When Christian De Boer announced his surprise resignation from his role as general manager of Shinta Mani in March, rumours swirled as to what this Siem Reap mainstay was going to do next. “He’s going to Bali,” the barstool sages confidently asserted about the man who has involved himself so deeply in developing Siem Reap as a destination.
In fairness, the reaction was not all that surprising. After overseeing the expansion of Shinta Mani from a 39-room property into a 100-room boutique resort on two facing sites that has been awarded TripAdvisor World No 2 Hotel two years running, where else could the energetic manager actually go in Siem Reap?
“I’m so programmed now to not saying anything, that I’m a little unsure how to start,” said De Boer when Post Weekend caught up with him two weeks ago. He’s been keeping schtum, or quiet, for four months while “relaxing”.
So where could he go?
In brief: De Boer and longtime collaborator Kan Rinna (who quit as Shinta Mani’s food and beverage manager at the same time as De Boer) have set themselves up as a hotel management company and found a property in Siem Reap's leafy north riverside area whose owners are on board with their philosophies.
It will be called Jaya House Riverpark, with 60-plus rooms in large grounds surrounded by trees — De Boer is mad about trees — and is set to open on November 1.
“Our goal is simply to blow our guests away,” explained De Boer in a comfortable manner that belied the scale of the ambition, while revealing his confidence that it will be done. “It’s going to be a model of social, human and environmental responsibility,” he added.
Describing the management strategy that has led to strings of awards and nominations, destination listings and of course that TripAdvisor thing, De Boer says his job is simply to make sure that his staff are happy.
“If they’re happy, they automatically make sure that the guests are happy,” he said.
Permanent, full-time contracts and as comprehensive healthcare as can be obtained in the Kingdom are an integral part of that approach, he said.
But Shinta Mani’s successes have other roots, too. He credits social media with changing the rules of the game so that smaller properties have a chance to stand up and be counted.
“Twenty years ago, if you had certain things, like black-out curtains and a gym, etc, that was enough to make you a five-star hotel. But things have changed, thank God,” he said.
“Social media is new and rather undervalued,” he continued. “It has always been a critical part of our sales and marketing strategy, replacing some of the more conventional ways of operating a hotel. For instance, we never did any sales trips, and instead placed a part of the trip-funding into our social media budget. Overall, this actually saved us money!”
Many in the industry have quietly accused De Boer of “gaming” the system, buying up rankings on TripAdvisor.
“I completely disagree and think it’s rather naive to say that,” he retorted. “How is it physically and financially possible for a tiny, 100-room hotel to buy that much importance? If that were the game, the big names would have done it.”
And while De Boer is unfazed about the scale of his and Kan’s ambitions, he is similarly unfazed about entering the Siem Reap hotel market, which some have suggested is bloated.
“I’m not worried about market saturation. It’s certainly evolving, and with more properties going up, it certainly means that non-performing hotels will fall by the wayside. Only those who invest in their properties will survive.”
As for his own goals within that market: “I would love to lift the whole Siem Reap industry a little bit, and top it within two years. And then be number one in Cambodia on TripAdvisor,” he said, before adding, “But let’s aim higher.”