Eatery To Empire

8 min read
05 Aug 2016
8 min read
1919 words
Laxman Neupane's Siddhartha Business Group of Hospitality grew from a humble eatery in Tikapur to a nationwide empire

How did your journey into the hospitality business start?

I had been working in Mumbai for quite some time, and despite a well-paying job and a good position in a company, I didn’t feel that spark. I guess I was not happy living outside the country and missed my family. When I hit 24, I suddenly had the urgency to start something on my own. One fine day, I decided to pack up and move back to Nepal to start something new, something that would challenge me.

Was that a calculated move or did you drop everything on a whim?

A little bit of both, actually. After returning to Nepal, I stayed in Tamghas, Gulmi, with my brother for a year. I got to travel to the far western parts of Nepal, and for a person who had never gone beyond Butwal, it was an eye-opening experience. During that time, I realised that this part of the country was lacking in the hospitality sector. So I started a small eatery that served momo and chowmein in Tikapur. A year later, I upgraded to a guesthouse, and the very next year, I started Siddhartha Cottage in Nepalgunj.

That’s quite a leap in just two years...

It wouldn’t have been possible without a solid team. Business is not just about money that you can invest or the incubation time; it also has to do with the people you plan your future with. I was fortunate to have the support of my family and friends who believed in my goal. Today, Siddhartha Business Group of Hospitality has 12 hotels and resorts spread across Surkhet, Tikapur, Nepalgunj, Chisapani, Butwal and Kathmandu.

Nepal is a country made for tourism, and it’s the upcoming generation who’ll be responsible for taking it to greater heights
Isn’t it risky working with family members?

My inclination towards working with my family had more to do with trust than finances. It can be a very nurturing environment provided that you are able to establish boundaries. You need to make sure that work stays at work and that emotional conflicts stay out of the office. At the same time, I believe that a little bit of conflict isn’t always bad; I find conflict extremely helpful in bringing constructive change. Some might opt for the path of least resistance by choosing to look the other way when conflicts arise, but when team members endure a struggle and come out better, I think the dispute has been worth it.

What was the toughest part of breaking into this industry?

The toughest part was not opening a hotel, but changing people’s perceptions about hotels and this career choice in general. When I started my hotel in Tikapur 19 years ago, it was not just the financial aspect that was daunting, but also the perception of people regarding this line of business. Hotels were a last resort, opened by those who didn’t have a sound career option. Even in Nepalgunj, people regarded hotels as a place you go to for drinks. I take pride in the fact that we cultivated the culture of family restaurants, where the whole family could go out and bond over meals. Those involved in this field must reverse the view of the hospitality industry as a low-paying, low-skilled industry with limited opportunities.

Why did you choose hospitality?

From a tiny teashop to seven star hotels, everybody in Nepal can get involved in this almost ubiquitous ‘hotel’ business. After I left my job, I was living with my brother and was still quite undecided about what career path to follow. He was running a small hotel in Gulmi, and I too decided to venture into this sector. Once I put my mind to my work, the dedication has been a hundred per cent.

What have your struggles taught you?

Many problems arise when you have a long-term plan. On top of that, recruiting the right people is always tough. I have learnt to not loose my cool. I made it so far without any formal training or experience, but I urge anybody getting into this line to gain the necessary education and training.

How do you see the hospitality business in Nepal?

Nepal is endowed with a geological advantage due to our beautiful natural scenery. We also have capable people who can cater to tourism, but we, the hospitality sector, can only do so much. We need the conviction and commitment of the government in setting up the infrastructure needed for growth in this sector. For example, Nepalgunj can be developed as a religious tourist hub to Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. Despite Indian Embassy’s travel advisory to pilgrims to avoid Nepalgunj-Simikot-Hilsa route, that didn’t deter devotees. Our government could try to safeguard that religious sentiment and maintain the influx of tourists by investing in building roads to Simikot. If travel is made accessible, it gives us an opportunity to do more. If businesses do well, the country’s GDP will also rise.

In your opinion, is investing outside Kathmandu a good move?

Any place you open a hotel in Nepal will do pretty well, provided you keep a check on quality. I have travelled from the east to the west and seen a lot of potential in the hospitality business sector. If I could, I would have opened one hotel in every major city. There are challenges, but if you can build a team and have proper investment channels, you will do well. There are places beyond Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan where hospitality can flourish. I see Lumbini and Butwal as the next busy hubs. Also, places like Khaptad, Ilam, Rara and Shuklaphata, which garner a lot of tourist interest, will be a good place to invest in, since there aren’t that many good hotels in these areas.

Pointers to keep in mind before joining this sector.

Nepal is a country made for tourism, and it’s the upcoming generation who’ll be responsible for taking it to greater heights. The younger generation has a unique opportunity to learn, acquire practical hospitality courses and obtain hands-on knowledge before they put their learning to work. With the rise in entrepreneurship in hospitality, I see a great future in this sector.

How would you suggest getting into business—big or small?

The hotel business is a profitable venture with a lot of opportunity for expansion. However, it involves a lot of technicalities and is not easy to start. The process of starting and then running it is quite technical and involves a lot of planning and strategising. It’s wise to do it one small step at a time. Successful risk management affords a small business an opportunity to thrive, grow and ultimately enjoy the fruits of success.

There’s a new wave of employee shareholders, and you have also opened Siddhartha Bakery and Sweets, by partnering with your employees. Tell us a little about that.

When I was working in India, I was very careful with my expenses. Saving is a good habit, and that’s what I wanted to promote amongst my employees. That’s why we started Siddhartha Saving and Credit. It’s also a way to honour their contribution and performance and compliment their performance, which directly affects the success of the company. Employees also understand that such a partnership will help them accumulate retirement savings. This cause for optimism has helped to promote a positive organisational culture at our company. I derive inspiration from Ratan Tata—it’s not just the family name, but the organisation that should survive.

A word of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.

When I tried to quit my job in India, my employer coaxed me to stay back. The job was well paying and there was provision for a retirement fund; however, had I stayed back, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I started when I was 25, and if I had waited another 10 years, I would have lost the drive, energy and most importantly, the advantage of starting early. That’s what I tell every upcoming entrepreneur: start early and sensibly. If you fail, you will get to learn and your chances of success in the next venture will increase.

Someone with your enthusiasm is always working on something. What’s next?

Currently, I’m busy overlooking the completion of Siddhartha Riverside Resort Pvt Ltd at Chumlintar, near Kuringhat. The luxury resort will be a quick getaway for anybody venturing out of Kathmandu. It will be in full operation by the end of this year. Of course, I want to go beyond borders, but that will take some time to execute.