Nepal was once renowned for its high-end hospitality. Then, it wants its crown up

Between desolate hills and the towering Himalayas in north-central Nepal, the barren river of Jomsom in the once-forbidden nation of Mustang is tucked between barren hills. The weary town, which was once a transit point for Tibetan traders, has since become a rest stop for Hindu and Buddhist travelers visiting the Muktinath Temple and trekking enthusiasts who have encircled Annapurna rock. Nowadays, a new location is reinventing Jomsom as a luxury getaway, developing high-value tourism in one of Nepal’s most distant yet socially and culturally different regions. Shinta Mani Mustang, a boutique hotel designed by American architect Bill Bensley, aims to offer “comfortable and stylish” lodging in an eccentric place, while reimagining Nepal’s picture as a cheap vacation spot for tourists. The Himalayan hospitality industry has no significantly changed in the past 30 years, according to Jason Friedman, who brought the Shinta Mani model to Nepal last month along with the local Sherpa Hospitality Group. We grant access to these areas to a whole new group of travelers. ”A watch from the restaurant at Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge overlooking the beautiful fishtail-like Mount Machhapuchchhrethe. Photo: HandoutWhen Friedman first traveled to Nepal and Jomsom three decades ago, the nation was on the verge of political reforms, with Mustang the only place to accept overseas visitors in 1992. But a decade-long Maoist insurrection to stop king and aristocracy that began in 1996 hit the nation ’s tourism, one of its main revenue-generating areas. Nepal’s tourism industry has mostly bounced back, contributing 6. 7 % of the world’s GDP will be derived from this data in 2022, according to World Bank data. Nepal welcomed more than 1 million visitors last year, marking the third time in the country’s history. In March, the country’s visitor numbers increased by nearly 30 %, with visitors from China and India leading the pack. Tourist spending remains low, however, with travellers only forking out US$ 40. 50 per day in 2022 compared with US$ 48 in 2021, according to the latest available data from Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. Nepal has long been viewed as a low-cost backpacking destination, but nearby Bhutan has established itself as a premium Himalayan hotspot. But it was n’t always like that. Nepalese homestays provide tourists with food, culture, and history while empowering locals. However, it was n’t until two years later that the first organized tour group made its way to Kathmandu’s capital. The Royal Hotel, which is now known as Yak &;, was the country’s first luxurious accommodation. Yeti. It was opened in 1951 by Russian hotelier Boris Lisanevich, a pioneering figure in Nepal’s tourism industry, in a palace previously owned by the now-dissolved Rana dynasty, which controlled the Himalayan kingdom for more than a century. Nepal saw the birth of some of its most popular domestic high-end brands in the decades that followed. A courtyard view of Dwarika’s Hotel, a landmark luxury property showcasing Kathmandu’s architecture. Photo: HandoutIn the 1960s, local five-star hotels such as Hotel Annapurna and Soaltee opened. British adventurer Jim Edwards turned Tiger Tops in southern Nepal into one of South Asia’s pioneering, premium wildlife tourism spots in the following decade, with businessman Dwarika Das Shrestha’s namesake hotel, Dwarika’s, becoming a landmark luxury property showcasing Kathmandu’s architecture. High-paying tourists were lured by the hard-to-access Himalayan nation’s mythical, mysterious charm. Then came the celebrities, from Hollywood actors Richard Gere and Keanu Reeves, to singers Mick Jagger, Ricky Martin and Sting. Nepal was once a “glitzy destination and a fashionable place to be,” according to Lisa Choegyal, a consultant for sustainable tourism with 50 years of experience there. “ In Asia, most of the tourism circuits developed with foreign independent travellers and then the high-end groups, ” she said. Nepal” started from the opposite direction.” It was a very unusual travel pattern. A trekker taking a view of the Himalayas in Nepal on their way to the Everest base camp. Photo: Getty ImagesA royal trek by Britain’s Prince Charles – now King Charles – in 1980 through the foothills of the Annapurna, plus a stopover by Prince Philip at Tiger Tops in 1986, further elevated Nepal’s status on the global tourism map. In 1998, Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge, another high-end property overlooking the magnificent fishtail-like Mount Machhapuchchhrethe, opened along the route that Prince Charles had trekked. Nepal had a wide range of [tourism ] markets in those days, and Choegyal, who also serves as the director of Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge, needs to return. It’s exciting that Shinta Mani and Sherpa Hospitality have collaborated to create their brand. I once believed we could do it ourselves, but now we need the branded hotels and associated marketing. One of the most ambitious projects to be launched in Nepal in recent years is Shinta Mani Mustang, which is situated on a hill overlooking Jomsom, about 2,800 meters (9,200 feet ) above sea level and facing the Nilgiri and Dhaulagiri peaks. The resort pays homage to the region’s heritage and culture by using stone-toned interiors that blend in with the backdrop of barren hills and natural hues and motifs. Industry insiders claim that Nepal’s relatively stable political climate has encouraged investors to purchase expensive properties across the country despite