Interview with Sinead O’Reilly, GM of Hyatt Regency Kathmandu
eTN, in cooperation with Pankaj Pradhananga, President of the new Himalayan Chapter of the International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP) has been working with local leaders in the travel and tour
eTN, in cooperation with Pankaj Pradhananga, President of the new Himalayan Chapter of the International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP) has been working with local leaders in the travel and tourism industry in Nepal to get travel to this Himalayan country jumpstarted again.
Pankaj spoke with Sinead O’Reilly, GM of the 5-star Hyatt Regency in Kathmandu. In October last year Irish Sinead O Reilly was appointed the General Manager of Hyatt Regency in Kathmandu.
“I am a foreigner here in Nepal with two young daughters and if I did not feel safe I would not have my family with me. Thus my answer is a definite yes to say the country is safe for tourists!”
Here is the full interview:
Pankaj: Thank you Mrs. O’Reilly for taking the time for this interview with eTN. Let me ask you first, how is your hotel after the earthquake?
O’Reilly: The hotel is fine and up and running after the earthquake we experienced in Nepal. Initially, for the first few days post-April 25th, we were awaiting for our approved surveyors to visit and advise us on the structure. This was done and only then did we open the hotel fully to service our guests and clients, as we do consider guest safety and security to be our paramount responsibility.
Pankaj: Please tell us about the structural safety assessment of your hotel and preparedness plans for future.
O’Reilly: Firstly the hotel is structurally safe and we have been given the green sticker by the government, and were ascertained to be operational by our surveyors.
As an international chain we at Hyatt Regency Kathmandu are proactive about our plans in case of various emergencies that we could face, with an earthquake being one since Nepal does fall within a seismic zone. We have detailed procedures and contingency plans in place and on April 25th we were able to implement them. The hotel is spread across 37 acres of gardens and has ample space for people to seek shelter. Also, as mentioned, as part of our plans we have a container with essentials in case of an emergency beside our tennis courts, which is our designated assemble point in the hotel. It is very much a team effort and we do owe the plan being implemented, even though I was not immediately present in the hotel at that time, to the training we do to ensure all our associates are aware of their roles.
Pankaj: What about occupancy during the last month? What are the cancellations and enquiries ahead?
O’Reilly: The period after the earthquake has been slow in terms of business, and it is but obvious as there has been various rumors reported and after-shocks experienced, which many say is unusual. In such an environment the occupancy for our hotel as well as for the country is definitely going to be hampered, as we as a destination are more leisure-oriented.
Moving forward there have been some cancellations in the coming months, however I think we need to be positive and strategize managing the business we already have. This can only be done by being honest with our partners and working towards a common goal of putting Nepal back on the tourist map.
Pankaj: What do you think about Negative Travel advisories against Nepal? Do you have any suggestions on how the industry should handle it?
O’Reilly: Travel advisories are the right of any government and it is but imperative that every nation looks after their citizens. Yes, at the time of the earthquake advisories were necessary, however moving ahead I think the tourism ministry could reach out to the concerned embassies here to access and review their advisories accordingly.
As I mentioned earlier, Hyatt Regency Kathmandu considers the safety and security of our guests to be our paramount responsibility, so if we as an industry voice the same concern, it becomes a single agenda. Thus moving forward I think if we have a common goal – safety of guests – and there is transparency in our approach, travel advisories could always be done in conjunction with the key stakeholders.
Pankaj: Do you find Nepal safe for yourself, your family and the guests?
O’Reilly: Look, I am a foreigner here in Nepal with two young daughters and if I did not feel safe I would not have my family with me. Yes I could be biased to think this with me living in the hotel premises and the structures here being built with the knowledge that Nepal is in a seismic zone, but I have been out and about to see for myself as well what the situation is and I must say it is not as dramatic as put in the media. Definitely there are certain areas outside of Kathmandu which bore the brunt of the quake, but the destruction in Kathmandu is minimal from a touristic point of view, with damage to some historic sites.
Thus my answer is a definite yes to say the country is safe for tourists!
Pankaj: Have you had any similar experience operating a hotel post-natural disaster?
O’Reilly: I have not had any similar experience with natural disasters in my career and would hope the April 25th earthquake is the last, unless you consider minus-36 degrees Celsius, which we used to experience in my previous job in Russia?
Pankaj: What message do you have for Nepal and the Nepalese tourism industry to turn its sorrow into a stepping stone?
O’Reilly: I consider myself, even though I’m only eight months into the job, very much part of the Nepalese tourism fraternity. I can only resonate what everyone in the industry feels, which is that this tragedy has affected everyone in this country, but I think the role that we in the tourism industry and the stakeholders need to look at is how we can reinforce the image of Nepal being a safe holiday destination. We need to reach out to our guest’s sentiments and showcase what Nepal has to offer in regards to a holiday destination despite an earthquake. Nepal has many unique destinations to explore, and most importantly very welcoming and accommodating people.
Nepal has been put into focus for various reasons, many of which have not been positive from a tourism perspective, however I think we need to consider and hone in on the positives and what makes Nepal unique.
The Hyatt Regency GM and her team is laying out the red carpet for their guests: