Chip Mong Group, one of the largest homegrown conglomerates, clinched an agreement with Chicago, US-based Hyatt Hotels Corp in 2016 to build the five-star Hyatt Regency Phnom Penh on Street 178 in Daun Penh district’s Phsar Kandal II commune.
The hotel was scheduled to open this year.
But as the Covid-19 crisis ravaged the tourism sector domestically and internationally, hotel shutdowns, bankrupt airlines and business closures became the norm, with unemployment intensifying.
Chip Mong Group senior vice-president Simon Dell sat down with The Post’s Rann Reuy to discuss the hotel project and discuss the outlook for travel in the future.
How has Covid-19 affected construction of the project?
We have felt some impact stemming from Covid-19, mainly to our material supply. Naturally, we had suppliers for many items of furniture, fixtures and fittings from around the world. Factory closures in Vietnam, China and elsewhere have had an adverse effect on our project.
But now they are open and running again, putting an end to a couple of months of inactivity. When we needed professionals to install something, maybe some lighting or some of the more complicated IT systems, they could not travel here. These obstacles have helped solidify our confidence in dealing with them.
Are you still committed to a 2020 opening?
Yes, absolutely, we are committed to this year. Sure, we hit a few snags along the way and lost two months or so. But as everything picks up pace, we are managing the issues.
The borders are reopening and we are getting the things we need. There aren’t any major setbacks left now. We’ll still be able to open in a couple months’ time. We’re not worried about that.
Is there any chance of opening in the coming months?
That is the multi-million dollar question. I am sure everybody in the world who owns or operates constantly asks: “When is my business coming back?
The travel industry has been resilient in the face of other challenges and disasters around the world before. We’ve faced some very difficult times following natural disasters and acts of terrorism. We’ve all heard the stories from back in 2001.
We change, we adapt, we improve, we set out to do things differently and then we make our comeback. That’s how we do things. Have a little faith, and of course, hotels, travel business and airlines will make a return. But there will be changes, and, a number of companies will be lost forever, that’s a given.
We are a strong company and are not concerned about our financial situation. We can overcome this.
We’ve run the questions by our partner, Hyatt, over the last couple of months: “When is the right time to open? When will guests start coming in? When will other clients come to eat, or have their wedding receptions?”
The hotel is 97 per cent finished and we believe it could open very soon. I have been in direct contact with Hyatt and we are deliberating on the opening date.
Will the tourism sector notch up a strong recovery after the crisis?
Certainly, travelling will return, I guarantee it. I will not stop travelling and I will go with my wife to some beautiful holidays, just like everybody else. I am sure you will, too.
Maybe our habits toward travelling will have changed, given the terrible health pandemic resonating around the world.
These were very unfortunate circumstances. Now we must assess the damages and repair them. We are very confident in the country’s response – the government has done everything it can to curb the pandemic’s fallout and keep the outbreak here under control.
More importantly, we must look for ways to remedy the situation and prevent further impact. We will adapt – we will be more health-conscious in our travel.
How much has been invested in the project?
The project costs $180 million, namely $55 million for the land investment is, and $125 million for construction, equipment and the decor.
Will you be able to compete with existing hotel operators?
Yes. No question at all for us! We are a well-respected hotel because of our great brand. But, we also know that the country is growing and business is gaining momentum.
There is a bright future in store for Phnom Penh. And Chip Mong Group is a strong part of the country’s business and economic development.
There is ample opportunity for hotels to find success here. A good hotel that provides good services, good products, and a good restaurant which people enjoy will be successful.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.