Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra is helping the capital change its leisure habits as the hotel industry seeks to recover from the financial fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Charles-Henri Chevet, the general manager of the five-star hotel situated in the centre of the city, says hotels should first focus on the domestic market as the tourism industry waits to fully recover.
Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra has been operating for 10 years and earned a stellar reputation for its restaurants, so a main strategy is to offer amazing offers on food and beverage, Chevet says.
“Our Do Forni Italian restaurant reopened last week, and so we have upgraded our original offer to a gourmet staycation deal. Rooms will be available with breakfast and Italian dinner for two people for $250 per night.
“Our Fu Lu Zu Chinese restaurant has been reopen for a month now and there is a new breakfast offer, which is proving popular,” he said.
The Frenchman says hotels need to focus on the domestic market after the sector was rocked by the global Covid-19 pandemic.
“In Phnom Penh, we had seen double-digit growth over the past eight years until the outbreak. We then lost the entire portfolio of bookings. It was unprecedented – nobody had seen this before.
“And now, I think for every country in the world, the first plan – as people cannot enter and leave as freely – is to attract the domestic market.
“This why we launched our original staycation offer. We boosted for two weeks quite successfully with a very attractive package – you paid in advance but are free to book the dates you want later on this year whenever you like. It worked very well,” Chevet told The Post.
Cambodians’ leisure patterns are changing due to the Covid outbreak, he said, and “we are happy as this has generated some well needed room bookings”.
“In cities like Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore, the staycation concept has been very popular for some time, with people booking into hotels at weekends for a break.
“In Phnom Penh, this had yet to take off, but the Covid-19 restrictions have seen staycations become increasingly popular as it is harder to move around.
“With it being hot season as well, families and couples are booking into Sofitel to take advantage of the beautiful pool and garden, the air-con, the excellent food and beverage, and the great service,” he said.
While Sofitel is increasingly receiving requests to hold business meetings again, which Chevet says is “an encouraging sign”, the Brittany native predicts it will take at least 12 months before things return to pre-Covid levels in the capital’s hotel sector.
With market recovery set to begin domestically and then regionally before it recovers internationally, Chevet offers some advice for smaller players in the market.
“It is important not to panic. Introduce some tactical offers – the idea is flash sales – be a bit more aggressive, but don’t drastically drop your room rates. This will just dilute your margins. Be aware that it is going to take some time before things gradually recover. Look long term and have effective strategies in place.
“Look to the domestic market. That is what hotels on the coast are doing. Many people are now going to Kep and Kampot, which is good. Siem Reap is going to do this, with some hotels reopening soon, as they look to seize on people from Phnom Penh going there for a week’s holiday,” he said.
Although the sector has been hard hit, Chevet is confident there will be a lot to celebrate next year.
“With the hotel industry so important to the Cambodian economy, hoteliers, the Hotel Association and the Ministry of Tourism are working hard to get the sector safely through this crisis and to be stronger in the future.
“This October is the twentieth anniversary of the opening of our first hotel in Cambodia – the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort in Siem Reap. We were putting on huge festivities to mark the occasion, but these obviously have had to be wound down.
“However, we are hopeful of having a huge party next year to celebrate the tenth birthday of Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra here in the capital,” Chevet said.