Group manages hotels for ‘new breed’ owners

Kelly Dara, vice-president of Asia Initiative Corp  at the new Model​ Angkor Resort and Residence, due to open on September 1.​
Kelly Dara, vice-president of Asia Initiative Corp at the new Model​ Angkor Resort and Residence, due to open on September 1.​ PETER OLSZEWSKI

Group manages hotels for ‘new breed’ owners

A group of savvy Khmer hotel and tourism professionals in Siem Reap have clubbed together to form an organisation that provides management for a clutch of new hotels in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.

The organisation, Asia Initiative Corp, is the brainchild of vice president Kelly Chan Dara and started operations last July. He said, “We are a professional resort management company. We started having discussion and meetings about this group since early 2013 when I first brought up the idea and invited senior hoteliers to join.

“We have ten members or co-founders and two international business advisers.

Our members are mostly general managers of hotels, with at least 15 years’ experience and each has different expertise – we have specialists in sales and marketing, IT, human resources and so on.

“And because of our experience we can find good staff for hotels – we don’t advertise but we have good networking skills and we also pay staff well.”

A statue of Preah Neang Kong Hing, who  people is the Goddess of the Earth and Buddha’s female protector, in front of the restaurant at Bong Thom Homestay.​
A statue of Preah Neang Kong Hing, who people is the Goddess of the Earth and Buddha’s female protector, in front of the restaurant at Bong Thom Homestay.​ Thik Kaliyann

The group’s two international advisers are John Savage and Graham Cox from the Australian communications company, Savage Communications which represent, among other things, some leading international hotels, national tourism commissions, and tour companies.

The group’s clientele, according to Kelly Dara, are a “new breed” of mostly young Khmer professionals who build hotels.

Kelly says, “These new owners are mostly in the around-40-years age bracket, they’re new in the business but they understand customers needs and are happy for us to build a bridge for them when it comes to running and marketing their hotels.”

In the recent past, the older breed of wealthy Khmer hotel owners has at times been problematic in that they interfere in the management process and place unqualified relatives in senior positions, to the point where general managers have walked out or franchise companies have opted not to continue the management agreements.

But Kelly Dara is confident that his “new breed” of owners are savvy enough to give his group the freedom to manage professionally. “They were very smart to choose us,” he says, “And they’re smart enough to allow us to do our job professionally.”

The first and second properties signed up by Asia Initiative Corp came from within the group’s membership, with the member being an owner. The new 30-room boutique hotel, Angkor Heritage, opposite the ANZ bank near Psar Leu became the group’s first signing in October last year.

This was followed by another of the same member’s properties, the Bong Thom Homestay, a unique community-based tourism site which captures the essence of village life, located in San Day Village, Banteay Srei District, about 29 kilometres from the
city. It’s comprised of three Khmer-style houses, each with two bedrooms and large open spaces. Staff at this homestay also provides catering for tourists visiting nearby Banteay Srei temple.

Next to be signed was the New Hill Resort and Spa in Sihanoukville, due to open in the first week of October. This resort has 122 rooms and nestles on an eight-hectare site on Victoria Hill, near the old port, and has 360 degree views.

The owner is also the proprietor of the New Beach Hotel and Restaurant in Sihanoukville.

The upscale Model Angkor Resort and Residence recreates a modern version of the ancient Khmer architecture of the temples.​
The upscale Model Angkor Resort and Residence recreates a modern version of the ancient Khmer architecture of the temples.​ PETER OLSZEWSKI

Another signing was the smart contemporary Hollywood Angkor Boutique Hotel in the downtown Wat Bo area, overlooking the river, which opened last month. This 21-rooom hotel is owned by Mr Mean, who Kelly Dara describes as, “A famous clothes seller – all Siem Reap residents know him.” Fittingly, Mr Mean has also opened the Hollywood Shirts shop next door to the hotel.

Opening next month is one of the group’s most high end hotels – Model Angkor Resort and Residence on the Bakong Club Road almost next door to the Galaxy Goal Sport Club. This hotel has 22 rooms, 17 resort rooms and 5 residence rooms.

It’s modelled in memory of the king’s builders who built Angor Wat and because it has several sort-of turret roofs it’s been dubbed by Khmer locals as the “five-roof hotel.”

A feature of the hotel is the lavish and heavy wooden carved walls and fittings and, as Kelly Dara points out, all the carving was done by female artisans.

In January next year, the consortium will open its sixth hotel, a 26-roomer, but details about this are not available at the moment.

With so many new hotels under the Asia Initiative Corp’s belt, Kelly Dara is happy to address the time-honoured local question of whether Siem Reap already has too many hotels, by giving the time-honoured answer that the town doesn’t have enough hotels in the high season and not enough hotel patrons in the low season. He stresses that marketing plans should be put in place to attract more tourists to the town during the low season, citing the success of last week’s Angkor Marathon in terms of hotel bookings.

And the glint in his eye when he discusses this hints that he and his group may already have their own vision of how to attract more low-season visitors. ​

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