Luxury Descends on Phnom Penh as Official Bets on Brands

Representatives of dozens of global luxury brands are descending on Phnom Penh today for Luxe et Art de Vivre, a high-end goods and services show opening Friday that deputy municipal governor Trac Thai Sieng claims could help grow Cambodia’s burgeoning economy.

According to Mr Thai Sieng, who organized the event sponsored by the French-Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, 42 luxury brands will hawk their wares tomorrow while networking with businesses in the tourism, garments and retail sectors that are looking to capitalize on the appetites of Asia’s–and specifically China’s–new uber-wealthy.

If businesses begin offering tourists higher-end services and goods, according to Mr Thai Sieng, Cambodia can become a more desirable destination for China’s expanding jet-set and the Western elite. Mr Sieng said that a “culture of sophistication” could encourage high-end businesses to offer increasingly rarified experiences and drag up the performance of more modest businesses.

“Just by pulling up guesthouse to become two star hotels, I will make this country rich,” said Mr Thai Sieng.

Denis Morisset, executive director of the International Luxury Brand Management program at ESSEC business school in France, who is attending the event as a guest speaker, agreed that Cambodia was well positioned to profit from the boom in Chinese demand for expensive goods.

“It seems a special bond is developing between Cambodia and China and China is huge at moment in the luxury market,” said Mr Morisset, the former CEO of Giorgio Armani France, adding that he hoped to visit local garment factories to learn about their capacities.

However, if higher-end brand names became serious about moving their production to Cambodia, they would likely find few factories capable of producyion to their specified level of quality, according to David Welsh, country director for the American Center for International Labor Solidarity.

“Brands and investors…know what they are going to get here and only certain factories will have to be targeted and they will still have to invest,” said Mr Welsh, adding that working responsibly in Cambodia would require providing additional training and having local representatives to monitor workers’ conditions.

The event’s co-organizer, Olivier Sieber, said yesterday that he began encouraging companies to come to Cambodia after receiving numerous requests from government ministers.

“I was asked to organize a luxury event here because I knew the party very well and the people that managed the country,” said Mr Sieber.

Damian White, owner of DamianByMischelle, a private jewelry dealership showing at the Luxe et Art de Vivre, voiced skepticism yesterday about Cambodia’s being a realistic destination for bespoke jewelers to set up shop.

“It is probably just too early for Cambodia and there won’t be significant demand,” said Mr White.

But for his part, deputy governor Mr Sieng sees the lack of luxury goods currently on sale in Phnom Penh as evidence of a lack of vision, not demand.

“My countrymen are not limited to selling nuts, as has been the popular vision,” he said. “We need to sell better quality services and focus on added value.”


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