InterContinental Hotels Group operates in nearly 100 countries around the world. Its brand graces the streets of Los Angeles, Paris and Tokyo. In 1998 it entered Cambodia with a 346-room, 15-storey facility at the corner of Mao Tse Toung and Monireth boulevards in Phnom Penh that has served as a precursor to the development that crowds the city skyline today. Seventeen years on, the hotel remains a mainstay among the growing business clientele, attracting a steady flow of professionals from all over the region.
“ THE NUMBER OF BIG ESTABLISHMENTS LIKE US IS STILL SMALL, BUT THE NUMBER OF HOTELS DOES HELP ACCOMODATE THE GROWING DEMAND. ”
-Bobby Fajardo, Executive Assistant manager, InterContinental Phnom Penh
Bobby Fajardo, executive assistant manager, has watched Cambodia’s luxury hotel industry transform from the inside. In 2002, he said, during his first overseas posting for InterContinental in Phnom Penh, the hotel “was the tallest in the city and you could see it as you approached the airport”. At that time, there were no ATMs, few operating banks and no sign of wireless Internet. By the time he returned in 2008 for his second posting in Cambodia, the capital had undergone “remarkable” change.
As Phnom Penh and Cambodia as a whole – facilitated by foreign investment, rising tourist numbers and direct flights to the capital – continue to develop into a top destination in the region, the ability to adapt in a highly competitive hospitality sector still rests in professionalism, Fajardo believes, citing the makeup of InterContinetal’s guests as a mix of business minds and leisure seekers.
“The change in professionalism and expectations from 2002 to now has been the main driver in how we have had to adapt,” he says. To raise to service levels to meet customer expectations, the hotel has partnered with local schools and universities to help train professionals in the hospitality industry. These programmes not only teach service industry related skills, but also provide English language classes for “frontline staff.”
“Of course you don’t just throw someone into the lion’s den, you have to get them properly prepared for the job,” Fajardo says. Without dedicated hospitality schools, the hotel has had to focus on training its local staff from the ground up. Nevertheless, in years to come, Fajardo believes that once hospitality schools are established, they could provide a lucrative career path especially as the sector is one of the few recognised professions that will allow for the free flow of labour under the Asean Economic Community.
While English is still considered the de facto language of business, the hotel is also stepping up its ability to communicate directly with business people in the region. “We recently had a trainee with us from Hong Kong. She not only helped us at the front desk with Cantonese, she also helped show the staff how to deal with guests from China,” says Fajardo. This is something he hopes to replicate as demand grow.
One of the advantages InterContinental has over its competitors is that its sprawling facility can accommodate large events and high-profile guests, as well as bringing in delegations to host government-sponsored events.
“The number of big establishments like us is still small, but the number of hotels does help accommodate the growing demand,” he says. Nevertheless, with the rise of boutique hotels and other five-star hotels, Fajardo welcomes the competition. “We have to look at in a bigger picture. More hotels with more rooms is a positive sign for the industry from where it came from,” he says.
With more options for leisure and business travellers, InterContinental strives to give guests a unique Cambodian feel. The hotel prides itself on being a patron of the arts. Five years ago, it launched its Insider Gallery on the second floor of the hotel, which provides local artists a space to display their artwork, as well as foreign artists, “providing the artwork is about Cambodia,” Fajardo says. “This allows our guests to not only say they stayed at the InterContinental in Phnom Penh, but that they stayed in Cambodia at the InterContinental.”
With more options for leisure and business travellers, InterContinental strives to give guests an “In The Know” experience throughout their stay. “In The Know” is InterContinental’s unique services that are available through the hotel concierge. Local staff always seek unique place to visit and unique activities for guests to experience, creating unique memories. The information is available on the website and the hotel map.
Fajardo concludes that while the InterContinental is now just one among a skyline crowded with luxury hotels, its standards keep it at the forefront of the game. “Over the last 17 years, we are confident that we have proved our position in the market. We are here to stay in Phnom Penh [along] with other five-star hotels.”
Words and photography by Kali Kotoski