The Chief Operating Officer of Sokha Hotels & Resorts, Mark Lind, says the whole Cambodian tourism industry would benefit from regularly scheduled flights to Sihanoukville.
“Cambodia is an untapped tourism market, a new destination to many markets and relatively cheap with a lot of old world Asian culture to it. If we can secure more direct flights into Cambodia and direct flight services into Sihanoukville, the whole country will benefit.”
Lind has been involved in a major expansion of conference and other facilities at the Sokha 5-star beach resort in Sihanoukville which are scheduled for completion in November. Lind believes the Cambodian tourism industry’s rapid growth will provide the funds for development of the whole country.
“Tourism will bring the dollars in which will drive infrastructure development,” he said.
Sokha Hotels & Resorts are wholly owned by Sokimex, the Cambodian petroleum company.
“Cambodia has approximately sixty-one untouched islands off the coast of Cambodia where biodiversity is quite extensive and there are beautiful beaches and the islands offer a valuable future eco-tourism destination.”
Built with aid money from the Soviet Union during the 1960s, Sihanoukville International Airport has runway capable of handling the type of aircraft in common service around the region. There has been no scheduled service since the crash of an Antonov An-24 near the airport on 25 June 2007, killing all 22 people aboard.
Lind is one of a growing number of Cambodian tourism industry people who want to see resumption of regular air services into Sihanoukville International Airport, which is located 18 kilometers from downtown Sihanoukville.
In addition to the 391-room Sokha Beach Resort in Sihanoukville, Lind oversees the Sokha Angkor Resort with 276 rooms and the 16-room Sokha Club Hotel in Phnom Penh. Under development in Phnom Penh is the Sokha Hotel Chroy Changva located across the Tonle Sap from Phnom Penh’s riverside, scheduled to open in late 2012 /early 2013 as a city corporate hotel.
In development for a 2013 – 2014 opening is the 600- room O’Chheuteal Resort in Sihanoukville.
Lind, who has been in Cambodia for the last two years, shared his experience about how to train and motivate Cambodian staff for excellence in service.
“We’re expecting people who come from the provinces who have lived below poverty line to understand five-star service. That’s your biggest struggle,” he said.
Lind says staff are effectively trained in a “service delivery” concept only but need to be encouraged to develop a passion for the industry. This passion will see them enhance their overall skills.
“Lead by example, develop creativity, create a passion within the various components of their job functions and they will develop their skill base.”
Lind likes to see staff developing a passion for food and wines by studying “up selling” to guests by recommending an ideal wine for a certain type of food.
“Suggestive up selling is very good and does several things. You don’t necessarily need more guests; you don’t need more staff, and you control your costs. Service quality improves and guests become engaged and have a much more enjoyable experience,” he said. “It will all depend on the circumstances and the personalities.”
Another good staff training method is to introduce new staff into an existing part of the service operation that already operates at a high level.
“If you play golf with somebody who is much better than you are your game is going to improve.”
Lind’s idea of development by osmosis – introducing new staff into an existing productive team and having them develop by working with highly professional others, really works.
Following The Deck renovation in Sihanoukville, Lind watched the osmosis take place as new people were trained by high quality staff in an existing service arena – before the moved into an entirely new one, bringing their new skills with them.
“If you select a hard core of really good people, they will pass on their skills and if you create an environment where staff are very proud of their product; then anybody coming in with them will generally lift their standards automatically.”
Quite often, the service is better at the new venue than the original outlet they came from, Lind says.
“An existing core team will inspire new staff to improve their standards and in a way you create a competitive environment amongst outlets.
You’ve got to have focused, passionate, conscientious management that set standards and provide the training.”
Lind previously served as the Senior Vice President Operations for Solare Hotels & Resorts, which had 71 hotels in Japan.
Born on a cattle station known as Essex Downs in central Queensland, Australia, Lind grew up in Sydney and Brisbane.
He studied hotel management, at the College of Tourism and Hospitality and started out helping in a restaurant kitchen, and working as a waiter and learning to cook. Eventually he went into chartered accounting, specialising in receiverships and hotel reconstruction.
Later Lind worked as a Regional General Manager for Grand Hotels International, managing ten hotels and a large portfolio on commercial high-rise properties and was based in New Zealand.
He later worked as Executive General Manager WA/NT for Voyages Hotels & Resorts and was based at Ayers Rock Resort, the biggest integrated resort in the southern hemisphere, before moving for a 3-year stint in Japan.
Lind arrived in Cambodia in September, 2009. “Sokha hotels can be the premium resort group in the country and we’ll have the best distribution of product in the country,” he said.
“We will have the ability to create rate parity, and capture wholesalers to tie in our whole product range throughout the country.”
Lind believes Cambodia has been improving dramatically and will continue to improve. He also enjoys working with Cambodians.
“The people here are lovely, genuine people who seem to have come out of adversity with a smile on their face,” he said.