Former Gov’t Building to Be New Boutique Hotel

Boutique hotels in Phnom Penh – promoted as smaller and more intimate accommodations than the typical hotel chain – are expanding on a wave of optimism from higher occupancy rates this year following the lull of last year’s economic recession.

Alexis De Suremain, business owner of the Pavilion boutique hotel on Street 19 and The 240 and co-business owner of the Kabiki and Blue Lime hotels in Phnom Penh, said he plans to open a new boutique hotel called The Plantation on Street 184 in Daun Penh district by November 2011.

The Plantation, which began construction early this month, will have 72 rooms ranging from $60 to $80 a night, Mr De Suremain said, adding that The Plantation will be the largest hotel he manages to date in Phnom Penh.

The Plantation is being built on the property of the former Ministry of Labor office on Street 184 behind the Royal Palace.

The former ministry building came into private ownership in the much-criticized process of so-called “land-swaps,” which the opposition party says are conducted by the government without public transparency or oversight, or explanation as to how such deals are brokered.

Mr De Suremain said he was leasing the property from two private owners whom he declined to name.

The Plantation is being opened in order to meet demand, Mr De Suremain said.

“We’ve got a lot of bookings coming to us [but] the groups are too big or their requirements don’t fit what we can provide,” he said. “There’s a very big demand for this and so we could answer that demand, we decided to open a larger space.”

And Mr De Suremain is not alone. Boddhi Tree Guesthouses and Hotels began construction early this year on two new boutique-style properties: one in Phnom Penh and another in Siem Reap city.

Both hotels are scheduled to open around early September, said Manuel Garcia, founder and operations manager of the Boddhi Tree group, adding that officials at the company are now studying the flow of tourists during the low season, which traditionally comes to an end in October, to determine the best time to open.

The hotels will have between eight and 12 rooms and room rates will be somewhere from $40 to $78 a night, but the number of rooms and their exact pricing will not be set until tourist demand is determined, Mr Garcia said.

As the global economic crisis spilled over into Cambodia last year, visitors arriving by air to Cambodia decreased by more than 10 percent and larger hotels in Siem Reap were forced to shut down due to a lack of tourists.

However, smaller hotels in Phnom Penh, particularly boutique hotels, managed to ride out the crisis with about a 60 percent occupancy rate last year, according to Luu Meng, president of the Cambodia Hotel Association.

Mr Garcia said that boutique hotels have expanded despite last year’s decrease in visitors. This, he says, is mainly down to the more personalized and intimate relationship that is nurtured between the staff and the guests at boutique-style accommodation.

“What makes successful any hotel operation is always management… in an economic crisis or not,” Mr Garcia said. “For me, it’s all about management and understanding the customers’ needs.”

Mr Meng noted the relative ease of investing in boutique hotels as opposed to larger hotels.

“Investment of a small boutique is easier to do because the investment… [for] 10 small boutique hotels is equal to one big hotel investment,” he said.

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