13 Oct 2017
5 min read
Founder and principal of Silver Mountain School of Hotel Management (SMSH), Samir Thapa, is regarded as a pioneer in bringing world-class hospitality services and education to Nepal. Thapa, who has years of experience and expertise in the hospitality sector, had one simple aim in opening his hospitality school: to address the gap created by the lack of qualified hospitality professionals in Nepal's hospitality sector. The age-old adage 'necessity is the mother of invention' sums up his reason for starting SMSH.
The hospitality sector is probably one of the fastest growing ones in the country, shares Samir Thapa with Alok Thapa of VMAG. Samir Thapa is extremely optimistic about the sector's future in Nepal and is confident that it will soar to new heights.
How did you decide that hospitality was something you wanted to pursue?
Whenever I used to come home from India, where I was studying, my parents would take me to all these functions in various hotels. I used to be enchanted by the decor of the hotel, the impeccably dressed staff, the manners of the managers--everything looked so chic and effortlessly done; of course, later I found out that providing such services was anything but easy. I was always an outgoing person who liked mingling with people too, and so I thought to myself, maybe hospitality was the sector for me. Later when I told my dad about my ambition, he was very supportive. In fact, he was the one who suggested that I look into colleges in Switzerland for my hospitality studies.
So how did your journey into hospitality begin?
I'll start with school brochures--almost all of them have beautiful, glamorous photos accompanied by interesting texts, but when you actually enter the field, you find out it's anything but glamorous or easy. As with anything in life, mastering the art of hospitality takes a lot of patience, hard work and dedication. The hospitality sector requires a lot of discipline and it can burn you out, but at the end of the day, if your heart is in it, it's the most satisfying vocation. When I set foot in Switzerland, I knew there and then that I had made the right decision in choosing this line of profession.
What made you come back to Nepal after working abroad?
Some of the best times of my career were spent in foreign lands, where I got to learn, practise and hone my skills, but deep inside I always knew that I would come back to Nepal to forge my own path. After I came back, I got involved with the launch of Wimpy Burgers here. It was the first international food joint in the country, and for the 26-year-old me, it was like a dream come true. But I soon realised that fast-food was not my cup of tea, and within nine months I was already looking for an alternative. It was during that time that Radisson Hotel was opening, and I joined the first team in the food and beverage department.
What did you learn from your time at Radisson Hotel?
I was fortunate to be a part of the team that started Wimpy Burgers and Radisson Hotel: being a part of the initial phase of any establishment always teaches you tonnes of things. There are challenges too, but you learn to overcome them and evolve. When I started my work at Radisson Hotel, my department was looking to hire a huge number of people--331 to be precise. We got 7,000 applications, from which we shortlisted 3,000, and it took us three months to interview all applicants. But out of all of them, only 10 of them were hospitality graduates. I was shocked by such manpower crunch. Many other hotels also faced similar problems of finding capable, educated hospitality professionals. In fact, this very fact was the genesis for starting Silver Mountain School of Hotel Management (SMSH).
And you quit your job at Radisson Hotel and started from scratch, again. What kind of reaction did you get from friends and family?
Don't get me wrong, I loved my work at Radisson Hotel. I would go to work in the morning and would be there until the wee hours. I didn't take even a single day off for months. But one fine November day in 1999, I just woke up and did not feel like going to work anymore. I told my General Manager that I was going to resign. I had no plan whatsoever. In the back of my mind, I wanted to do something with hospitality education, but I had nothing planned. So for some time, I stayed at home while my wife was the sole breadwinner. After some time, I finally mustered up enough courage to start a hospitality school. I asked my wife, my sister, and my cousin to quit their jobs, and we formed the core team. I asked my father if I could use his old house in Lainchaur as a school; he agreed. I then contacted all the professors on my contact lists to help me with course materials, and in the year 2002, we started SMSH, with eight students.
What challenges did you face while starting the school?
The biggest challenge we faced was that there were no defined hospitality curricula for students. There were no trainers and teachers. We had to get a lot of people from outside of Nepal. People were reluctant to study hotel management; parents particularly did not like the idea of their daughters studying hotel management. They believed that if daughters studied hotel management, it would ruin their characters; and to think all this was just 16 years back. But today things have changed--almost 60 per cent of our college students are girls.
Another challenge we faced was when we started our international programme. Before we introduced the programme, there were no Acts regarding international programmes in the country. We had to sit down with the Ministry of Education for two years, and finally in 2003, the Act was passed by Parliament. It's been a constant battle, but I have been lucky to have had the support of the team--a team that's so knowledgeable and passionate about hospitality. Today, we are 62 people who put in their all to smoothly run SMSH.
What is your vision for Silver Mountain?
When we started in 2002, we lacked resources but never belief. Today, 15 years later, I can confidently say that our hospitality graduates are at par with students who have studied abroad. We have state-of-the-art facilities, which we are constantly upgrading--in order to provide the best education to our students. We want to make Silver Mountain a hub of hospitality in South Asia; in fact, we already have students from India and Bhutan and are in process of getting students from Bangladesh. And in the next five to seven years, we plan to establish our own hotel as well. This hotel will be run by our own students. Our vision is to show that one can get five-star service and amenities at a three-star priced hotel run by students.
What are your future plans?
For our Masters in Gastronomy course, we will include a lot of documentation of traditional food. I want to explore the concept of 'plant to plate'--which covers everything from harvesting of the plants to the food that appears on your plate. I think we need to explore this concept because nobody has done it here. And also because I believe education should be based more on research and documentation rather than on textbooks alone. I also feel that in a decade or so our food industry will move towards its ethnic roots, and people will be keen to explore different local cuisines. That's also a way to attract food lovers to Nepal.
Hospitality schools have mushroomed over the years in Kathmandu. Are we producing too many graduates now?
Worldwide, the hospitality sector is probably one of the fastest growing sectors, and Nepal is not an exception. We have some 4,500 rooms in the many hotels that are in the country, and we are adding another 4,000 by 2020. The hotels are always on the lookout for fresh graduates. Also, hospitality students don't just have to work in the food and beverage department. They can specialise in varied fields, such as human resource management, sales and marketing, and new enterprise creation--which can open career possibilities that go beyond just hospitality.