"There is close affinity between Nepal and Qatar and also between Nepalis and Qatar Airways."
With the completion of its 20th year flying to Kathmandu, Qatar Airways has plans for expansion, the airline’s Nepal Country Manager, Jayaprakash Nair, tells Nepali Times.
Nepali Times: How important a destination is Kathmandu in the Qatar Airways network?
Jayaprakash Nair: Kathmandu is very important in many ways and for various reasons. At present, Qatar has around 600,000 Nepalis out of a total population of 2.5 million, which is more than the number of Indians there. Qatar Airways itself has over 5,000 employees who are Nepali. Also, except for me, all staff at the Qatar Airways office in Kathmandu are Nepalis: we have replaced all expats. There is close affinity between Nepal and Qatar and also between Nepalis and Qatar Airways.
Kathmandu is also important because 75% of our passengers are from Europe, the UK and USA, and want to travel to Nepal via Doha. The rest are Nepali workers, tourists and businessmen flying to Doha. Therefore, Qatar Airways is directly supporting Nepal’s tourism industry.
What are your plans for growth?
As part of Qatar Airways’ 20th anniversary celebration we are planning a seminar on Nepal’s Tourism this week with the participation of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, the Nepal Tourism Board and other stakeholders.
We are also adding many new destinations, including Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Accra (Ghana), Canberra (Australia), Cardiff, (United Kingdom), Chiang Mai and Utapao (Thailand), Chittagong (Bangladesh) and St. Petersburg (Russia). The airline has 369 new planes on order, including Airbus 380s and Boeing 787s. This week, we completed the purchase of 9.61% of Cathay Pacific shares in the hope of diversifying our investment. Cathy Pacific is part of the One World network and has a very good reputation.
What aspects of tourism in Nepal do you hope to address in the seminar?
You see, Nepal is a very blessed country with hospitable people. But some things are missing here, including the ability to make the most out of whatever is available. Right now I see huge potential in tourism through homestay programs, which could revolutionise the tourism industry and support women’s empowerment. The new generation of travelers wants to experience unique food, culture and lifestyle that is more organic and closer to nature. Nepal also lags behind in transportation and connectivity, which hinders other development.
Will the limitations of the Kathmandu airport be one of the discussion topics?
Airlines and airport go hand in hand: there is no doubt that we will talk about it. Qatar Airways is thankful to the government for the space it has created for us. However, we do feel that there is room for improvement. Every country in the world is redesigning and restructuring airports for quality service and experience, and that is not only because they are rich countries. There are opportunities for Nepal as well and we must explore them. Investors and better planners must be encouraged and convinced. We have been discussing this with CAAN, but in the end it’s policy-makers who must act.