It isn’t very often you meet a successful businessman who makes no bones about his love for the finer things in life. Gaurav Agarwal, Managing Director of Kathmandu Marriott Hotel, Fairfield by Marriott Kathmandu and FitKat is a futuristic entrepreneur who knows how to celebrate life’s little and big moments with panache, and yes, he does take his business very seriously.
“Life is to be enjoyed, to be celebrated every second and one should do things that make you happy so that you have no regrets later,” he states adding that it is also an aspect that drives the economy. “If you look at it from a different perspective, you are actually promoting someone’s business when you go out partying, for example.”
Agarwal says the MS Group, the family business, initially started as a trading house but switched to the manufacturing sector after establishing a textile production company. At present, the group has a diverse portfolio with interests in steel fabrication, yarn, banking and real estate. In fact, the group is the largest sugar producer in the country. Agarwal says he never found the manufacturing or real estate sectors appealing. “They are a bit monotonous with the same things happening on a daily basis and it did not fit my way of life,” he shares, adding, “That is the fundamental reason why I got into the hospitality sector.”
“I have always loved interacting with people and in the hospitality sector every day is different,” says Agarwal. “Every guest is different with their individual requirements, so meeting new guests every day is always a new experience.” The other reason why he decided to open a hotel was because no international hotel chain had entered the Nepali market in the last 20 years, “It was something I could capitalise on.”
The hospitality business is now one of the largest portfolios of the MS Group with the opening of Fairfield by Marriott Kathmandu and the Marriott Kathmandu. “We initially opened Fairfield which is centrally located in Thamel,” says Agarwal. He reveals the reason for choosing Thamel was that it is a very happening place and the major tourist hub of the country.
Since business in Fairfield was very good he decided to open another hotel albeit this time at the luxury end. “Till about a few years back Nepal was famous for backpack travellers but in recent times many luxury travellers have started visiting the country so we developed the concept of Marriott Kathmandu to cater to this particular segment,” he says.
“Nepal’s hospitality sector is great and we are just trying to take it a notch higher”, states Agarwal, and says that they have broken ground with another property called Moxy Kathmandu. “Moxy is another brand within the Marriott portfolio and is basically a lifestyle hotel breaking the traditional design rules and should be ready in a few years,” he shares.
“People often ask me what it feels like to take forward a business legacy which was started by my great grandfather but I want to be clear about the fact that I only look after the hospitality sector of my family business,” clarifies Agarwal.
He shares, “ I have also opened FitKat, a stylish sportswear brand. I want people who visit gyms to look good and not restrict themselves to boring tees and shorts for their workouts.”
Over the years, Agarwal says he has learnt to be true to the things that he enjoys, things that excite him and which he is passionate about. “Having the money and opening a venture will not suffice. One has to be passionate about what they do and this is what I would advise the young people who have been opening startups,” he states. “When your heart is not there in what you are doing, you will not be able to fulfil your potential.”
But not everyone has the privilege of doing what they love. Gaurav Agarwal says he has a lot to thank his father for this. “I have always been given the independence to make choices by my father and the only advice he gives me is to work hard no matter what I choose,” he says. The other advice he has always followed is to be willing to accept changes. “If you cannot adapt to changing scenarios then you will remain stagnant in life.”
Deriving inspiration from a host of people and events in life, Agarwal says one of the major reasons he has been successful in business is that he is fair and ethical about everything. “The moment you are ethical, you tend to win over a lot of people, be it those working for you or people coming to you for business,” he elucidates.
While talking about the challenges that he has had to face while doing business, Agarwal says he would rather look at them as opportunities. “Yes, there are some areas where we need to improve but when you look at it in general there are abundant opportunities in Nepal,” he states.
An area where he would like to see some support from the government is regarding making finances available at a lower interest rate. “The hospitality sector has been hit really hard by the Coronavirus pandemic and it has been two years of continuous losses with 2022 not going to be any different,” he says, adding that the refinancing facility being offered by the government is very small and does not serve its purpose.
Another aspect he feels that needs to be taken seriously in the immediate future is VAT, which he says, should be waived in the present context for the tourism industry. “Government policies should be shaped up a bit and provide relief to businesses that have borne the brunt of the pandemic and the subsequent prohibitory orders,” he says. “For instance, the country will soon have surplus power so electricity could be provided to energy intensive industries at a subsidised rate.”
An immediate change he would like the government to usher in is to make the arrival of foreign tourists a bit more comfortable. “At times, we have serpentine queues at the airport immigration and all stakeholders should realise that it is the usually the very first experience that travellers take back home,” he states. Agarwal believes Nepal is a wonderful tourism package and it is only about sorting out certain aspects to ensure that this can be portrayed experientially.
“When the pandemic broke out, both our hotels were open and we could have easily told our guests to look for other accommodation,” he says, but that would not portray a good image for the tourism industry. Neither would it make any business sense to keep both hotels open so he decided to shift all guests from Fairfield to Marriott Kathmandu. “Yes, we were bearing losses but the only thought I had in mind was to make our guests feel cared for and comfortable.” And this, he says, in the long term will pay back dividends. A team player, he adds, “I would like to appreciate my team who have gone out of their way to make things happen.”
Agarwal believes that there is no one mantra for success. “It is a combination of many factors.” One of the best decisions he says he made for the hotels was while picking the locations which are all great. “And then it is the products we offer which are of international standard. The brand, Marriott, too has been helping a lot as the name itself attracts many international visitors but the definitive factor that has made us successful is the team”.
Agarwal is also passionate about conducting business responsibly, caring for the environment, and giving back to the community; all of which he ensures are integrated into his business operations.
Agarwal has definite ideas about how he likes to work. “There are working hours and then there are off hours but here we don’t seem to have made that distinction. It is true one has to work hard but you also need to realise there is a life beyond the work sphere,” he says adding that he never starts work before 9:30 in the morning and his day is off after 6 pm. “While at work I put in all my effort but beyond that I have learnt to enjoy life because very honestly, I wouldn’t want to be checking official mails when I am having my meals.” He adds that people do not seem to understand that we work to make life easy and some are so consumed with their work that they fail to see the beauty of the little things around them. “I don’t want to just exist; I want to live,” concludes the suave hotelier.