Face-to-Face: Didier Lamoot, General Manager, Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra
1) The Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra is the first new five-star hotel in Phnom Penh since the 1990s. Why do you think this is?
For the past dozen years, so much of the interest in Cambodia, for both the leisure and the corporate traveller, has been on Angkor. There’s been so much attraction to Siem Reap – gravitational attraction, inevitable attraction – that Phnom Penh has been left with the second fiddle. But the second fiddle is now asking the first violin for some time on the main stage.
2) How do you persuade corporate and leisure travellers that Phnom Penh is a destination to visit?
According to the official statistics, we had 471,283 arrivals to Phnom Penh in from January to October 2010, while there were 557,145 arrivals to Siem Reap. That doesn’t suggest that the country yet revolves around a single hub. [But] this city is emerging as Cambodia’s hub – as a gateway to Angkor, yes, but also to Sihanoukville and the southern coast. Note that Thai Airways flies into Phnom Penh, not Siem Reap. If we want to develop the country as a real destination, we have to develop the south. That’s how Phnom Penh becomes a hub.
3) What is the next milestone you’re looking out for in Cambodia’s redevelopment as a destination?
Easy. We need a long-haul flight into Phnom Penh from Europe, from the United States and or from Australia. All of the planes coming in now are with regional carriers. We’ve just learned that Air France plans to fly direct to Phnom Penh from Paris three times per week, starting in March. This is big, even if there will be a connecting flight at Bangkok.
4) What does the opening of the Sofitel mean for Phnom Penh?
It is a big deal. There has been very little investment in upscale hotel development over the past 10-12 years. So now, with this hotel, we open with as much panache as any other hotel can claim in Southeast Asia. All of the restaurants and bars are singular – there is an individual concept. There will be a service level comparable to what you can have in Tokyo or New York. It will cost. Our Sunday brunch, for example, will cost US$45-60. But we’re not afraid to deliver luxury. People want to pay money for value.
5) What aspect of the hotel do you expect to be most popular?
I expect that it will be the cumulative effect of all our restaurants. You won’t come to the Sofitel to eat, but you’ll know that if you want Italian you’ll come to Do Forni; for Chinese to Fu Lu Zu; for pastry, to Chocolat. Each kitchen is led by an individual chef and will celebrate an individual identity. For all of this to happen all at once in Phnom Penh, with eight new food and beverage options at once, that I think will be extremely compelling.
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