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Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville sets new high standards

By Reinhard Hohler

During a recent visit to Cambodia to inspect the efficiency of the newly promoted Southern Coastal Economic Corridor between Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, I had the chance to stay at the boutique 4-star Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville.

Taking a flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport, you normally arrive during the daytime to take a private bus on Level 1 between Gates 7-8 from the airport to Pattaya. The bus leaves every hour and costs 124Baht. The service is available from 07.00 until 22.00. After one night in Pattaya, you can take another bus (No. 99) early in the morning to reach Trat Bus Station before midday to change into a minibus to the international border of Hat Lek/Cham Yeam in Cambodia. From there, it is not far to continue to Sihanoukville via Koh Kong to reach there in the evening.

Sihanoukville, also called Kampong Som, is an emerging beach destination in Cambodia and has a myriad of accommodations to offer. One of the more sophisticated choices is to stay a few nights at the well-known Independence Hotel. The interior of the seven-storey hotel was designed by King Norodom Sihanouk himself in 1963.

The restored hotel occupies one of the most stunning natural hotspots, namely a rocky promontory at one end of the popular Independence Beach of olden times. Even Jacqueline Kennedy stayed there some nights in 1967. Besides its 88 superior and deluxe rooms, the hotel offers a fine poolside, conference rooms, Coral Restaurant, Sunset Terrace, History Lounge Bar as well as a private beach. But it’s the new health services offered at the Jouvence Spa outside in the hotel garden overlooking the sea, which sets new high standards in the whole of Sihanoukville.

Actually, Jouvence Spa is the most unique sea side spa complex using only natural and local resources to design its smooth and relaxing atmosphere. It is furnished with state of the art equipment and offers a wide variety of treatments in order to balance your mind, body and soul. Khmer massages, skin care therapies, as well as manicure and pedicure are all performed by well-trained and skilled professional therapists.

Very common are the foot and back massages, which cost 16USD per hour. Also, full body oil massages are popular for USD27 per hour. More special are the aromatherapy massages to improve blood circulation, muscle strength, and tension of the body. Body treatments include an enzymatic sea mud wrap, tropical fruit wrap or mineral salt scrub.

When visiting the spa early this year, I opted for a signature vitamin facial treatment, which lasted 55 minutes, involving cucumber toner, black sticky rice scrub and mango mask. It went for 45USD like this:

Natural plain yoghurt with black sticky rice gently exfoliates your skin. Removing dead skin cells helps promoting cell glow. The mango mask is associated with longevity and preserving youthfulness. All works as a natural moisturizer and encourages the growing of new skin. For all gentlemen over 60 years young a must!

Interesting to note is that the Independence Hotel is a member of the Sterling Hotels and Preferred Hotel Group based in the USA. Sterling Hotels is about thinking smart and staying smart. In 2011, they have expanded their collection to some 55 worldwide locations. The one in Thailand is the ShaSa Resort & Residences in Koh Samui. To quote John Ueberroth, Chairman and CEO of the Preferred Hotel Group:

“Each hotel has been chosen for its quality facilities, friendly feel, and easy-going vibe. Wherever you go, we remind you that travel should be enjoyable. Travel should make you smile. Head off on a spontaneous weekend getaway, treat your family to an adventure, or turn your business trip into the reward you deserve. With Sterling, you’ll travel with a spring in your step.”

How true he was, I felt, when I continued my excursion via Kampot to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Arriving in the border town of Ha Tien, I had so much energy to visit Phu Quoc Island, Rach Gia and My Tho several days long to arrive in Ho Chi Minh City looking for new adventures during the annual Tet New Year Festival.

Reinhard Hohler is a GMS Media Travel Consultant based in Chiang Mai/Thailand and can be contacted by e-mail: [email protected]

Understanding European markets

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has carried out a broad-based consumer research study in five key European markets in order to better understand how they perceive Thailand and what “buttons” need to be pressed in order to maintain visitor flows.

