Retailers at Cambodia’s biennial tourism exhibition were brimming with optimism Wednesday, certain that a luxury hospitality sector is on the cusp of a boom, while tourism operators in the country announced a new federation to smooth the road ahead.
Thousands of visitors made the trip to Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich for the first day of the three-day CamFood/CamHotel 2014 exhibition, sampling free food and wine from around the world and watching contestants laying bed linen and sauteing seafood in a series of hospitality competitions.
This year’s event, organizers said, has attracted more high-end exhibitors poised to exploit the demand for high-end goods and services as the country’s tourism sector continues to grow.
“The difference this year is that we have more professionals coming. These people have spent a lot of money to build a booth. You are talking $1,000 to $10,000 to have a booth for three days,” said Luu Meng, president of the Cambodian Hotel Association.
Tourist arrivals reached 2.9 million during the first eight months of the year, a 4.2 percent increase on the same period last year, a rise Mr. Meng said reflects a hospitality industry that is starting to demand higher quality products.
The number of global franchises in the country’s hospitality sector has risen from four to 40 in the past four years, he said, adding that about 60 to 80 new restaurants open every year, while the hotel industry has about 40,000 rooms and is growing 8 percent per year.
Miguel Gil Diaz, food director at AusKhmer Import Export Co. Ltd., which supplies Sofitel Hotel and Topaz restaurant in Phnom Penh, said the exhibition reflected an increasingly sophisticated hospitality industry.
“What’s happening here represents the trend in the market. The food and beverage industry is opening and there is demand for more high-end products,” he said.
As industry leaders came together Wednesday, so too did its associations. In a signing ceremony presided over by Tourism Minister Thong Khon, the hotel, restaurant, chef and travel associations officially launched the Cambodia Tourism Federation.
Mr. Meng said the federation would give the industry more clout to lobby the government over issues hampering growth in the sector, particularly the shortage of skilled labor to match an increasing demand for high-quality services.
“We still have that issue. We have a lot of small institutions. They provide basic skills to young Cambodians, but we need more than that. We need a university, an academy, so there is supply to answer the demand,” he said.
Thourn Sinan, president of the Cambodia chapter of the Pacific Asia Travel Association and a member of the new federation, said Siem Reap, along with some of the lesser known provinces hoping to become popular destinations, are failing to reach their full potential due to insufficient facilities.
“In Cambodia, previously there were a lot of rooms available for tourists, but now there is a lack of rooms, especially in Siem Reap, while other tourism destinations like Battambang, Kep, Kampot and even Sihanoukville have a lack of facilities, including hotels and restaurants, to serve tourists,” he said.
As chefs at Wednesday’s culinary competitions sliced and diced for the top spot, which will be announced later this week, Nang Chanphanny, a food technology student at the non-profit school Pour un Sourire d’Enfant in Phnom Penh, said she was inspired by their technique.
“I came here to see and learn how to be a skilled chef so I can get a good job in the future,” Ms. Chanphanny said.
“When my school took me to Siem Reap about six months ago, I saw so many tourists there who speak English and French, as well as many hotels and restaurants,” she said. “That’s why I need to learn not just cooking, but also another language to be able to speak with them.”