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Creating Finesse

As I entered hotel sunset view, every step I took forward was into something I would have never expected in midst the busy streets of Baneshwar. I realized how everything in and around him spoke volumes of Mr. Khem Lakai’s achievements, including the venue in itself. “Creating finesse must be his forte”, I thought to myself, “even in the most difficult situations”, which I was convinced of, by the end of our conversation.

His distinct welcoming nature from the very first few minutes of interaction, makes his bond to the tourism & hospitality management field, very unmissable. This also reminded me of the first time I met him, as he kept looking at his watch time and again, while at the same time offering us tea and snacks. Mr. Lakai’s, hospitality skills shouted out loud and clear. He sat there entertaining his guests with dedication in spite of running late for something important. This time it was right before his long flight to Europe, on the day of Nepali new year, a sure public holiday in Nepal. Whether hospitality is an innate quality within him, or something he developed through the years of experience in the field is hard to tell.

He describes himself as a typical ‘mountain boy’, born in Shailung, a mountain village of Dolakha, about 140 kms away from Kathmandu. Soon after, he left chasing goats in his village; he came to Kathmandu from the mountain to chase his dreams at the tender age of 12.

He made his first official entry to the hotel industry, at Soaltee Oberoi (currently known as Soaltee Crowne Plaza), after topping a pioneer, food and beverage, vocational training program. This proved to be an important learning experience for him, as he witnessed the transition of Oberoi into Holiday Inn, giving him an idea of the bigger picture involved with the hotel industry.

Mr. Lakai’s inquisitive nature always pushed him to grab every opportunity to learn that came his way, opportunities that were often overlooked by most of his peers. This led him to learn from and be guided by the best in the industry.

“I never undermined knowledge that came my way, whether it be a good book on wine, or about some delicacies.” – Khem Lakai

It might come as a surprise to most of us that this confident man, was once a shy young man who lacked confidence, but he took it upon himself to boost his moral through achievements that he made, even if it were as small as wining a competition on knowledge about the hotel industry. He knew what he lacked, but rejected every voice that told him it was not possible for him. He spent hours studying English in British Council, knowing that without English his dream would have no meaning to explore the world.

“You need to allow yourself to go deeper into your intuition and what you really desire to do” – Khem Lakai

He describes his experience of forsaking all that he had built in 2 years, to move away to Hong Kong with a few dollars in his pocket, and return almost immediately to have nothing to look forward to, as his most frightening experience.

 “You will always be confronted with frightening experiences. It gives you another chance to look within and say, “what else can you do?” Your brain is then trained to look for options.”  – Khem Lakai

In spite of a lot of societal pressure convincing him that he could only go so far, he always looked for opportunities to step further in life. “Something inside me didn’t want to listen to them and said, this is not true, you have got every reason to move forward and do whatever you wish to do.”

What surprised me the most, was his memory of the intrinsic details about his initial days in Switzerland, of how he met his classmate Peter Felander from Sweden, who gave him an expense budget of 500 Swiss francs a week, “ I (Mr. Lakai) went there with 800 francs for 3 years, 222 francs spent in the half tax card, used for travel, 41 franc to reach the university, left with some 500 francs.” This was one time he doubted his survival in Switzerland, but as we have already learnt, Mr. Lakai never let an opportunity slip by and soon he was earning 20 francs an hour during his free time, besides his regular study routine. “PHEW! Now I (Mr. Lakai) am going to survive, I thought to myself.” He describes his experience in Switzerland, to be the foundation of what he is today. This is where he developed the passion to understand people who were not from his culture.

“Sometimes challenges are beautiful opportunities for you to learn, what must be learnt.”
– Khem Lakai

Within the few years he spent in Switzerland, he grabbed the opportunity to work at restaurants, pubs, resorts in several positions, where he learnt about the Swiss work culture, the language and gained yet further experience in the hotel management field. “Some jobs were challenging, but I learnt a lot”, Mr. Lakai says. Despite all this, he was yet to pay back his debt, hence his reluctance to return to Nepal without achieving something positive. He looked for further opportunity, which caused him to enroll for a course at McGill University, which is still a leading university in Canada.

“I always thought of doing different things, rather than something I have done before.” 
– Khem Lakai

He moved on, to travel around many countries including China, before he settled as a consultant in Bahrain. During his stay in Bahrain, he met many bright young Nepalese men, who were doing menial job for little salary. All they needed to transform their lives was little vocational skills and a certificate. “I was aware of the demand and supply gap that existed in the hotel industry. Even those who had the certificates did not know the basics. The big picture was missing. Many of them even bought certificates in trying to go abroad”, and thus the birth of GATE College in 2007 became inevitable to him. This, Mr. Lakai claims as being the most correct decision he made for himself.

“Learning has to come from within, and has to be connected to practicality and internal motivation, only then Education doesn’t have to have a label” – Khem Lakai

In spite of establishing so much, Mr. Lakai would consider himself successful, only if he could multiply the same spirit, which he has already initiated. What keeps him going on is the realization that the seeds that he has planted are not about him anymore; the institution will live on beyond his life even.

“Everything about my success is about learning. I never stopped learning. When you keep learning and you say yes to personal development then only you grow.” – Khem Lakai

My questions definitely made him travel back through time, “I have a flight to catch in 3 hours”, yet he sat there talking about his journey, for what seemed like hours, without a hint of hurry on his face. Blame my peculiar imagination, but Mr. Lakai’s narration of his life journey, played like a movie in my head, with Mr. Lakai as the star of the movie, and many different characters, who in one way or another helped him reach up to this level.
“Wisdom only begins, when you accept to know what you don’t know.”  – Khem Lakai

Khem R. Lakai, CHE – Founder CEO
(GATE College)

Khem Lakai is a founder and CEO of Nepal’s award winning academy, GATE – Global Academy of Tourism & Hospitality Education. He is also a Certified Hospitality Educator who has over 20 years of operational and managerial experience in hotel management including stints in Europe, North America and Asia.

Mr. Lakai holds a Commerce degree and graduated with a Hotel Management education from Chur, Switzerland (SSTH - Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality) now the property of Swiss Hotel Association, creator of EHL Ecole hotelerie du Lausanne, world’s best hotel school over 102 years.

The most recent award Mr. Lakai bagged is “International Arch of Europe for Quality” in Frankfurt after his participation in World Tourism Forum where he met hospitality leaders from 65 nations and exchanged the ideas for 3 full day participation on themes such as “Vision -2030”, then he was immediately invited to receive “International Gold Star Award” in Bangkok by Former Dy. Prime Minister of Thailand, H.E. Mr. Korn Dannabarashi.