The peaks of Siem Reap’s tourist-packed high season bode well for many food and shopping boutiques, but the troughs of low season have some businesses moving down National Road 6 to the capital, in the hope of tapping a more predictable customer base.
The Blue Pumpkin chain of eateries, already eight stores strong in Siem Reap, will open its first restaurant and food outlet in Phnom Penh before the end of the year.
Restaurant owner Arnaud Curtat says the new store, set to open on the capital’s river front, will be the ninth Blue Pumpkin he controls.
Although it employs 130 staff members across eight locations in Siem Reap, Curtat says Siem Reap’s small size means growth is limited.
“We have many locations, but not all locations are profitable.”
While the Siem Reap-based business draws many tourists, Curtat says he expects a Phnom Penh store would attract a much less transient expat dollar.
Elizabeth Kiester, owner of women’s clothing and accessory store Wanderlust, says the move to Phnom Penh has given the business a stable customer base.
Opening on Street 240 last year, one year after launching the boutique in Siem Reap, Kiester is enjoying the capital’s steadier patronage.
“In Siem Reap, it’s more transient – when customers come in, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll never see them again,” she said, whereas in the capital, it’s possible to engage a more regular customer base and maintain a steady business.
In Siem Reap’s high season, the shops are “rocking”, whereas the town is dead in low season, Kiester said. “It’s almost like they’re completely different businesses.”
Also making the move south is Bodia Spa. Owned by Cambodia-France joint venture Geolink, it already has two spas in Siem Reap but in late May opened a branch in Phnom Penh.
Bodia Spa business manager Kann Soann said the move had successfully seen the business cut its reliance on the tourist dollar.
Only 60 percent of Phnom Penh customers are tourists, compared to Siem Reap’s 85 percent.
However, not all the traffic is heading one way. Global firms and banks are now seeing a chance to expand to Siem Reap after building a base in Phnom Penh.
Ford opened a dealership in town in late June, after recognising that the area has an emerging industrial market, said office manager Chea Sokhon.
“People thought Siem Reap was a tourist place, but more and more it’s becoming an industry place,” he said.
“One of the reasons that all the new things are coming here is that people are becoming more educated.”
He says the Ford business is growing off the back of NGOs and tourism sector players buying vehicles for their specific needs. It has set itself a target for its three sales staff to sell 60 vehicles in its first 12 months.
Rival company Mitsubishi also has plans to open in Siem Reap, according to a company employee, but no date has been fixed.
Larger banks are also seeking a presence in the Kingdom’s north. ANZ Royal Bank began the trend, opening a branch in 2006, and Malaysian-owned Maybank has been there for a year, but declined to comment on how the business is going.
Most recent arrival, Vietnamese-owned BIDC bank, opened a branch there in July. The branch employs almost 20 people. To date it has 30 account holders in Siem Reap, said spokesman Thanh Tuan.