By: Prativa Khanal, IBL15
First week: Meeting Monalisa & Finding My Way
It’s been a week since I started my placement at Hotel Monalisa Chitwan. I have had no prior experience in the hospitality business, so many things are new. The first week has mostly been about getting to know the work environment, work culture and people working in the hotel. Knowing the local language has made things easier – even though English is used with most of the guests in the hotel.
It’s Monsoon in Nepal, so heavy rainfalls are pretty regular, and there has been a lot of rainfall this week. There are reports of flash floods and landslides in the remote mountains of the Chitwan District. Keshav Khanal, the founder of Hotel Monalisa, calls a meeting of staff overseeing CSR activities of the hotel, and the team ponders about possible help that could be sent to disaster affected areas. “There is no road access, there is no electricity,” he tells me, “and the help from the government is never enough.” The team quickly comes up with a list of necessary items needed in the flood-affected region. It seems all obvious to them. They have been doing it for many years, perhaps every monsoon. “We can’t do everything,” Khanal tells me, “but doing even a little makes a big difference.” I nod in agreement.
Sauraha is very hot during summer and it’s been 38°C today. It’s 2PM tea break. I decide not to drink tea during the 2PM tea break, but a glass of cold water. I sit in the hotel lobby and feel sad for what has happened to the underprivileged indigenous people of the mountains, in other words, to my fellow countrymen. It’s difficult to decide whom to blame. Maybe the steep mountains and mad rivers, or the irresponsible and slow government, or maybe all of them. Life is difficult in the mountains, that’s what people in the plains say all the time. It’s surprising how geography can marginalize people, or can be a hurdle in people’s aspirations for connectivity and progress. But, on the other hand, I see an opportunity here. This is what I have wanted to dig deeper – small companies and their corporate social responsibility (CSR) actions.
Four Weeks at Monalisa: Getting Stuff Done
My initial emotions and excitement have settled in, and the focus has been on getting things done, and learning. My supervisor, Damodar, who is also the manager of the hotel, has guided and encouraged me a lot throughout these weeks. He always stresses on the importance of being objective and not getting swayed away by numerous distractions and emotions that might be present in the workplace. We have gone through the terms of references (TOR) of my placement a couple of times and my focus has been to stick to that. During the second week, we had a group meeting where the manager discussed about my TORs and we got a collective feedback from other staff members.
As provided in the TOR, my main task is to assist Monalisa to advance its CSR projects, mainly by producing promotional materials. For that, I am working on flyers and photo stories that depict their CSR work. My graphic designing skills and my passion for design have been very useful in this endeavour. I have also participated in assisting the event manager of the hotel, in hosting and welcoming guests, but also briefing them about the hotel’s CSR mission and activities. At times, I have replied emails addressed to the hotel inquiring about its non-profit activities.
One of the most memorable events of this placement has been my visit to the working area up in the mountains. I met and interacted with local communities who have benefitted from the actions initiated by Monalisa & Child welfare development Nepal(CWON) which is a non-profit wing of Hotel Monalisa Chitwan. In order to document the trip, I took numerous photos and am going to produce a photo story based on them. As indicated by my supervisor, the photo story will be used to showcase the CSR activities of the hotel.
Another expectation of the hotel or rather another mandate of the TOR is that I help disseminate the CSR activities of the hotel through social media and other online channels. For that, I have updated or, when needed, created new social media accounts of the hotel. I have written content and uploaded to different platforms, which includes a major overhaul the hotel’s TripAdvisor page. Overall, I have been very satisfied with the progress so far, and am excited to start a brand new week with a lot of new challenges and learning opportunities.
Last Week: Wrapping Up
This week I am wrapping up my three-months long practice placement at Hotel Monalisa Chitwan in Sauraha Nepal. These three months have given me an unforgettable memory or a mixture of everything, all possible emotions that one can possibly experience: excitement, delight, enthusiasm, but also sadness and frustration.
The monsoon that I mentioned in my first blog post, has hit hard this time in the plains, i.e. my workplace and my hometown. The entire tourist town of Sauraha has submerged and nearly 700 domestic and international tourists have been stranded. The first floor of Hotel Monalisa is full of water and boats and elephants have been used for transportation. This tiny little town has been on national and international media continuously since yesterday.
The photo of the reception area of Hotel Monalisa Chitwan aftermath flood on 13 August 2017.
This is not how I expected to end my placement, but emergencies do surpass our expectations. I have used these two days learning about the essence and the art of handling emergency situations in a workplace. I have assisted the hotel staff in comforting the panicking guests, assisting to fulfil their needs and making emergency travel arrangements when possible. The hotel manager has worked very hard and has been able to comfort the stranded guests, by assuring them that they are not in danger and they can stay at Monalisa until the floods stop. I believe that the knowledge Hotel Monalisa has gathered over these years by working in other disaster affected regions has been useful in its own premises.
Despite the disaster, my placement has come to an end with successful outcomes. I haven’t had the final evaluation and feedback session with my placement supervisor yet, but there are a plenty of things that I am taking away from this stint at Sauraha. Most of the learning has taken place by doing and by observing. I have been able to strengthen my professional network and learned a few skills that can only be learned at a real-life workplace.
I have produced a few materials that the hotel is going to use regularly. I have also contributed to strengthen their social media presence, which they have appreciated a lot. I am not an expert anyway, but based on my observation during these weeks, I have made a few recommendations to further boost their PR and CSR activities.
I am writing these final sentences with the heart that is thankful. I will be leaving Sauraha and Nepal soon, but the memories will be there, and no matter where I go, I will cherish them for many years to come.
Featured photo credit: http://www.monalisanepal.com/