In his career spanning over two decades, Sanjeev Thapa has worked in a number of hotels and hospitality businesses at home and abroad. Thapa, who started his career at Radisson Hotel Kathmandu in 2001, has recently joined Chandragiri Hills as the General Manager. In a conversation with the HRM, he shared his experiences in the hospitality industry, post-Covid recovery in the sector and his focus to lead Chandragiri Hills. Excerpts:
Tell us about your first job.
As a fresher, I was very fortunate to get selected as the Hotel Operation Trainee at Radisson Hotel Kathmandu after completing the Hotel Management Degree program at Bangalore University. Mainly, it was a management training program specially designed for hotel management graduates to provide functional knowledge and technical skills about overall hotel operation. It was an intense operational involvement and learning together with guest service experience which I thoroughly enjoyed and has played an eminent role in honing my skills in this industry.
How easy or difficult was it for you to get the job at that time?
Although there were not many hotel management colleges in Nepal at that time, the competition was still tough due to limited five-star properties and very few job prospects. A job in the hospitality business was an attraction for many graduates as tourism was emerging and international hotel brands were also entering Nepal. Consequently, it was quite a challenge to job openings and opportunities compared to the current scenario with more chances for young graduates.
How matched did you find the education and practical knowledge to be when you started the job?
As I got into the sector and started working, I felt that on-the-job experience was much different and complex. There was much to learn and experience. It was and has always been a learning process for me as I have moved on in different capacities and hotels.
What major lessons did you learn during the first job?
Apart from departmental technicalities and fundamental hospitality skills, the most significant lesson learned was the leadership approach and people management skills for hospitality leaders. This has helped me a lot in my career growth and development throughout these years.
What are the major achievements for you professionally and personally?
Over the years, having worked with renowned hospitality brands has enhanced my professional grooming and helped me set my own vision and goals as a professional in this sector. Each job has groomed me to better understand the different dynamics of this industry and how to adapt to it. I am lucky that I have been able to work in some of the best hotels and mentors in the industry. On an individual level, I feel that I have been able to balance my work and personal relations in this industry.
As a professional who has spent over two decades in hospitality and tourism, what changes have you observed in this sector over these years?
I have observed that many hospitality and tourism sectors have shifted to adopt new technologies, more competent human resources are available, and people have understood that the hotel sector is a major attraction for tourists and the hospitality industry is evolving. All these have resulted in hotels enhancing their products to attract more guests and create opportunities for expansion. A major shift is that this sector is now not only dependent on international tourists, but domestic tourists are now our major clients. This has created different classes of business, stakeholders and clientele profiles. We now have more to cater to and need to be strategic on how we fulfill their expectations and run the business successfully.
What makes Nepal different from any other country and the crux of our hospitality and tourism industry success is our unique identity and our genuine hospitable nature.
How competitive this sector has become in terms of career prospects over the years?
The tourism and hospitality sector has become more competitive due to the increasing number of hospitality and tourism activities across the country. There is a huge number of students studying different subjects related to this industry too so the human resource is another factor to make it more competitive. With the new technology of planning a trip, digitalization, increasing traveling culture and better connectivity, job opportunities are emerging day by day. It can be further improved by promoting local culture, tourism activities, creating attractions, ecological protection and infrastructure development. It will lead to attracting several domestic as well as foreign tourists which will ultimately create a lot of career prospects.
The last two years have been catastrophic for tourism and hospitality. How do you see the prospects of revival of this sector in the coming days in terms of business and employment generation?
We had never imagined that such a crisis will arrive. It has been a big blow for not just tourism but for all sectors. But we need to take it as a lesson and move forward now that the situation is much more in our favor. For the improvement of this sector in terms of business and employment, we need to be innovative, create new ideas, and modify marketing and promotion plans to engage a large number of people. The world of the internet can be used as the main engine to attract tourists to the country. Nature, adventure, heritage, local cuisine, culture and traditions would be the key prospects for the revival of the overall tourism sector.
How different tourism and hospitality will be post-Covid?
As the Covid-19 pandemic affected the hospitality and tourism industry severely due to travel restrictions and safety regulations, many hospitality and tourism organizations suffered a hard time running their business. It would probably take a few years to restore the international traveler’s confidence in traveling. However, domestic movements will emerge and contribute significantly in the post-Covid scenario and I think this is where the industry is heading to sustain the losses incurred
What suggestions do you have for the youths looking to build their careers in tourism and hospitality in this changed context?
This is an industry of celebrations and youths opting to build their career in this sector must go for academic or vocational training courses to have a solid foundation and better career prospects. Tremendous job opportunities are available worldwide and increasing day by day for candidates with relevant education, experience and creativity.
Chandragiri Hills has become a major destination in the country in a relatively short span of time since its inception in 2016. What factors are behind its success?
Chandragiri Hills is a quick gateway and enchanting oasis close to the country’s capital. Moreover, it is an integrated destination filled with historical and religious value, scenic beauty, adventure and amusement activities, and luxurious accommodation facilities with impeccable services which cater to any age group. I think the management and the service we have been able to offer and maintain over the years has been a great word of mouth for people to recommend to others which attracts more and more people. It is definitely a perfect haven.
How do you plan to lead the company in the coming days?
We strive to become the preferred destination for all and excellence is the only way to exceed the expectations of our guests. My focus would be to enrich the professionalism of the staff and inspire and motivate the team to deliver high-standard services and consistent and improved products. I would not just lead the pack but always believe that I will be part of the TEAM – “Together Everyone Achieves More” as we all function in our roles to make anything work and make it a success.