Last week, when the Beed was taking a few friends out late one evening, it was shocking to see a city that should be gearing up to receive hoards of visitors in the next few years so customer-unfriendly. Restaurants were behaving as if they were doing us a favour by even letting us step into their eateries. A five star hotel refused to serve us even when we told them it was still half an hour till their official closing time.
The deterioration in quality of service in the hospitality sector in Nepal is of serious concern. Everyone revisiting Nepal for the first time in a decade can tell the difference between the world class service people used to get and the crass service we get now. It's not just the fault of the workers in hotels and restaurants. In the bid to share out the service charge, the establishments have created a monster that they cannot tame. In the myopia of splitting that 10 per cent, both the establishment and the workers have lost the focus on the person who actually pays them that 10 per cent.
Nepali orientation towards service is traditionally very poor. Look at our tax offices. The people who pay taxes honestly are penalised. Why would someone be willing to pay the highest tax rates when one can find a way of investing the taxes to be paid over many years and get away with paying just 10 per cent? What is the additional service one gets from the state for diligently paying taxes? Similarly, when you go to the offices of the Employee Provident Fund, you are not treated as a customer. Like the restaurant owner, the state seems to think it is doing you a favour by keeping your money. It takes ages to get your own money back, and one has to bribe the official with tea money just to withdraw one's own hard-earned savings.
The dis-service issue is everywhere. You take a cab and pay a horrendous amount that has no correlation with the price of petrol. You pay a high mobile phone tariff to use your gadget as an antiquated pager. You pay for cable television and never get to watch anything because the cable operator does not have backup power. In fact, the state electricity utility, which provides power only eight hours a day, is just a backup power supplier. You pay the highest airport tax in the region and never get a trolley to cart your luggage. You pay for food products and the weight on the packets never matches the weight of the contents. You barely question why yoghurt prices shoot from Rs 40 to Rs 68 per litre in a span of a couple of months. When you run out of mains water because there is no electricity to pump it at the allocated time, you patiently wait four days for a tank to be delivered, but it doesn't turn up.
If the Nepali economy is to grow then businesses must seek to understand the wants and needs of the customer. If businesses and the government are to start generating revenues, they need to take care of the customer who holds the purse strings. Nepal Tourism Board as well as the numerous tourism bodies and hospitality entrepreneurs could start by taking a long hard look at themselves before springing into action.
In this new republic, customer may not be king, but customer should be president.