine.
Earlier I had heard that hoteliers quoted up to Rs 14,000 per room per night. Bearing in mind that 14 (nights of quarantine) x Rs 14,000 would be inconceivable for returning migrant workers, this has been revised downwards and they are now looking at Rs 3,000 for tourist-standard rooms. Meals included. The article I read also mentioned these hotels would probably be in Nagarkot, Dhulikhel, Chitwan, Pokhara, and Bhairahawa. Which somewhat negates my discussions with Kathmandu hoteliers, particularly as none have been approached by HAN in this regard.
Interestingly, however, one Kathmandu hotel had a call some weeks ago from the army requesting information about their capacity, but with no follow-up. Then about an hour after writing this article there was coverage in yet another media, which included a picture of a well-known hotel in Thamel being made ready for returning migrant workers, one of 47 around the country, seemingly. Quite baffling!
Focusing then on the limited number of hotels I did talk to, 50 percent are temporarily closed now because of Covid-19. One having closed completely in April due to both Covid-19 and the request from the landowner for triple rent. Another is closed at this time because it has a long-term guest with underlying medical issues and two small children living in the hotel so are not willing to take chances. Regarding staff, of the hotels I talked to, 50-80 percent of staff is not working. Even those with guests are running at low capacity. Only one hotel questioned is not paying staff at this time, while the remaining ones are following HAN recommendations on payment to furloughed staff. All mentioned practicing WHO and/or Government of Nepal standards with regards to precautions against Covid-19 transmission.
“Marriott International and WHO/CDC norms are being followed in our hotel,” says Vikram Singh, GM of Aloft Kathmandu Thamel. “Plus we have a doctor checking daily on the staff and our current guests. Our staff are certified from the Marriott Global Source (MGS) and we have more than 200 plus safety guidelines to follow within our We Care Program.” Singh also explained that staff stay in-house on a two week rotation to minimize exposure to anything outside the hotel.
This is also the case in the other hotels: staffs are now staying on-site to reduce risk of transmission to guests. Social distancing and avoidance of all physical contact between staff and guests was also mentioned by all the hotels questioned.
“We are offering our guests room service under strict conditions of no contact. We have written and printed new guidelines for both guests and employees so there is no confusion over procedures,” says Pauline Driard, owner, 3 Rooms by Pauline, Babar Mahal.
While the hotels still operating are providing guests with in-house meals, two of the hotels—Aloft and Noya (in Gairidhara)—are offering take away services (as are a number of other hotels I did not contact). While Aloft is operating through some of the food delivery providers such as Foodmandu, Noya is providing deliveries within its immediate neighborhood.
All hotels agreed that the biggest challenge is just to keep going in these unprecedented times. They all stress cooperation from landlords and the government is vital to keeping, not just them, but hospitality and tourism in general afloat. “We love Kathmandu and the people so much we felt we could live with the pollution, the traffic, and we even survived the earthquake in 2015,” says Thomas Tingstrup, co-owner of Tings Kathmandu, Lazimpat. “We might even have gotten through the current Covid-19 close-down as we are doing in our Lisbon property, but what we can’t live with are the real estate prices. As a result we were forced to close down Tings Kathmandu in April.”
“We are lucky as our property and land are family owned and they have agreed to waive the rent for time being. On the flip side, have payments due from businesses and individuals who are having a hard time making ends meet, and as a result cannot pay us now,” says Sanju Gurung, Manager, Pacific Guest House, Lainchour. “But we are working on ways to make ourselves sustainable during this time such as creating a kitchen garden.”
Finally, I asked: What does the future hold for tourism in Nepal?
“With the scenario changing moment by moment it is hard to predict how long it will take for the hospitality industry to recover,” say Saugat Adhikari and Pradeep Guragain, joint owners, Bodhi Boutique Hotel, Thamel. “Cleanliness and hygiene need to be a big focus in the future. We now see how important that is,” says Gurung of Pacific Guest House.
Santosh Shah, owner of Noya Hotel, states he feels the local community has a role to play in helping tourism thrive again: “There is strength in unity and an extraordinary opportunity here for us to help each other.” In Singh’s opinion, “tourism and hospitality cannot recover in the next two years unless a vaccine is found. We need to all come together. In Nepal we need more aggressive marketing and plans to reconfigure the product and delivery. This is the new normal.”
Having got no nearer to my objective of discovering exactly what HAN has in mind regarding quarantine facilities for returning migrants, I did get a better picture of how hoteliers are feeling at this time. And this is best summed up by Vikram Singh of Aloft. “The year 2020 is about surviving. Then 2021 and beyond is about reviving."