The B2B team talks hospitality and tourism with Carrol Sahaidak-Beaver, the executive director of The Cambodia Hotel Association.
B2B: Are we losing the competitive edge in the tourism industry to neighbouring countries? If so, what can the hotel sector do to help make Cambodia a more attractive tourist destination?
Sahaidak-Beaver: Current statistics indicate that our tourism numbers are increasing compared to some of our neighbours. One of the things that the private sector, through mechanisms such as the Cambodia Tourism Federation, can do is to find platforms to better advertise some of the diversity of Cambodia as a destination. We are also identifying opportunities, which will further develop Cambodia as “the destination”. Beyond this, the private sector is currently coordinating with the Ministry of Tourism in order to jointly organise a calendar of yearly events (festivals, fairs, exhibitions, etc.) that will help to further promote Cambodia with both tourists and business people alike.
B2B: What are the most useful business partnerships that can be formed with tourism/hotel companies in foreign countries to help boost Cambodia’s tourism industry?
Sahaidak-Beaver: Partnerships that help develop a diversity in destination opportunities. We also need investors who are interested in looking long term. Likewise, we could further attract world-class hotel brands, as Cambodia is currently offering a wide number of hotels but has relatively few international chains.
B2B: How will ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) affect Cambodia’s Hospitality and Tourism industry?
Sahaidak-Beaver: At this stage, the AEC is opening our industry to work more hand in hand with our regional neighbours. We are talking more and looking at opportunities that develop tourism not only in Cambodia but in the region.
As part of this, the development and implementation of the ASEAN Training Standards is already helping our industry. People are now looking at working in hospitality and tourism as a professional career. The development of these standards is helping recognise the amazing talent we have working in the industry and providing a platform for students and other people to consider vocational training versus some university degree, which may or may not provide job opportunities.
B2B: At present, do you think Cambodia’s hospitality and tourism industry should be focusing more on continuing to cater for backpackers or expand their target market?
Sahaidak-Beaver: Cambodia’s hospitality and tourism industry has already moved from focusing on backpackers and expanded their target market on other levels of visitors. There has been a significant increase in middle- and upper-income people, especially families, to visit Cambodia. These are the people that spend money. Domestic tourism has also had a significant increase, and we need to focus some of our attention on this. The Cambodian people love to visit their country and spend a few days even in remote provinces.
B2B: Where does Cambodia’s future in tourism lie?
Sahaidak-Beaver: Cambodia has so much to offer already and more and more opportunities for visitors to experience are being identified and developed. Cambodia offers an amazing diversity in what people can experience. We need to package what we have better and add to this. Eventually, we are aiming at having visitors staying longer and spending more on a larger variety of offers. That means that the future of Cambodia’s tourism lies in promoting additional domestic destinations and products beyond the traditional current offer that retains people only less than a week. Cambodia does not only have wonderful temples in Angkor or a tragic history to testify about; it also has a wealth of traditions, performing arts, landscapes, coastal areas and much more to offer.
B2B: Is the boutique hotel market saturate, or is Cambodia a fertile environment for it to continue to expand?
Sahaidak-Beaver: Saturated is not the word I would use, but there have been an incredible increase in not only boutique hotels but eco-lodge experiences. Boutique hotels by their very nature offer alternative experiences to visitors. In my opinion, the challenge is more about professionalizing the services offered by Boutique Hotels as well as making sure they are able to target their market efficiently.
B2B: How does seasonal fluctuation affect the hospitality and tourism industry in Cambodia?
Sahaidak-Beaver: That’s a hard one as we have had many different results this year. With the increase in charter flights to Sihanoukville, hotels have been very busy. For the European and North American market, people are finding out our secret: we do not have monsoon-type weather during the summer. Yes, it rains sometimes, but not for long. This is especially true for Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. For photography, people are recognising some of the best photographic opportunities are during the summer.
B2B: What systems can be put in place to ensure ongoing tourism in low season?
Sahaidak-Beaver: Let’s not use the term “low season”. The term itself is defeatist. We talk about the summer season or the green season. Just look at the intensity of the colours that are everywhere. The big thing is getting information out there for people to learn just how amazing this place is all year round. We need to build better platforms so people understand the diversity of what they can experience. Waterfalls are far more attractive when they have water. Paddy fields that move in the wind are much more attractive than the cut embers of harvested rice. Just think of the blossoms that abound this time of year, and the fresh fruits that one can enjoy. The boat trip from Siem Reap to Battambang is becoming a popular experience. The golf courses are in beautiful shape.
B2B: What’s your view on online review websites such as TripAdvisor?
Sahaidak-Beaver: Online websites such as TripAdvisor have their place in the promotion of tourism and the hospitality industry. But, they are only a place to start. Each individual traveler is looking for something special, their unique experience. Online websites help give them an opportunity to see some of the diversity of what a place has to offer. In addition, it builds confidence in where they are going reading what others have experienced. In many ways, they are helping us understand better what people want to experience, what they like to do and what we need to expand on and/or develop.
B2B: What advice would you give to someone hoping to start a business in the hospitality and tourism industry in Cambodia?
Sahaidak-Beaver: Do your cost analysis! Do a proper market study! Meet people who are working in the industry and listen! Do not simply think you have a great idea and do it. Do your studies. Do your homework. There are amazing opportunities in Cambodia, but you’ve got to make sure you are doing it from a solid platform.
B2B: What key qualities should hotel owners be looking for when recruiting employees?
Sahaidak-Beaver: Ah, the million dollar question! With the increase in what is available in the hospitality industry, recruitment is an ongoing challenge. Factor in additional training before you open any facility. Look for young people ready to work hard and eager to learn. The tourism industry is amongst the few sectors that can offer a complete career path, where a young motivated staff can start as a waiter and end up a general manager 10 years later.