Living in Siem Reap reminds hotel manager Daryl Hissey of growing up in rural Australia.
Born in Berri, South Australia, Hissey grew up in Mildura, Victoria. Though trained as a mechanical engineer he has worked in hotels since the age of 18. Until 2003 he worked in hotels in virtually every tourist hot-spot in Australia.
He has worked in Asia for the last 10 years. In Siem Reap he has been the general manager of Prince D’Angkor and Angkor Miracle hotels. Now he’s moved up a rung and is the general manager, owner and co-founder of Sayana Hotel and Spa.
Hissey, who founded the Sayana one year ago, says Siem Reap has the community spirit of Australian country towns of the 1960s.
“There’s a deep strong culture here that a lot of people who visit don’t understand. And I’m still learning just the basics of it. But this really strong sense of community exists here. It’s not a matter of building the biggest fence around you, they all know each other,” he says.
Hissey has been in Cambodia since 2008, working for various hotels and says while it takes some getting used to, the business environment is healthy.
“While doing business in Cambodia is complicated it’s worth the complication. It’s worth getting though all the bureaucracy that’s attached to it, remembering that Cambodia’s bureaucracy is different to western bureaucracy. Not better or worse but different. If you can come to terms with dealing with the bureaucracy in this environment then you’ll succeed in Cambodia,” he said.
“While it can be risky doing business here there is a system in place that genuinely looks after you. You have to be cooperative – it can’t just be your point of view. But once there’s a realisation that you’re happy to cooperate it all falls together for you.
“There’s a communal way of dealing with issues here, a cooperative way that is foreign to the likes of myself. Australians are confrontational. We take on everything and we take it on upfront and we don’t mind confrontation. When you come here to Cambodia you have to learn there’s another, an older, a more cultured and sophisticated way of dealing with this environment.
“I know I came here with the wrong attitude. I‘ve got definite ideas about what I think are the principles of human resource management and business management in general and relationships in the workplace. I brought with me my aggressive attitude and was taught that whilst yes you can get things done that way you can get the same things done with a more cooperative attitude.
“That doesn’t mean I’m foolish, or have the wool pulled over my eyes easily. I don’t. But if you are selective enough with the people around you and you take the right information then you can work within the system.”
Hissey started the Sayana Hotel which recently celebrated its one year anniversary on the same day it was awarded a Trip Advisor Traveler’s Choice award.
“There are 25 hotels in Cambodia which are on the list and we are part of that. Of those 25 hotels I think four to five are in Phnom Penh and the rest are predominately in Siem Reap. Now what that’s saying is they are grouping us with a few members of our competitor set which is about four and then about four to five from Phnom Penh and then most of the others are in the 5-star and resort range,” he said.
“I’m happy we’ve even been included in it. And I’m even happier than yesterday was the first year anniversary of the business so I know that for my positioning and for my marketing and all my efforts I am in the right bracket.”
Hissey says he’s confident the business environment will remain strong for him.
“I like Siem Reap and I like Cambodia. I like the business environment, I like the fact it’s competitive. I don’t like seeing it’s the cheapest holiday destination in the world - we should be looking at that, because maybe we cut each other’s throats too much, but apart from that it’s a strong destination. And it’s going to be strong for a long time to come.”
“These rocks that sit out here are part of the culture of the Khmer people and generation after generation is going to continue to come see that because it’s worthy. This is not a bad place.”
Having worked in Asia for more than 10 years, he does admit some pangs of homesickness.
“I miss some aspects of home. I’m a proud Australian but the industry in itself is very small over there and in some ways a bit stagnant. It wasn’t till I got over here that I realised just how dynamic Asia in general is and in particular Southeast Asia.
“While I do miss the Australian environment, I like the dynamics of it here the elements of South East Asia but in particular I like the dynamics of Cambodia.”
Hissey has the lease on Sayana Hotel & Spa for at least the next 10 years.