MICE is growing notablyNalin Mandiratta is general manager of Soaltee Crowne Plaza. Mandiratta, who took the job last year, has two decades of experience in the hospitality industry.
Soaltee Hotel Limited recorded a 48 percent growth in net profit in the first half despite a slowdown in tourist arrivals. How did you manage to post this impressive growth?
I would say it is the combination of efforts put on by our sales, marketing and operations teams. Sales and marketing team is more responsible for getting the business, while the operation team is responsible for retaining the business. It ensured our loyal clients remained with us. Overall, the industry has done very well across Kathmandu.
How was the average room occupancy in the first half?
The average occupancy that our hotel saw was close to 74 percent. But when we look at the overall business from other revenue streams like banquet and flight catering unit, there has been a positive increase. The visitor influx was also good during prime time, i.e. October to December.
Things are getting normal in Nepal, especially after the Constituent Assembly election and the formation of the new government. How do you look at the second half?
I think it will be positive. We have positive business in the books. Market condition is very conducive for positive business growth. Lot of travel are happening from various parts of the world, especially Chinese are travelling a lot. And, there is good movement from India too. The MICE segment moved up very positively. Based on these things, I think we will have healthy growth this year on the whole as all our key market segments have shown growth potential.
How much contribution do Chinese tourists make to your hotel’s business?
Chinese tourists operate in different price points. We normally get mid and upper segment because we’ve a Chinese restaurant which they’ve really liked to explore. In terms of numbers, the growth in Chinese tourist numbers is 8-10 percent.
How big has become the MICE segment for hotels in Kathmandu and for Soaltee?
MICE is really big for us now.
Over the last two years, it has grown in leaps and bounds for hotels.
This segment now contributes around 18 percent to the hotel’s revenue. As we have very good MICE facilities, it has really helped us get more incentives, conferences and residential conferences from India and other parts of the world. As we are also a global chain, we also have very good corporate lead for MICE from our various global offices. This is also a very big plus for us. Keeping in mind the growth in the MICE segment, we have invested in infrastructure. For example, we have set up our own state-of-the-art WiFi system, which offers seamless internet connection.
What are the new initiatives Soaltee will be taking for the new season?
We’ve always been concerned about two big aspects in the hospitality business — products and services. On the service side, we’re confident as our hotel is known for personalised service. On the products side, we’ve been upgrading every aspect of the hotel for the past five years, from installing new generators and new chillers to renovation of Princep wing. This year, we’re starting executive floor renovation along with lounge. We’ve refurbished our regal suites room along with a few other restaurants.
A lot of investment is now coming into the hotel industry. A few international hotel chains are also coming. How do you see the latest investment rush into this sector?
It is something very positive. Two-three years down the line, we will see a few international properties coming up. As the tourism industry grows along with political stability, the business will certainly grow. More players will come into the market, which will make the industry competitive. It will also create opportunities for local talents, to work with international chains.
One of the major issues facing the Nepali tourism industry is air connectivity. How will this bottleneck hit the current momentum?
It’s very important that we have good infrastructure for handling aviation requirements. Now, work has started to upgrade the international airport. Once that is done, the next step would be to make it operational 24 hours. This will help attract new players in the aviation business.
One of the drawbacks of our tourism is Nepal is known as a cheap destination. What is the average room rate that five-stars are charging? And, what can be done to increase the tariff?
We’ve seen a double-digit growth in room tariff over last three years. Nepal’s tourism potential is very high. It has so much to offer, not only in leisure, but also in trekking, religious tourism, golf etc. But it needs good marketing. Now we’re seeing a momentum in marketing activities for Nepal as people are trying to get this visibility, not just in Asia but also in other parts of the world. It is a process. If we intensify the marketing process through the government, private sector, the visibility will increase. This will change the economics. With infrastructure getting better, things will not be cheap. That will be the next phase.