Established in 1965, Soaltee Crowne Plaza is one of the leading hotels in Nepal. The pioneering five-star hotel is also regarded as a prime MICE center in the country which has hosted several events of national importance throughout its history. During the 15th Annual International Hospitality & Travel Awards 2019, organised by the Tourism Development Corporation of India on November 15 in New Delhi, Soaltee Crowne Plaza was awarded the ‘Best MICE Destination Hotel.’
Upaul Majumdar, general manager of Soaltee Crowne Plaza, in an interview with New Business Age, talked about the significance of the award, Nepal’s MICE potential and the plans of the hotel for Visit Nepal 2020. Excerpts:
What factors led Soaltee Crowne Plaza to bag this accolade?
Soaltee Crowne Plaza has the largest banqueting facilities for international conferences and we have been receiving large government delegations every year, things of national interest and national importance. Our staffs provide very professional service and besides the regular reception, we do different events including sit-down state banquets. We have also been investing a lot in our conferencing and banqueting facilities. We upgraded our halls - we have just put in new venues, we have completely changed all our equipment and brought in imported chairs, tables, heavy linen, crockery, cutlery and glassware. We also invested in technology in our banquet kitchen, we used some master chefs from India who came and trained our banquet production team. We have our banquet chef who was previously working at Holiday Inn in Mumbai. These factors have helped us deliver superior service and the Best MICE destination Hotel award is a recognition of these efforts.
Similarly, you were awarded for promoting MICE business from India to Nepal. How have you promoted Nepal’s MICE business in India on professional and personal levels?
Intercontinental Hotels Limited (IHG) has about over 40 hotels in India and each of these hotels has a sales team, besides that we have a national sales organisation which operates out of 6 cities in India and all of them promote our hotels. My sales team participated in several trade fairs, trade expos which happened in different cities in India. The cities that are a source market to us are Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Bangalore, where we have direct flight connections and this got extended to Surat, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Chennai from where a lot of business comes into Nepal. So this is where we did collaborations with our hotels and worked with different agencies in the travel sector. On a personal level, since I am the advisor for the Tourism and Air Transport Committee for the FNCCI, I organised many interactions with different agencies in India along with Nepal Tourism Board and Visit Nepal Year 2020. This year I organised a MICE FAM Tour and I don’t think that has happened before. We tied up with SKIL Travels from India which is a large travel company which only does MICE and they got key people for us from Delhi and Mumbai. We did a FAM Tour for them to showcase what Nepal and Kathmandu have to offer.
Soaltee Crowne Plaza has been receiving various awards at the Annual International Hospitality & Travel Awards for the last couple of years. How significant are these awards for your company in terms of business, hospitality innovation and maintaining quality of services?
It is correct we have won the Best Destination MICE hotel in Nepal three years in a row, and these awards are a validation of the kind of work we are doing. India is a country which has fine hotels in all classes, and for them to recognise a hotel in Nepal is a huge achievement. These awards also matter a lot when you are negotiating business, where when you are talking to companies and especially when you go against the competition. Clients would rather work with a hotel which has got these awards than a hotel which is performing just on price and positioning.
How is Soaltee Crowne Plaza preparing for Visit Nepal Year 2020 and beyond? Can you share some major plans of the hotel in this regard?
Soaltee Crowne Plaza has an integral part to play in Visit Nepal Year 2020, we have been working very closely with the VNY 2020 Secretariat and Nepal Tourism Board to support their endeavours. We take part in the expos where VNY 2020 is being promoted, including in the Hospitality Awards which happened on 15th November. Nepal was a partner country and VNY 2020 also did a presentation to a huge audience. Hotel Association of Nepal has announced a 30 percent discount on room rates which we are promoting in a big way, there are promotional discounts on food and beverage as well. We have put up their logos and standees in our hotel and all our team are prepared to speak about this. We are also using our InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) to promote Nepal and we are connecting the committee to different players in different countries.
How do you expect the occupancy rate to grow during the tourism campaign year?
The government has set a very ambitious target of 2 million visitors for 2020. Last year, we closed at about 1.15 million so when arrival numbers increase, then naturally the occupancy grows because everybody gets a share, but of course, on the flip side the number of available hotel rooms has gone up.
In 2018, we had 1,400 rooms available in the midscale, upper-upscale segment and this year it’s already gone up to 2000 rooms. And by next year, we are looking at almost 2800 rooms so the supply rate is going up higher than the demand segment. That being said, people look for the discernable areas and Soaltee Crowne Plaza stands out as a legacy Hotel.
How do you observe the current growth of the Nepali hotel sector which is witnessing the opening of new hotels every year? Is this growth sustainable?
We always welcome improvements. It’s good that Nepal is finally getting all International brands, so the competition is going to be on a global level, which also means the new hotels which are coming up are branded international chain hotel and they will have international standards of hospitality which probably was missing earlier.
This results in a certain standard coming into the market and those who don’t follow perish. So yes, while the growth scene doesn’t seem very sustainable currently but we are sure that with the government trying to push the industry, we will see a definite spurt even in the demand. However, I don’t see the occupancy rates going up in the next 3 – 5 years and that will put pressure on hotel rates.
How is the market competition for Soaltee Crowne Plaza? How is your company planning to stay ahead of the competition?
Soaltee Crowne Plaza is a Crowne Plaza brand from the Intercontinental Hotels Group. It’s an upper-upscale brand and we definitely look at all the work which has happened. In the past 3 – 4 years we have completely renovated a major part of the hotel - 176 rooms. We also have a classic heritage theme where when you come to Nepal you get a piece of heritage living right in your room, so we have got traditional craftsmen and artisans who help give our rooms that feel. We are not a glass and steel design like you see in most structures coming up. We have got an extremely well-trained staff who have been in the industry for decades and they deliver fantastic hospitality to all our guests. The other thing is the constant renovations which are happening - we have already finished our rooms, we have finished our banqueting areas, we have put in a brand new health club and spa. We also have a night club now on-premises and we have the largest casino in Kathmandu. Further, we will now be working on the lobby and the façade. Also, I dare say we have the best team and I feel this team is the one which deserves all these awards the hotel receives.