February 3, 2014 Sujeev Shakya

Quality and Quantity

We frequently hear stories of Nepalis being told  to disembark from comfortable buses while traveling on tourist routes or asked to vacate hotel rooms for foreign tourists. I still recall a discussion with the owner of a popular Thamel restaurant, who continues to prefer non-Nepali customers and forgets that during the years of insurgency when tourism fell, it was Nepali clients who kept his restaurant afloat. We keep on wondering why this happens. Why are Nepalis asked to stay away from the best and always asked to settle for mediocrity? Why have we not adjusted to the fact that today’s Nepali consumer is not the same as 20 years ago? Why is it that we are not willing to accept the fact that Nepali consumers can pay and that discrimination against them should end?

Nepalis spend more

People in the hospitality business are gradually realising that the per person spending of Nepalis is higher than that of foreign tourists and the recent boom in tourism in Chitwan and Pokhara is due to an increase in domestic tourists, not foreigners. Nepalis, while they cringe on hearing room rates, spend generously on food and beverages. It took Nepali tourism entrepreneurs a long time to realise that Indian tourists spent more than any other third country tourist. Hope a similar realisation regarding domestic tourists comes more quickly.

It is sad to hear of the new breed of young Nepali trekkers who are asked to vacate rooms in Langtang and other trekking areas. I have personally encountered problems while booking hotels in the Annapurna area during peak tourist season. I have had to explain the maths to the lodge owner on how getting Nepali domestic tourists is as good if not a better deal. In the Langtang area, people are told why they cannot be charged as high as foreign tourists as they only have one category for Nepalis, ie, porters. And it is a take-it-or-leave-it situation. Why cannot Nepalis pay at par with foreign tourists? Why don’t lodges and other establishments run under cartels rethink their strategy to keep their places full for a good part of the year? It is time for the hospitality and tourism industry to realise that domestic tourists are a big category, which can be the most sustainable segment in the long run.

Quest for quality

When we travel along the highways, the rent-seeking business model suggests that you should just deliver something to a customer who will potentially not return. But good quality always brings back customers. The newly opened cluster of eateries in Kurintar, which serve better meals, have taken business away from the folks at Mungling, who had become complacent with quality. However, one still wonders why is it that we still do not find hygienic eateries that focus on better quality at premium pricing.

With the number of vehicles increasing and the fear of travel waning, especially post the November 19 election, we will see more people on the road. Nuclear families will travel more as they finish buying the latest models of television sets and white goods. People who earlier took their few holiday trips to India and abroad, now want to discover their own country. Unfortunately, we do not believe in keeping statistics. But if you ask businesspeople along the highway in Western and Far-Western Nepal, they tell you how surprised they are with the increase in the number of travelers.

With the opening of the Mid-Hill Highway, the quest for discovering newer parts of Nepal will make more Nepalis travel. Therefore, there exists opportunity to start a credible brand of eateries that will serve hygienic food in a setting that people are getting used to. A clean toilet gives confidence that the kitchen is also clean! Thousands of meals are served in highway eateries each day across the country. Even if a chain with premium pricing and good services can take away a fraction of those transactions, it will be a big business to get into.

Quality is key

In a country where bottled-water companies or jewellery makers gang up and shut down businesses when they are asked to undergo quality tests, it will take time for businesses to understand that quality means revenue. The success of the KFC restaurants or the recently opened Mezze in Durbar Marg shows that delivering quality can also deliver better revenues and profits. For instance, there is a market for credible bottled-water players and branded jewellery outlets.

When there is competition from international companies, quality benefits. It is time for more sectors to be opened up for international players, be it the accounting or legal profession, bottled water, transport services, service providers at the airport, hospital or education. Everything can be opened up. If we are to globalise and take on the world, we need to first start fighting on the home turf. We now have a good portion of our population of 30 million willing to pay for quality and the number is growing. If we get used to quality, then perhaps we will learn to demand quality from the government for the taxes we pay, be it the quality of roads, water or other civil amenities. People who do not deliver quality and always want to pursue protectionism in the business they are in will not learn to demand quality services from the state. It is like a vegetable vendor who charges exorbitant prices for sub-standard vegetables after not being able to say anything to the cabbie who overcharges him for a journey in a dirty cab.

New lenses are required to view the discourse around the emerging Nepali consumer: their new demands for quality, the opportunity for businesses to deliver quality and the benefits of globalising by adhering to international standards.

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