Nepal is considered one of the best destinations for adventure tourism in the world. With eight of the world’s highest peaks including Mount Everest, Nepal is spread in an area of just 147,181 sq. km and is home to more than 27.8 million people with 103 castes and ethnic groups with 92 different languages.
It is also widely acclaimed as a country of gods and goddesses and living cultures and traditions. It is also home to the valiant Gurkhas. Hospitality is deeply rooted in the Nepalese tradition and culture.
The hotel industry in Nepal is a profitable industry with an annual growth rate of 9%. It contributes 3.5% to the national economy. However, the sector has suffered tremendous setbacks in the past few years including the loss to tourism post 2015 earthquake and later the trade embargo. Yet industry experts and entrepreneurs remain optimistic. Prabesh Aryal, Executive Director of Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), expects the number of tourist arrival in 2017 to be higher than that of 2014 prior to the earthquake.
Tourism being a stronghold of the economy, the hotel industry continues to attract investment despite low tourist arrivals. Kathmandu alone is in the course of adding 4,000 hotel rooms by 2018-19. And in the next three years, the valley could expand to accommodate six million tourists annually. Globally renowned brands like Marriott, Aloft, Sheraton have signed management contracts with Nepalese entrepreneurs on various projects. Investment has witnessed sudden spurt also after the government announced plans to attract two millions visitors by 2020.
With so many new hotels and guest houses vying for commercial interest, there are some that stand out with focus on traditional architecture and ambience that takes you back in time even as it offers all modern comforts and services. These are the heritage hotels.
A heritage hotel, by definition, covers running a hotel in a palace/castle/fort/haveli/hunting lodge/residence of any size built prior to 1950. But with no proper categorization, the Nepalese hotel industry so far has not been able to specify what a heritage hotel is. Samun Bajracharya, Manager at Traditional Homes Swotha defines heritage hotel as a place where you experience living in past with the same comfort and services of the present and future. Many of these buildings with their unique design qualities are crafted with the use of materials and workmanship that would be out-of-reach today, provides a one-of-a-kind experience, and which cannot be replicated in a new construction.
Dwarika Das Shrestha, an extraordinary visionary in the early 1950s started rescuing artifacts and woodworks with the need to preserve it and to showcase it to the future generations. His vision is the foundation of today’s Dwarika’s Hotel which started with just five rooms and is now on the global list of ‘Must Visit Hotels’ with 83 rooms. A walk in the hotel transports you to a different world. The utter silence and the tranquil atmosphere allows you to appreciate the splendor of Nepalese workmanship.
“Ours is more of a preservation” says Sheba Rana Shrestha. Wood carvings dating back to 13th and 15th century, the Dwarika Hotel takes pride in its massive collection that makes the owners one of the largest private woodwork collection in the world. Today it has its own workshop where skilled wood carvers restore and maintain massive collections. The vision of Dwarika Das Shrestha has also led to the preservation of a profession. With the rapid pace of modernization, this art form was simply starting to lose importance, but projects such as Dwarika’s show what can be done alternately.
Sheba Rana Shrestha, Sales & Marketing Manager at Dwarika’s Hotel shares, “We have guests from almost every part of the world and I have personally seen guests being mesmerized by our rich culture and tradition. Our hospitality is deeply rooted in the genes. We don’t need to be taught hospitality. Monuments are a part of our life. Our culture and heritage are our biggest assets and all these make Nepal a unique experience”.
Similarly in recent days, an architectural masterpiece was designed by Prabal Thapa and Jeetendra Shrestha called Swotha Traditional Homes. It is a 70 year old Newari residence restored to become one of the most beautiful bed and breakfast in the medieval city of Patan. Located in the heart of Patan, the beautiful hotel owned by six people is the perfect combination of simplicity and elegance and a beautiful mix of the old and new. The interiors are simple and beautiful. The hotel’s nine rooms are spacious and each has a modern bathroom. The most amazing feature that visitors love is the personal balcony which every room boasts. “Working with an old building is a real challenge. We have to think about a lot of things. Comfort and security should be thoroughly considered,” says Samun Bajracharya, the Manager of Traditional Homes. Swotha is also an environmentally and socially conscious business. The hotel uses solar energy for electricity back up and uses cotton curtains, sheets and carpets from local artisans of Patan. They also use only organic soaps and toiletries in the bathrooms. Swotha is seen as a trend setter and today many young entrepreneurs are taking cue.
Hotel Heritage is in Bhaktapur and draws its influence from the Malla and Rana era. Prakash M. Dhaubhadel started the hotel to preserve the rich tradition and heritage of Bhaktapur and to honour the memory of his father Akhanda Prasad Dhaubhadel and his ancestors who lived there since the 12th century. The terracotta infused hotel is a perfect example of preservation of art, culture and history. Zenith Dhaubhadel, Managing Director of the hotel says every piece in the hotel has a story. Handmade clay products, antique bricks and stone floors at the entrance come from the rubble of a royal palace and are over 400 years old. Almost all the furniture in the hotel is either antique or built from repurposed wood which is at least one or two centuries old. The hotel is also helping the community by providing employment to single mothers and disadvantaged people. Hotel Heritage also works towards the welfare of street dogs.
With 20 years of experience in the hotel business locally and globally Prabesh Aryal, Executive Director of Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), shares that hotels in Nepal have tremendous opportunity. “The hotel industry is one of the two major pillars of tourism along with aviation. In term of growth there are many new branded hotels coming up.
We are extremely rich in culture and heritage. The importance of heritage is very big. “Our ethnicity, diverse culture and language, our remarkable history, I strongly feel the need for their preservation. They should be preserved not just for attraction of foreign guests but for our future generations. So I believe heritage hotels are very important for a culturally rich country like ours.” says Aryal. Hotels, be it a commercial or heritage are one of the biggest stakeholders in tourism industry in terms of investment. Along with investment, heritage hotel brings uniqueness. The infrastructure and the artifacts preserved show our culture and history to the world. It represents our lifestyle. Heritage hotels have the potential of becoming a destination in themselves.
CNN.com has covered all the three hotels Business 360 spoke with recently in an article listing them as Nepal’s Top 5 Responsible Boutique Hotels.
Sheba Rana Shrestha of Dwarika’s Hotel opines, “Our culture and heritage defines us. They identify us from rest of the world. They are our roots. They are the very soul of the word Nepali. And who are we, without our roots?”