For Robin Bhandari, making a living as a renowned travel agent has been a difficult path but also one of the most rewarding. He is the sole owner of Peaceland Travel and Tours, one of the oldest reputable travel agency in the USA run by Nepalese. Now Mr. Bhandari has embarked on a new journey that is already showing great promise. With the recent release of his debut album “Manai Na Ho”, we’ve caught up this multitalented businessman to chat his journey into the world of music, about business and his eternal love for his godfather.
Tell us about your business.
My whole family comes from the travel and trade background, thus I started my career from 1979 where I used to work as TWA in Cathay Pacific Airways. And in 1991 I shifted to the U.S to further my career in this business.
Now I run a travel agency in the U.S called Peaceland Travel and Tours. It was established in 1997 and it operated full-fledged in 1998. Back then I was the only full-fledged Nepalese travel agency in the East Coast. I’m also a whole seller who has contract with Cathay Pacific, Gulf Air, Thai Airlines and Qatar Airlines and so forth.
Is there anyone whom you idolize?
My hero is my godfather, Mr. Sharad Amatya. He was the first Nepali to go into the travel and trade business back in around 2018 B.S. He was the one that introduced me to this trade and since then he’s been guiding me through all my life. I have so much respect for him you know because he is the type of person who did not get married just because of us, as he spent all of his life for us so I respect him more than I respect my parents. Sometimes I even feel like he’s God to me.
What do you like most about your job?
It’s challenging, that’s what I love about it. You know it’s very hard to please human being (laughs), but I still try my very best to please them. Besides that I also love the fact that in this field you get the opportunity to meet a lot of people; and I love to interact with people so that’s another plus.
What do you like the least?
Sometimes it can be very tedious and boring doing the same thing over and over (laughs). Nonetheless I love what I do.
Are you completely satisfied with your job?
See the thing is nowadays I feel like I’m not in the right job because things have drastically changed. This trade used to be a very prestigious job at one time here in Nepal, with an attractive salary package and what not. Nowadays it’s not as charming as it used to be due to some factors. Also businesses like these have really gone down in the US since 1990.
And what are some of the factors?
Well basically there are a lot of non U.S based Nepalese travel agencies that are swarming into the U.S market and killing our market. You know, when I started there were only three full-fledged travel agencies in USA including mine. Even to this day technically there are only very few full-fledged travel agencies. The rest are all sub agents working from their homes or working from a different location outside of USA like Nepal. It’s very easy to register your business in the States, so these agencies basically have an office in Nepal and they are selling their tickets to people in the States. Strictly in a business perspective, agencies like these are spoiling our market. I feel it should be only U.S based agencies that should be providing service to the people in the USA. I mean how would they feel if we came to Nepal and snatch their business? I’m sure they wouldn’t like that, so why should we have to tolerate such behaviors? I wish the government would find a way to regulate this matter.
Another factor that’s hampering our image and business is how new Nepalese agencies are sending wrong messages to our customers. Let me explain: we don’t have a huge population of Nepalese in the United States now, and in a way it’s good that there’s a lot of people from Nepalese background who are coming into this kind of trade, but they are coming with a very wrong message. In other words they are not giving good service, which consequently has a hand in damaging our market. You see in this type of industry, it’s not only about selling a ticket; there are other responsibilities as well. For example what if your clients are stuck in some mishaps? I’ve found that the new agencies now are just here to basically collect the money and poof they’re gone. This is not a good attitude! These kinds of behaviors by these sub agents are really giving full-fledged agencies like ours a very bad image. You have to go the extra mile for your customers!
So, what would you say the magical formula for successis when it comes to running a business like this?
Definitely it would be honesty and hard work. I’ve always told in my interviews that U.S is like a gold mine, if you’re honest in what you do and put in effort, there’s no limitation of success. I know I’ve worked hard and I’m very honest, even though there are some people who don’t like that. Anyway, that’s been basically my way of achieving success.
Well enough of business talk! Tell us about your new album.
Well this is my debut album; it’s called ‘Manai Na Ho’. My journey in music started back in 2008 when I recorded my first song [which is in the album]. All songs except “Mirga Ka Jhain’ are composed by Nhyoo Bajrachary, whom I met back in 2002. The latter is composed by singer Karna Das. The lyricists behind my album are Durga Lal Shrestha, Binod Roka, Karun Thapa and SumanKharel. I consider ‘Manai Na Ho’ as modern Nepali album, with a hint of jazz and rock and roll numbers. I’ve put a lot of hard work into this and I hope it to be an overall success!
What song of yours are you most proud of and why?
One of the songs that I love is the title song ‘Mannai Na Ho’ which is written by Durga Lal Shrestha. I love this song because it’s very simple, very nice… it’s a love song and you know I love romantic songs (smiles). The other song I love in the album is called ‘Lauchu Bhani Layeko Maya’ which is jazzy from the late 60’s early 70’s era.
Will you be making another album in the near future perhaps?
Yea, that’s what I have in mind, but for now I want to take a break for about six months. Maybe in late 2013 early 2014 I might release another album.
Are you planning on launching this album in the US?
Yes I’ve already ordered CDs to be launched in the US. I’m planning on launching it somewhere around the end of April to early May of this year.
Do you believe in your music or do you consider yourself a “performer” of what people write for you?
No I believe in my music. For me when I practice and sing I try to go somewhere, it’s like yoga for me. I don’t consider music as a mere hobby. I enjoy music.
Why do you think some albums fail and some succeed in the market?
It’s luck. The thing is I’ve seen couple of singers who are just mere average and their music become very popular. I think basically it’s luck and that it goes with trend.
What are you listening to lately and how do you like the Nepali music right now?
There isn’t any song in particular that I’m listening currently, but in general I love listening to modern songs. I appreciate any kind of song where I hear the singer is giving his/her maximum effort. So yeah, I’m a big fan of modern songs, especially romantic songs. My least favorite genre would be Hip Hop and Rap (laughs).
So, what was the first song you ever remembered hearing?
The first song I ever remembered was of Kumar Basnet’s. But I also love songs of Battu Krishna Jwala, Narayan Gopal, Hari Prasad Rimal, and Deep Shrestha.
What would you do if you weren’t a businessman or musician?
I’d be a full time social worker. That’s my third passion! I think that’s what I’m going to do once I retire and stay in Nepal. Right now I have been helping an organization called Ama Ko Ghar. All the money that’s comes from my album goes straight to Ama Ko Ghar.
What’s the side of you that the public doesn’t see often?
(Laugh) I’m a very sensitive guy. I get moved very easily… you know, thank god I didn’t cry the day I performed at my album launch.