Pokhara's most coveted hotel property, Fulbari got a new manager in October. Geeta Jetley brings with her 21 years of hoteliering experience with India's Oberoi and Taj Groups. The 100-acre property includes a spa, a garden and a 165-room resort, and collectively employs over 240 people. But the tourism slump has hit the Fulbari hard. Nepali Times caught up with Jetley in Pokhara and tried to find out what can be done.
Nepali Times: How did you land up in Pokhara?
Geeta Jetley: Fulbari had placed an ad in India, I thought I should give it a shot. I came just like that on a Friday in September. It had rained for a few days and when it stopped, you could see the mountains. I was walking past the hotel when the cloud cover lifted on a moonlit night. Suddenly you had Machhapuchhre and the Annapurnas-absolutely ethereal, something picture postcards and movies are made of.
How are you coping with the slump?
Everyone asks that question. It is not just Fulbari, tourism per se is down everywhere. What is really important is that when the chips are down everybody has to come together and look at the problem with one point of view.
You can't say "I, me, myself". The "us" part of it has to come out. We have to clearly identify our potential markets and then do it.
Let me give you an example of the Indian market. Now people have gone en-masse to Sri Lanka, though Kathmandu is a lot closer to Delhi than Colombo. Why? Because everybody-the airline, hotels and travel agencies-has looked at tourism as \'tourism for Sri Lanka'. Our promotion has to be more focussed, it has to be defined. If you read what others in the industry are saying, it's essentially the same thing. We have to act fast. We have to effectively sell Nepal as a destination as a whole. Nepal promotions cannot just stop in Kathmandu, they have to include Chitwan, Lumbini and Pokhara. Everybody seems to know this.
So how come we are not getting results?
Supposing you are walking in a particular direction and find you're lost. You retrace your steps or find a new direction. You can't be eternally lost. That tourists are not coming is a reality: the more important thing is, what are we doing to change that?
What are you doing?
We're talking about Destination Nepal 2002, the International Year of the Mountains and the of Eco-tourism. We're already into this year, and a promotion should have happened at least in the middle of last year. Everyone should have known what we were doing. Still, all is not lost.
What do you think the government should do?
Look at tourism as a whole, not in bits and pieces. You have many tourism organisations in Nepal, you need to get focussed-this is Nepal Tourism, everybody comes together. We have to focus on the markets likely to be the maximum spenders. And then go and get them.
Just how bad are the present numbers?
Bad is a generic word. Let me put it this way, it is difficult to fathom the fluctuation here. We've had huge fluctuations, say like going up from 35-40 to 130 rooms. The way the country is being sold now, the focus seems to be to tell people to come to Kathmandu and go back. That must change. Tourism promotion must not be Kathmandu-centric. For example, this year is Kumbh in Mansarovar, a once-in-lifetime wish among Hindus. We talk about religious tourism, but how are we capitalising on this event when we know we have a huge Hindu population to the south?
Are you still an optimist?
You know, learning never ends. In Bangladesh, for example, many Bengalis go to Kolkata for medical treatment. Now Malaysia is giving special medical packages to attract the same people to Malaysia. The early bird gets the worm. The package was being promoted by Malaysian Airlines, not a hospital or medical representatives. That is what I mean by selling the country and its products collectively.
Tourism can help in many ways. We aren't only in the business of earning foreign exchange, there are indirect benefits-infrastructure gets automatically developed. If this resort weren't here, you may not have had the development that is taking place around us. There are shops, real estate prices are going up. You see people's lives are improving, employment is generated. Everybody comes and admires what we have, you can see the \'wow' in their eyes. It gives you pride in your country.
How has your experience been-a woman in Nepal and heading an organisation as big as this?
I have worked in Iraq as a woman and I have headed an organisation there. At the end of the day, when it comes to professionals, you are identified as a professional and somewhere down the line gender does not matter. That is if the professional part is strong enough and respected. As a matter of fact, in this part of the world you have far more women taking on leadership.