The five markets are the UK, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands. Together they comprised a total of 2,364,437 visitor arrivals in 2011, up 5.35 % over 2010. (See details in chart below).

Said TAT Governor Suraphon Svetasreni, “We felt it was time to refresh our own ideas and perceptions of what the new generation of travellers think about Thailand and its desirability as a destination for holidays, business or MICE events.

“Many things are changing these days, including demographics, technologies and income levels. Alongside, there is considerable competition from both new and emerging destinations.

“Although the European markets are generally doing well, and we will maintain a strong marketing presence across Europe, this study was designed to help us better target our future marketing efforts so that we continue to target the right customers with the right product at the right price at the right time.

“A more targeted and focused approach will help us make cost-effective use of our budgets in these challenging times,” the Governor said.

Focused on new customers from the five countries who have never visited Thailand, the study showed that the awareness levels of Thailand differed from country by country.

Said Mr. Suraphon, “The survey was designed to probe details about their intentions to visit Thailand in future, competitive analysis vis a vis other destinations, booking patterns, price sensitivity and other such critical decision-making criteria.

“We found that we can no longer adopt a common strategy across all countries. We need to adopt a specific strategy for each country to reflect on the nature of the population, level of awareness of Thailand, and the unique characteristics of each market.”

For example, it was found that more than half of the survey respondents and interviewees from the United Kingdom, France and Germany know Thailand reasonably well in terms of geographical location and are aware of some of its iconic tourism products such as culture and cuisine.

On the other hand, the awareness levels were lower in Italy and Netherlands, especially in terms of the tourism products. In the UK market it was found that the cost of travel and Thai cultural heritage are important factors in the decision-making process. Also word-of-mouth marketing was important.

In France, it was found that the awareness levels of Thailand were high and that visitors had a greater propensity to make their own bookings rather than use a travel agent. They also have longer booking periods than the UK market. In Germany, it was found that China was a more desirable destination in Asia than Thailand. German travellers are also becoming more inclined towards direct-bookings and often plan their trips six months in advance.

In Italy, Thai tourism marketing campaigns will have to focus more on awareness-building and use the travel agents to influence consumer decision-making. In the Netherlands, there was greater awareness of Indonesia, a former Dutch colony. Hence, it was felt that Thailand needed to stress its own beautiful beaches and the “Thainess” factor to attract stopover traffic.

Said the Governor, “We learnt a lot from the research and will be happy to share it with our friends and partners in order to help them improve their own marketing strategies for Thailand.” (TAT)


Chiang Mai hotel roundup

The Imperial Mae Ping celebrates its 24th year of operation

By Reinhard Hohler
General Manager Swiss Peter A. Schnyder was in a high mood when I met him during the reception on May 10 at the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel in order to present the new Swiss Honorary Consul with residence in Chiang Mai, Mr. Marc-Henri Dumur. No-one else than the Ambassador of Switzerland to Thailand, Mrs. Christine Schraner Burgener, had the pleasure to invite all the honored guests to a small gathering at the hotel in Chiang Mai, which is celebrating its 24th year of operation.

To experience the best in Northern Thai Lan Na hospitality, tourists from all over the world don’t have to go very far. The Imperial Mae Ping Hotel is centrally located in Chiang Mai next to the famous Night Bazaar. The hotel features 371 well-furnished guestrooms with a distinctive and modern Lan Na décor befitting the rich heritage of the North. Superior rooms, deluxe rooms and royal suites can be chosen accordingly. With one of the most comprehensive exhibition and conference facilities in Chiang Mai, the hotel has a seating capacity of up to 900 people theatre style and is a popular venue for weddings.

Besides its recreational facilities of the Imperial Spa, fitness corner and swimming pool, the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel is known for the exceptional variety of restaurants, which offer a wide range of cuisine, such as the International Mae Ping Coffee Shop & Restaurant, Gold Leaf Chinese Restaurant, as well as the Japanese Imperial Shabu Shabu Restaurant. Furthermore, the wide and open-air Chang Garden offers local specialties and BBQ. Thus, it is highly recommended to give the hotel a try.

