Success Story Nepal / Solidarity beyond national borders

The tourism industry has had a very difficult year. This meant that the hotel management school “ACE School” in Nepal valued the remote assignment of SEC expert Alain Rohrbach all the more. He supported the management team during the crisis and this was a successful collaboration.

Eight of the ten highest mountains in the world are in Nepal. As the birthplace of Buddha, Nepal is of great religious significance to many and has a great cultural diversity with 123 languages. The Himalayan state in South Asia therefore does not normally have to fear a shortage of tourists. Before the outbreak of Covid-19, tourism contributed about 8% to Nepal’s economy. But due to the pandemic, hotels lost important sources of income such as mountain climbing expeditions and religious celebrations. The “ACE School of Tourism and Hotel Management” also had to close repeatedly during multiple lockdowns. They had to cut four jobs and lost 80% of their turnover. This is because it is not attractive to pay for an education, for which there are currently so few prospects on the labour market.

The “ACE School” sought coaching from SEC for its management team during the pandemic. It wanted to improve its curriculum and quality standards. From mid-July to October 2021, SEC expert Alain Rohrbach advised the school remotely. As an expert in hospitality education, Rohrbach has already completed 21 SEC assignments. He has advised hotels and hotel management schools in Benin, Uganda, Senegal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and he has repeatedly been to Nepal. His expertise is second to none. Before his retirement, he was the director of the Romandie branch of “Hotel & Gastro Training Switzerland” for more than 14 years. The vocational training centre is supported by the HotellerieSuisse business association, the GastroSuisse employers’ association and the Hotel & Gastro Union. Rohrbach is therefore very well networked and at the heart of vocational training for the hospitality industry in Switzerland.

The «ACE School of Tourism and Hotel Management»
The ACE School of Tourism and Hotel Management, founded in 2008, offers training programmes in the areas of cuisine, service, and hotel management. Its focus is on cooking courses. The school also strives to give its trainees an experience abroad. It arranges internships in China, Singapore, Thailand, Spain, and Mauritius. Equally important for the school is to convey the joy of the profession. For example, the chef instructor Narayan Thapaliya says, “I have been working in the hospitality industry for 20 years. I don’t know how these years have passed. I have always loved what I do. Becoming a chef should be a passion. Once we start loving what we do, life will be full of discoveries and joy.”

SEC experts were previously on site in 2017 and 2018. They improved the school’s offering by teaching innovative teaching methods and learning materials. For example, they revised the hygiene and safety concept in the kitchen, introduced standard recipes, complaints management, and cost calculation. Due to the high teaching standards, graduates of this school were certain of employment before the pandemic.

Building bridges
Manoj Silwal from the “ACE School” rates the cooperation with SEC expert Rohrbach as excellent. Silwal says: “He understood our situation and gave us ideas to solve our problems.” The goals set were achieved together. There is now a standardised procedure to assess the performance of the students and teachers. Rohrbach reviewed the quality of the cooking and service courses and created a training programme for the teachers. Silwal notes that the school’s crisis management capacity has increased. It was also a relief that at the end of September Nepal started to allow vaccinated people to enter the country without quarantine. This was a ray of hope for the tourism industry.

Besides the implementation of the agreed tasks, Rohrbach’s support for the management team was also hugely appreciated. It felt good to be able to talk openly about the many concerns and to realise that there is a person at the other end of the screen who is thinking about the same issues and who still believes in the school. The remote assignment has connected people who were isolated by the pandemic. This “bridging” is one of the core elements of development cooperation. The SEC experts show solidarity well beyond their own national borders.

Interview with SEC Expert Alain Rohrbach

What’s your overall assessment of the results of the remote assignment?
The results are positive, primarily in human terms. The contact with an SEC expert allows the clients to talk about their problems. The exchange between SEC, the teachers and with students too is of great value. Nepal has been isolated for many months. There are no more holidaymakers in the country. We showed the clients that SEC has not forgotten them. It also allows the SEC coordinator on the ground, Neeraj Singhal, to keep in touch with the clients. Clients keep mentioning how much they appreciate this.

What impressed you most about this remote assignment?
Above all, the commitment of the people at the school, their will to develop the institution despite the ongoing crisis. For SEC, it is not only a professional commitment, but above all a human involvement in a project that is close to our hearts and that confronts us with a constant reality.

What surprised you or what did not work as expected?
As always with remote consultations in developing countries, there are problems with the internet connection, power failure or poor maintenance of the communication systems (WIFI, internet, mobile phones, etc.). Or several people are talking in the background or following the conversation (i.e. children, families, noise, whistling, discussions, static and other disturbances).

But the support of the SEC coordinator in the country was a great help for me.

What are the limitation of a remote assignment?
For us SEC experts, it is frustrating not to be on the ground, not to be able to get in direct contact with the client, with the people who are responsible for these organizations. The limit for me is therefore mainly personal. We lack contact, exact knowledge of the companies and about the students in the course programme, as well as an idea about the course location and the surroundings. We lack the essential elements of our tasks.

But there is also a time constraint…. If you calculate that on average, we spend 25-35 hours conversing with our clients over two months, you understand that giving advice remotely is not easy. This is not much time to deal with the large number of issues. But the will to succeed on both sides is impressive, and most of the time we continue our exchange and support with great pleasure even after the SEC contract has ended.

Did you continue to have contact with the client after the end of the assignment? With what kind of support?
Yes, of course. When I look at my list of over 14 assignments in Nepal, I realise that all the “clients” have become friends. I stay in contact with them and, most importantly, maintain a professional exchange. For instance, I send useful documentation or forms.

What impact did the Corona pandemic have on the client?
It was a terrible shock, not only for the schools, colleges, and hotel schools, but above all and especially for the learners and teachers. The schools were closed, resulting in no money coming in, some teachers not receiving salaries and classes being stopped.