Soon Hotel de la Paix as we know it will be a distant memory. In its place, will be Park Hyatt Siem Reap.
“End of an era,” says Arthur H. Hollinger, who’s been brought in as general manager to see out la Paix’s final days. Arthur, who worked for Hyatt for many years, came out of retirement for a six month stint to oversee the change-over.
While Hyatt talks about “rebranding,” many locals use the word “takeover.”
“Hotel De La Paix was a name that has been very well received, the hotel has been very much involved in the community,” explains Arthur. “I know that of course a lot of people are a little bit sceptical and a little bit concerned that there is a big conglomerate so-to-speak that comes in with a big name.”
The owners of the hotel have brought Park Hyatt in to operate the premises, allowing it, under the guise of Park Hyatt, to attract the upmarket clientele independent hotels fail to reach.
“I think it will be up to Hyatt to make sure they continue this goodwill that has been started by Hotel de la Paix which I’m sure they will,” assures Arthur. “I think eventually people will accept and will see that being part of a big chain is not necessarily a bad thing.”
Park Hyatt, in the top echelons of the Hyatt strata, generally occupies residences with a local feel. “It’s geared towards usually upmarket business people or upmarket leisure travel,” says Arthur, “It’s very boutiquey, feels residential, and of course has the service that goes with it.”
Many in town are baffled by the need for renovation, but Arthur says plans were underway for a refurbishment whether the hotel was operated by Hyatt or not. “It has a very unique character,” he says, “We just want to build up on that and make it even nicer.”
While the main outside structure will remain largely untouched, there will be significant changes to the look and feel of the hotel. Front entry to the hotel will be from what is presently the rear, and a walk-through courtyard will lead to a more open reception area. The Arts Lounge will be a partially a lobby-type bar area, while the windows to what is now the front will be opened out into an additional swimming pool area with hedging to block out Sivutha Boulevard views, including the huge KFC sign. The café will include a green-house-style extension, and The Meric restaurant will have an open kitchen and extended menu.
Arthur says, “The entrance right now is very unattractive in our point of view. It’s all a bit compartmentalised, it’s small, it’s narrow and it doesn’t have a lounge as such, where people will sit and wait.
“You look outside and it’s not the most attractive area. While we feel the hotel is very nice, it will give guests a much better sense of arrival with the hotel looking to the inside than the outside.”
Hyatt has secured the hotel’s 2005 original designer Bill Bensley to oversee renovations, and this should ensure its flair is retained.
“We have engaged him for the renovation to make sure that the integrity and the characteristics of the hotel will remain to a great extent because we want to have obviously continuity in what is here now and what can be improved,” Arthur says. “But the actual characteristics of the hotel will remain the same.”
The renovation will take between seven to nine months, but la Paix has have vowed to retain all staff and keep them on the payroll throughout the project.
The spa and the café will open in a temporary location near ANZ Royal from July 1, and the hotel will continue to support Green Gecko and the Sewing School in Wat Damnak.
As for the much-loved art program, plans for this are less clear.
“I would think it will continue in one form of shape or other,” says Arthur. “Of course the facilities are going to undergo a renovation so it may not be exactly suitable in the same way that it was done before, but I have been given the assurance by Hyatt that they are very committed and very keen in continuing the relationship with the local community.
“I very much hope we can continue to also be involved in sponsoring and be a platform for future artists here in Cambodia.”
While for many Hyatt may still be a dirty word, Arthur says it will be far from just another generic faceless hotel. “I think the local community is very passionate about this hotel. Park Hyatt’s are very sensitive to these issues. Any hotels we operate should reflect the art and the characteristics of the culture of the country they are operating in. Once you enter the hotel, you get that feel of ‘I am in Cambodia.’ That will be maintained.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Claire Byrne at [email protected]