Grand opening a vote of confidence
The grand opening last week of the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra, the first five-star hotel to open in Phnom Penh since the 1990s, signals a boom in the city for luxury development. While a number of deluxe hotels appeal more to leisure travellers, the new 200-room Sofitel expects to attract 70 per cent corporate and meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions guests, and 30 per cent leisure guests.
The hotel has Cambodia's largest ballroom complete with US$1 million worth of equipment, four restaurants, a sports centre with a gym, and tennis and squash courts, two swimming pools and a spa. An open lawn area next to the hotel will eventually house another 200 rooms.
Didier Lamoot, area general manager of Sofitel, says the Cambodian government is supporting growth in the capital.
'The Ministry of Tourism is listening to the private sector,' he says. 'They are working to help develop the hospitality industry. Developing manpower for this industry helps to reduce poverty through employment.'
According to Cambodia's Ministry of Tourism, the country attracted more than two million tourists last year and the figures continue to climb.
Last week, Air France began operating a new service between Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Phnom Penh after a 37-year hiatus on flight connections between the two nations.
Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, CEO of Air France KLM and Air France, says: 'We are proud to be the first European airline to once again operate scheduled services between Europe and Cambodia. These three new weekly flights will promote economic and cultural ties with this buoyant region.'
Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An says the resumption of flights reflects 'the confidence of local and foreign investors in Cambodia's political stability and economic growth'.
Other major international companies are also showing interest in Cambodia, including Chevron, which announced plans to open a permanent office in Phnom Penh next month.
Lamoot believes that Cambodia is poised for greater integration with Asia.
'There are about 15 million Cambodians, but as we are at the heart of Asia, you can rather say that we are at the centre of 250 million Asians,' Lamoot says. 'I think that Asia will in the future be a Schengen space, like in Europe, where no visas will be required between the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and so on.'
The rise in luxury in Phnom Penh will stimulate more spending from Cambodia's expanding middle class and foreign visitors.
Lamoot says that the Sofitel has already stimulated competitors - that include the Raffles Hotel Le Royal, the InterContinental Phnom Penh, Nagaworld Hotel Phnom Penh - to 'strike back' with new offerings, which he sees as a 'good challenge'. He says the Sofitel will raise the bar of international cuisine in the capital with its Italian, Japanese, Chinese and international French venues.
'Every month there are new things opening here,' he says. 'Cambodia's economy is safe, it is politically stable, and the government is working hard to attract investors. I think we will achieve great things.'