Thanks to the new general manager of the Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville – a Malaysian hospitality professional – Sihanoukville is going to host the World Ecotourism Conference from October 2 to 4 this year.
“We will have 50 countries represented from around the world and we expect about 300 VIPs from around the world,” said Thomas Lam, who also serves as a group advisor for Canadia Bank Group’s hospitality division.
“The top journalists, policy makers, public sector administrators, academicians and NGOs are coming. I would say that by now the response is quite good. It is a good start for Cambodia to teach the people to go green,” Lam said, adding that owner Carolyne Pung and H.E. Pung Kheav Se are very keen on green causes.
Lam was able to influence the choice of the Independence Hotel for the World Ecotourism Conference through strong network relationships with his old friends in the hospitality industry.
“I’m Malaysian, I’m very passionate and committed to bring up the hotel business where I worked . My old colleague and I know each other through the hotel industry. I got to know the organizers a long time ago, and my friend also does functions for the Ministry of Tourism,” he said.
A place with a rich history, the Independence Hotel saw the 1967 visit of Jacqueline Kennedy who was hosted by King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
“Today, The Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville, proudly embraces a remarkable history whilst welcoming guests to share in a Cambodian hospitality legacy that is unmatched in Sihanoukville, Cambodia,” Lam said.
Lam, who is from Penang, Malaysia has been in Cambodia since February this year and has ambitious plans for the revitalization of the Independence Hotel and the tourism industry in Cambodia in general. “In my opinion the government tourism people should emphasize more on Cambodian cuisine. I’m going to ask my chef to emphasise more on local cuisine,” Lam said.
“Our top tourist arrivals at the Independence Hotel are from France, Russia, Australia, Vietnam, Korea China and other ASEAM Countries but arrivals from China are increasing. We are under the branding of the Sterling Hotels and they are helping to promote us. The Chinese arrivals from Shanghai are increasing and we get a lot of support from the American Embassy and Australian Embassy and NGOs as well,” Lam said.
Lam forecasts an increasing number of corporate guests in the future because new industries are starting to open in Sihanoukville, including textiles and power plants.
“Sihanoukville has great potential for MICE market, honeymooners, tours and travel,” Lam said.
“Also if the airport is going to open in Sihanoukville, we will see an influx of tourism,” he said.
The Independence Hotel is situated on 40 acres with 200 meters of private beach at a secluded oceanfront point, which Lam says is gorgeous and hard to find anywhere else.
“It is very hard for you to get any other hotel set at the hillside with a very beautiful beach. o anywhere you can hardly find this kind of hotel or resort.”
Under construction now is the Jouvence Spa, which will focus on spa and yoga. Lam said Jouvence Spa will be a top Spa in Sihanoukville soon.
“Once we complete the spa and the villas we might be looking to move up to a five star range resort,” Lam said.
The soft opening for the Jouvence Spa is scheduled for the first part of October, followed by the Pool Villa opening in November.
“I think surprisingly with yoga they like this kind of hotel setup because they like quietness.”
The Independence Hotel was built during 1960s and now has 88 rooms. The hotel’s Hibiscus ballroom can accommodate 650 people and is ideal for conferences, Lam says.
“For banquets we have around 40 tables. We will start to have wedding functions in November. I feel that our beach has a lot of potential for wedding functions. It is an ideal venue for the wedding functions.” Celebrate amidst the most beautiful seafront garden and beach setting in Sihanoukville. A wedding on expansive beach of Independence Hotel is a grand yet intimate affair. It is the ideal backdrop to create the wedding of your dreams. Perfect Marriages are made in heaven, Memorable weddings are made at Independence Hotel, Resort & Spa.
At the end of the year, the Ministry of Tourism is planning to have a Beach Festival at our Independence Beach, the hotels own beach, Lam says.
“If you want a beach destination for conferences, you choose Sihanoukville; if you want one in the city, you choose Phnom Penh; if you want a heritage tour, you choose Siam Reap,” he said.
Lam has a vision not only for a top hotel and resort – but for happy, well-paid employees.
“I wish to be a top hotel and resort in Cambodia and hopefully within one or two years I will achieve this vision. Besides that, I wish to increase the wages of the local people to a better one because I find that in this country they are very poor. If you compare the wages compared with Malaysia it is a big gap. I’m planning to implement a service charge to encourage the staff morale. Every time they work hard for it, they feel like they get something back. I try to give them something back.”
As a hospitality professional, Lam says he promotes the right attitude.
“Have passion and team spirit in what you do and keep the managers at the bottom and the rank and file at the top,” Lam said.
“You must be courteous. Guest satisfaction is very important. If you manage to get good feedback from the guests, they will definitely return back to your resort.
In addition to the Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville, the Canadia Group is now building the Dara Airport Hotel, which is located near Phnom Penh International Airport on Fortune Street in Sangkat Toeuk Thala at Khan Sen Sok and is scheduled to open in the first phase, with 150 rooms during the first quarter of next year 2012.
Lam’s wife Tracy, also Malaysian, who works for a Sime Darby Food & Beverages Marketing in Northern Malaysia,.“She is a very supportive wife and encourages me to go further,” he smiled.