Other recommended properties of the Imperial Hotels & Resorts in Thailand are the Imperial Queen’s Park Hotel in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, Imperial Hua Hin Beach Resort close to Hua Hin’s seafront restaurants, fishing pier and fresh market, Imperial Samui Beach Resort and the Imperial Boat House Beach Resort, both idyllically located on the island of Koh Samui. Moreover, there are the Imperial Adamas Beach Resort at Nai Yang Beach of Phuket Island and properties belonging to the Northern Group, such as the Imperial River House Resort in Chiang Rai, Imperial Golden Triangle Resort in Chiang Saen, Imperial Phukaew Hill Resort in Petchabun, as well as the Imperial Mae Hong Son Resort in Mae Hong Son. And the list is not yet exhausted.

Another hotel in Chiang Mai is highly recommended when coming to town, namely the deluxe and elegant Chedi Hotel in Chiang Mai, which is right next to the Ping River. The Chedi Chiang Mai is led by the new General Manager from Germany, Mr. Stefan Noll, who lives in Chiang Mai since eight months. Having collected experience at hotels in India’s Goa and Indonesia’s Bali before, Mr. Noll enjoys the tranquility of the city and staying in Northern Thailand, which is wretched between Myanmar in the west and Laos in the east - thus right in the centre of the emerging Greater Mekong Sub-region.

The Chedi Chiang Mai offers some 84 pleasant rooms and is a member of GHMhotels, which include properties such as the colonial, luxury Strand Hotel in Yangon/Myanmar or the superb Nam Hai Beach Resort in Hoi An/Viet Nam. The swimming pool is next to the Ping River, which runs through Chiang Mai and gives view to some old buildings on the other side of the river amongst some greenery. The special highlight of the property is the former British Consulate, which was unluckily sold by the British Government decades ago and now functions as a high-class restaurant, specialized on Indian cuisine.

A third property in Chiang Mai is the old Suriwong Hotel in the middle of the busy Night Bazaar, which will soon be re-opened as the new Moevenpick Chiang Mai. It was Thai General Manager Mr. Vinai Chitaratsanee, who told me at one of the last Skal Chiang Mai & North Thailand meetings that the soft opening will be in July 2012, but so far the restoration and modernization of the hotel is still going on and nobody knows, when Moevenpick will actually open. Moevenpick Hotels & Resorts are passionately Swiss and there is a reminder from the founder of Moevenpick, Mr. Ueli Prager: “We don’t do anything that’s really extraordinary. We are successful because we simply do normal things in an extraordinary way.” Thus, it has to be seen when Moevenpick starts its operation in Chiang Mai. The company manages already hotels in Koh Samui and Phuket, as well as in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam.

Last not least, the next meeting of Skal International Chiang Mai & North Thailand will be at the fine Le Crystal Restaurant in Chiang Mai on Thursday, July 26, 2012. Everyone from the local or international tourist industry will be heartily welcomed. Reinhard Hohler is a Media Travel Consultant based in Chiang Mai and can be contacted by e-mail: [email protected].

Five European Tourist Arrivals to Thailand by Nationality 2010-2012

Nationality 2010* 2011* % (+/-) 2011/2010 Jan-Jun** 2012 % (+/-) 2012/2011
United Kingdom 810,727 844,972 4.22 433,989 1.52
Germany 606,874 619,133 2.02 357,472 9.71
France 461,670 515,572 11.68 304,717 17.11
Netherlands 196,994 198,891 0.96 90,359 3.72
Italy 168,203 185,869 10.5 98,443 12.38
Total 2,244,468 2,364,437 5.35 1,284,980 8.14
Source: Immigration Bureau, Police Department Updated :13/01/2012/, 17.00 PM

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]y]

Independence Hotel in Sihanoukville sets new high standards

Understanding European markets

Chiang Mai hotel roundup