From October 8 to 10, up to 11,000 hospitality industry representatives are expected to crowd into the CamFood and CamHotel expo all eager to taste, smell, see and experience the best that Cambodia has to offer in both the restaurant and hotel industries, and in the foodstuffs and supplier industries. “It’s so exciting. All this new knowledge that comes to Cam- bodia through the expo has a knock-on effect and helps our industry to evolve and improve,” Van Porleng, cofounder of the Cambodian Restaurant Association (CRA) and a long-time stalwart of the country’s dining scene, says.
In 2010, Porleng helped launch the hospitality industry trade show alongside Singaporean events firm AMB Expos. During its first year, CamFood and CamHotel attracted some 60 booth holders. This year, however, up to 170 are expected to show at the event. “Our idea was to make a clear statement that Cambodia is ready and able to host large-scale events that foster new partnerships beyond our own borders, take in new knowledge and even show off a little what we do have,” Porleng says, adding that the biennial event will also host Cambodia’s National Hospitality Competition.
“Sure, we are still quite new to the trade show industry and we cannot compare to Singapore expos where they have thousands of exhibitors, but we will reach that point over time. For sure we are generating awareness of Cambodia’s hospitality industry.” But for Porleng, the success of the trade show reflects a much wider shift in Cambodia’s hospitality scene and in the dining habits of Cambodians themselves. “In Cambodia, eating out has historically been about where you could get your dinner for cheap, cheap, cheap,” she says.
“Now eating out is becoming trendy – food culture is defi- nitely changing. With a young, energetic generation hungry for choice coming through, the culinary and hospitality industry has been forced to evolve, whether that’s simply by improving the decoration of a venue, the cuisine style, or their quality of produce.” A survey of 150 hospitality firms in Phnom Penh, conducted by Park Cafe Food & Beverage Co. in April this year, revealed that more than 60% of business owners believed now to be the most promising time to invest in the Kingdom’s hospitality industry. The survey concluded that the industry could be on the verge of a cultural shift favouring more formal eateries such as cafes, high-end restaurants and fast-food chains. It is anticipated that this shift will improve training and hygiene standards across the industry and slowly reduce the number of informal kitchen businesses.
“Of course you still have the street-side kitchens and food carts on every corner, and they will always have a place. But it is time to evolve – time to move forward,” Porleng says, adding that industry training and health standardisation will be a key focus for her at this year’s CamFood and CamHotel expo.
Andrew Siow, director of the Singapore-based AMB Events Group, which also runs the annual CamBuild Expo and specialises in bringing trade shows to Asia’s emerging markets, is forecasting this year’s hospitality event to be the most successful to date.
“I remember when we first came here in 2009, Diamond Island had not yet been completed, the hospitality industry was still very new and it was soon after the 2008 global financial crisis, so it was hard to envision a large scale exhibition here in Cambodia,” he says. “But, as luck would have it, the convention space was finished just a few months later and we were the first events firm to hold a trade show in the new facility.” “The hotel and restaurant sector wasn’t so bad during the first year. Yes there were small numbers, but at that time there was not the big food chains in Cambodia that there are now. It was really just a lot of local companies.”
Cambodian Ministry of Tourism data show there were 1,500 registered hotels and guesthouses scattered throughout the Kingdom in 2010. As of December 2013, there were more than 2000, an increase of 31%. Similarly, business arrivals to Cambodia totalled 185,000 at the end of 2013, also up 31% compared to 2010.
At the last CamFood and CamHotel event held in 2012, which attracted more than 7,000 attendees, exhibitors made some $670,000 worth of sales, according to AMB’s 2012 show report. After the event, exhibitors racked up more than $2 million in sales revenue resulting from deals struck during the three-day trade show. “As a result of our trade shows’ annual increases in attendance and exhibitors, we have seen more and more hospitality and food supplying businesses actually set up offices here in Cambodia instead of working from an outside country. It is a real catalyst for the industry,” Siow said.
“Phnom Penh arising as a future business hub for Southeast Asia is a key factor encouraging more exhibitors to come to the country’s trade shows.”
But for Luu Meng, president of the Cambodian Hotels Association (CHA) and one of the country’s most renowned chefs, the third instalment of CamFood and CamHotel is as much about rallying foreign interest in national development projects as it is about industry growth. “There is still a lot of work to do. Skills and training is hugely important here and this needs to be formalised through the establishment of a hospitality academy. Part of this year’s expo is a seminar explaining the dire importance of this academy and trying to draw international interest in such a venture,” Meng says.
“The hospitality industry is very unique here in Cambodia. A lot of businesses do not expect a lot from Cambodia before they come in terms of dining and culinary expertise, so when they do arrive we generally surprise them and exceed their expectations.”
Hailing from 25 different countries including Australia, the US and Europe, exhibitors and businesses at this year’s CamFood and CamHotel trade show vary greatly from poultry or cattle exporters to oven makers and wine sommeliers. One local company, however, that has exhibited at the event every year since its inception is LSH Cambodia, the importer of more than 40 different international food brands including Nestle and President.
“This is really the only way for our company to capture the entire spectrum of our target market in one go,” Dickson Foo, food service manager at LSH Cambodia, says. LSH Cambodia has been the largest exhibitor at the CamFood and CamHotel event since it began in 2012, with a booth of more than180 square metres.
As a result, Foo says his firm has not only increased sales revenue but also fostered new partnerships and added new brands to it’s already bulging portfolio. “Every year we meet new companies looking to enter Cambodia’s market and surely this year will be no different. That said, this year we have scaled down the number of products that we will showcase to really target one type of buyer.”
But capitalising on a trade show is not as easy as Foo makes it out to be. A lot goes into planning and execut- ing a well-run, world-class trade show, according to Mark Cochrane, regional manager of the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI), which represents more than 640 members from 82 countries. “Trade fairs are driven by a number of key factors: Firstly, the basic economy. If the economy is doing well and there are signs of continued growth, then the trade fairs will come and tend to do well,” Cochrane says.
“Secondly, export orientated economies will help boost trade fairs and there needs to be a reasonable collection of local companies wanting to be involved.” “Finally, you need the infrastructure in place, which is dependent largely on the willingness of that country’s government. Things like international standard venues, good airports, hotels and transport, entertainment, and food and beverage outlets.”
According to the UFI’s 2014 ”Trade Fair Industry in Asia” report, published in June, Asia’s trade fair and exhibition industry is valued at more than $4.4 billion with more than 17 million square metres of booth space sold in 2013 alone. Taiwan, Indonesia and neighbouring Thailand have all emerged in recent years as the fastest growing trade show markets in Asia, according to the report. China, however, remains the largest, selling more than 55% of the total floor space and earning some $1.5 billion from the lucrative industry. Cambodia, which is not included in the UFI’s research, remains a relatively unknown market.
“Cambodia should be committing revenue to this industry as it is certainly one of the smaller markets that I expect will emerge quickly as more and more interest generates in what the country has to offer and also as competition in the Southeast Asia region continues to heat up”, Cochrane says.
“In my point of view, trade fairs and exhibitions are arguably the most valuable resource available to any economy because they really do have a ripple effect and drive the local economy as internationals come into a new market and spend money on deals with local firms.”
Text by Eddie Morton