frequent changes in leadership and some investment policies that need fine-tuning. They see this as Nepal’s luxury tourism renaissance, and hope to attract not just Westerners but also high spenders from India, mainland China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore. “Bookings for high-end tourists have increased for us, ” said Bijay Amatya, CEO of Kathmandu-based Kora Tours, who has been in the industry for 48 years. The main factor in its growth is that investors are optimistic and a lot of luxurious hotels are settling down in Nepal. Investors are enthralled because they can see the possibilities. ”A view of Marpha village, near Jomsom. According to industry insiders, Nepal is experiencing a renaissance of luxury travel. Photo: Alok ThapaLuxury travellers to Nepal say they are impressed by both the breathtaking views and the service they receive in remote, hard-to-access locations – flights to places like Jomsom are highly weather-dependent, with many access roads still under construction. “This place is different [from ] any other place you have been. Bring an open mind and a lot of energy, ” one visitor wrote on the travel website Tripadvisor, referring to Mustang and their US$ 9,000 five-night stay at Shinta Mani Mustang. “Luxury in the remote, ” another traveller said of their experience. International luxury brands – many of which are setting up shop outside Kathmandu – are diversifying Nepal’s tourism industry, as they cater to the growing trend of ultra-luxury holidaymakers. According to tourism experts, this will offer more alternatives to the nation’s long-running overcrowded tours, including trips to the Everest and Annapurna base camps, that has been sold for decades. Nepali food is ‘unique, flavourful’ but unknown. This chef wants to change thatLast year, Thailand’s Dusit International opened a high-end hotel in Dhulikhel, an ancient town on the outskirts of Nepal’s capital. This year, the Kunda Himalayan Resort and Spa, located at 3,030 metres (9,940 feet ) above sea level, will open in the mountainous town of Phalpu, and India’s luxury Postcard Hotel chain is making its way to Chitwan, known for its wildlife. The Dusit Thani Himalayan Resort in Dhulikhel’s manager, Anirudh Chaudhary, said,” We view competition in the luxury tourism market as a driving force for excellence and the advancement of Nepal’s hospitality industry. In an effort to rehabilitate the country’s traditional trekking itineraries, Friedman and the Sherpa Hospitality Group established their luxury leisure brand Mountain Lodges of Nepal in 2022. Their 12-night curated Everest itinerary features stays in eight luxury lodges, including a pop-up lodge at the mountain’s base camp, seeking to “take off people from the Everest highway ” for around US$ 5,900 on a twin-sharing basis, according to Friedman. Accommodation was a key component of managing the expectations of clients who paid US$ 10,900 for a two-day Nepal tour, according to Catherine Heald, co-founder and CEO of Remote Lands Inc. Nepal’s new high-end hotels “will gain favour among luxury consumers”, she said. Customers who may have opted to purchase from Nepal for Bhutan may now make a variety of purchasing decisions based on the offered quality of the product. ”A view from Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge, one of the high-end properties eyeing Nepal’s luxury tourism revival. Experts claim that tour operators are becoming more aware of their ecological footprint and the effects they have on host nations. 90 % of travelers looking for sustainable travel options, according to a survey conducted by American travel company Expedia Group in 2022 among 11,000 customers. Many upscale brands in Nepal have taken a stand for protecting the environment. In addition to other initiatives, Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge supports community forests and schools in its area, while Dusit Thani promotes village tourism and local produce. “All markets are concerned with sustainability, not just environmental sustainability but where their tourist dollars are going and who is benefiting, ” Choegyal said. Shinta Mani Mustang, meanwhile, is investing in tours of lesser-known places such as nearby Jomsom, employing a high number of locals from Mustang and supporting the Pasang Lhamu Foundation, a non-profit organisation named after the first Nepali woman to ascend Everest. Additionally, the hotel intends to start a hospitality school in Mustang to train the area’s upcoming hotelier generation. “We create high-value jobs where they don’t exist, ” said Friedman, who prides himself on developing luxury experiential hotels in remote places. Dawa Sangpo Gurung, a Mustang native who works at Shinta Mani Mustang. Dawa Sangpo Gurung, a character from Alok Thapa, claims to have witnessed the alteration. The 21-year-old quit his Pokhara server job to work as a butler at Shinta Mani, claiming that it offered a more lucrative alternative to moving abroad and an employment opportunity closer to home in the Upper Mustang region. It helps both local businesses and showcasing our traditions, he said, by helping to put Mustang on the global map and by promoting our traditions locally. This will enable me to improve my abilities and, hopefully, serve as a stepping stone in my hospitality career. Locals in Jomsom are excited about the potential benefits of luxury tourism and the positive changes that the hotel, or “five star, ” may bring to the area. “The world wants to come to Nepal, ” Friedman said. Nepal has to take advantage of these opportunities, and the government needs to take steps to improve the operation of tourism. ”