In conversation with Mr. Ram Sapkota (Kamal), who is the founder of Mountain Delights treks and Expedition Pvt. Ltd. which promotes sustainable tourism in Nepal.
1. What social change do you see your service can bring in society?
Through Mountain Delights Treks and Expedition, we are firstly promoting beautiful, exciting but lesser-known destinations of Nepal like Ganesh Himal, Panchpokhari, Chepang Hill, and Api Himal, to ensure socio-economic development of local people through employment.
At the same time, we focus on Socio and Eco-tourism. As you know, haphazard tourism has led to massive environmental degradation in Mount Everest. So, from the very inception of our company, we have been careful in promoting tourist destinations of Nepal in an environmentally, culturally and socially conscious way.
To fulfill this objective, we have cleaning treks in Mount Everest and Annapurna Region. We collect wastes in our trekking expeditions and bring it back to Kathmandu to treat it in the recycling centers. Similarly, we hire local porters whenever possible, and wherever found necessary. We also encourage our tourists to volunteer in local schools, build solar panels and toilets. Along with this, we also execute medical treks where we guide our tourists and doctors to remote places of Nepal and then conduct medical camps for local people.
Moreover, we have a charity program called Tukee Nepal where we separate a part of our profit and a part of the contribution from tourists to perform corporate social responsibility. In this way, Mountain Delight Treks and Expedition brings social change.
2. Tell me about your journey to starting your venture. When did it start?
I started my journey in the tourism industry through trekking. I worked as a porter, a kitchen boy, an assistant guide, and a trekking guide for fourteen years. My humble background allowed me to network with various foreign friends, who encouraged me to establish a company. So, in 2004 A.D. with financial and technical assistance from these friends, I started Mountain Delights Treks and Expedition Pvt. Ltd.
3. How many people did you start with and what is your current staff strength?
When I started this company, I was the only one working for the company. I was the owner as well as the trekking guide. So, I used to guide trekking expeditions whenever there was a booking and work in the office on other days.
As the company grew, I started hiring guides and other staff. Currently, there is five office staff and we have more than a hundred trekking guides and porters that we hire on a seasonal basis and as per the demand. To ensure that they remain loyal to us we provide the insurance policy, competitive salary and good equipment to lead expeditions and treks.
5. What stage is the company in?
We have been operating for more than fifteen years now, but we are still a small company in its growing phase.
6. How did you raise the fund to start your company?
I began this company with three lakhs of investment, part of which was funded through personal savings, and around 87000 NRS contributed by a friend from Singapore, who I met when I was working as a trekking guide back in the days.
7. What were the challenges that you faced while starting this company, and what are the challenges you are facing right now?
The major challenge for us was to break the trend of tourism. It was relatively easy for us to sell packages of widely known destinations like Mount Everest and Annapurna, but the major challenge was promoting the lesser-known places like Ganesh Himal. Promoting these places required more investment in marketing and more investment in time, despite this they still received less tourist attraction. If I had invested the same amount of time and money in promoting well-known places, I would have had better business paybacks, but my motivation laid somewhere else.
Moreover, in the initial days, it was also difficult to ensure the survival of the company as we were focused on the social part of the business due to which we could not invest the profits and retained earnings back to business. We had other commitments, which had the opportunity costs. Another major challenge was running a business, as I did not come from a business background, I had to earn by investing and learn by doing.
Our current challenges are the price competition among the competitors. We have a bit expensive packages as a leading expedition in lesser-known places is quite expensive for the company as well.
However, our more pressing challenge comes from policy level planning. The government of Nepal wants to promote tourism, but it lacks vision and planning on what type of tourism we want to promote, whether we want to be renowned for trekking, tours, or say climbing! There is haphazard infrastructure development, for example, the government is building roads, but the roads are not well built, and at the same time it has affected the pre-existing trekking trails too. So, it is difficult for companies like ours to market our packages to new destinations. As a company, you can neither promote luxury tours nor promote adventure tour. So, it is a challenge to form optimum marketing strategies.
8. How many customers or clients do you have on a monthly basis?
Our clients vary as per the season. We have two high and two low seasons. We have around a hundred to hundred-fifty clients in a year. However, we are currently working for all season marketing strategy which will most likely increase the number of clients that we have.
9. Who are your target customers?
Most of our clients are from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and other parts of Europe. We also have customers from Singapore.
10. What do you think is the market potential for your company?
I believe that the tourism industry as a whole has high market potential. The global trend of traveling is growing, the trend is as such where the wealth of a person is measured by how much one has traveled. At the same time, Nepal is a country best suited for tourism due to the diversity that it possesses. We have a rich diversity in topography, culture, as well as in climate. So, I see great market potential.
11. How do you ensure the sustainability of your business?
We ensure sustainability through the services that we provide. We have many repeat clients and clients that come in contact with us through word of mouth recommendation. In this way, we have more than thousands of customers in our contacts. Secondly, we ensure personal satisfaction to the clients, due to which they feel proud to be associated with us. As a result, our clients are willing to pay more. In addition to this, the social impact of our business and our experience also add goodwill to our company. This way we ensure the sustainability of profits and loyal customers.
12. What are the key needs of your company?
Our key needs lie in terms of IT and social media marketing.
13. What are the future plans for the company?
We are planning to launch a sister company to promote agro-farming and tourism. We also have plans to lunch coffee farming/resort which will employ local farmers and attract tourists. For this, we are looking for skilled human resources, investments, and marketing capability.
14. Do you have a mechanism to measure impact?
In 2011, Surya Nepal awarded us the social enterprise of the year. In 2013, we won a sustainable tourism, inspiring stories award. Hence, in this way our impacts have been measured by external entities, although we do not have internal mechanisms to measure impact.
15. Is there any other information that you would like to share?
I believe as a company we have a tremendous impact on the lives of people. I would like to say that there are immense opportunities in Nepal if you are willing to work hard enough. When there is a challenge, there is a high potential too. To all the youths out there, if you are patient anything can be achieved.
For more information about this company, connect with Ram Sapkota at email@example.com.
Interviewed and article by Shambhavi Singh