Today we talk to Rory Hunter, Chairman of Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia
1) Song Saa Private Island is a pretty unique resort; can you give our readers a brief overview of its key selling points?
Song Saa is the first private island to be developed in Cambodia and is the first luxury accommodation to be built anywhere on the country’s coast. This allows travellers coming to Cambodia to explore the temples the option to visit the country’s untouched coastline. Most visits to the temples end up on the beach, however until now most travellers had to head to Thailand to do so.
The resort itself is built over two islands, connected by a footbridge and it has the only over water pool villas in the whole of Southeast Asia.
The resort provides guests with an ideal platform to experience Cambodia’s islands, which are reminiscent of Thailand 40 years ago, without leaving any luxury modern behind.
2) What do you envisage will be your main source markets, and do you anticipate any strong interest from Asia’s emerging markets?
During the peak season from October to April our main source markets are the UK, France and Germany with strong demand from the US and Australia as well. Short stays from regional markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore are already proving popular and we’re also seeing many guests from China and Taiwan visiting us. The main emerging market for us is China and one that we see tremendous potential in. Tourism growth for travellers from China last year to Cambodia was over 50% with similar growth continuing in 2012.
3) How do international visitors access the resort?
The international airports of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh connect with all the main airport hubs of Asia and the coastal town of Sihanoukville is only a 40 minute flight from Siem Reap (there are three flights a week on Monday, Wednesday or Friday) or three hours from Phnom Penh (we have a fleet of brand new BMW 5 series to ensure the journey from Phnom Penh is comfortable).
Vietnam Airlines is considering starting a direct flight between Ho Chi Minh City and Sihanoukville starting later in the year.
4) Did you face any challenges staffing the resort, and what efforts are you making to engage the local community?
There were numerous challenges developing the resort (more than I care to remember) however finding good quality staff wasn’t one of them. We’ve been extremely fortunate to attract a team of highly experienced senior staff who have worked on some of the world’s top island resorts and for operators such as Four Seasons and Aman who bring a wealth of knowledge to the operation and have ensured our service standards are where our guests would expect for such a property.
We employ over 90% Cambodian staff and due to such a strong tourism sector the past 10 years, our team is very experienced and are highly motivated to show the world just how amazing Cambodia is. We also employ over 30 staff from the local village, giving them a career option that otherwise would not have been available – fishing being the only option before Song Saa opened. Ensuring the resort benefits Cambodian’s, in particular the locals within our community is of paramount importance to us and the authentic smiles and pride shown by our team along with the terrific feedback from guests make us very proud.
5) How has the resort performed since opening, and what are your projections for the rest of the year?
With so many tourists already travelling to Siem Reap to visit the temples (tourism numbers to Cambodia are expected to reach 3.5 million this year), there is strong latent demand that we’ve been able to tap into, which has allowed a small, remote property such as ours to generate strong bookings from the day we opened our doors. We’re working very closely with all the local DMCs and regional trade to maximise this potential and to sell Cambodia as an entire destination, rather than then the single stop in a larger tour it once was.