We made a couple mistakes by forgetting to have rain gutters added and using a tin roof for the bar. In the rainy season this created an almost unbearable noise there. We deflected this somewhat by putting up a layer of reed on top of it. Of course, we had them installed later on.
Sihanoukville has no drainage and sewer system, so all buildings needed a septic tank. With 17 rooms we had 4 septic tanks built. To our dismay we found out later that the builder had one built right under a guest room under one of the nightstands. When we needed to pump out that one we had to lay long pipes from outside the lot at the rear to the room through a window. Needless to say, we had to wait until all the guests were outside the hotel so they wouldn’t see what was going on and right a scathing review about that. The rainy season created additional problems as the rain water flowed in the tanks in the rear together with the use water from the guests’ bathrooms. Sometimes we had to have the tanks in the back pumped out every other week at $65 a pop.
The basic problem areas in a hotel in Sihanoukville are the power supply, the water supply, the quality of the equipment, the scarcity of repairmen and contractors, and the ignorance and unreliability of staff; in other words besides guests who can make hotel life in this town really hard, there is nothing that would contribute to a smooth operation where you could just focus on guest relations and improvement of services.
The quality of the equipment is so poor that we needed repairs continuously, whether it’s a float switch in the tank, a broken a/c unit, internet service disruptions due to somebody else cutting the cables (twice willfully, several times by nearby construction), cable TV problems, etc., etc. On account of all these problems that affected basically all hotels in the area repairmen were hard to come by. Sometimes it took hours, even days for them to come and take a look at the problem. For a while we a couple of good ones, other times we needed to beg them to come and take care of things. On top of it the rates they charged were higher than in the U. S. Another reason for the poor quality in my opinion was that things were pretty cheap which led me to believe that Cambodia got second rate quality from wherever they imported they equipment from, mainly China. A/Cs were particularly prone to failure which in part was due to power fluctuations which will wreak havoc on electrical equipment, not the least the power surge when the power comes back.
Not once was there a week that went by without any problem at all – and we are talking close to 5 years. If it wasn’t the equipment or the repairmen it was the staff. People always write about how one needs to help these poor people so they can support themselves. This is all good and true but doesn’t take into account the basic mentality of Khmer people with little or no education whatsoever. I got the feeling that their Buddhist belief gets in the way. Everything in life is preordained by whatever higher being there is. Khmer people are rather stoic. The want to work, of course, but only because they really do need the money to feed themselves, not to get ahead in life (those are few and far in between). They have no ambition whatsoever. A hotel traditionally employs more women than men so consequently we had 7 or 8 female and 3 male staff. Housekeeping staff was the most unreliable. The slightest problem healthwise (and they always had a fever or bad stomach) or at home made them call in sick. If it wasn’t themselves it was their kids. One would never know whether you had your staff coming in today or not. One time we had all housekeeping staff except one quit without notice on the same day. Another time we had just paid their salary when we got a call from one saying she needs to quit for family reasons – like she didn’t know this 2 weeks before. So we changed our schedule and paid salaries on the 7th the following month. If somebody quit without giving appropriate notice we would just withhold the pay for the entire past month. A smart one though even knew how to work around that. She wanted to quit right away but knowing our system she just asked for and advance in the amount we owed her for the seven days. She needed it for her kid who was sick she said. We also had just paid her salary. Promptly, she didn’t show up for work the next day. Another irksome thing is their huffiness. You just criticize them very carefully but they are prone to up and leave right on the spot, not matter the loss of pay. Of course, you can never do this in front of others. She may be a lowly maid but losing face is a real tragedy. Sometimes they just take a day off without asking us. We also had to deal with theft a few times. We could never prove anything but we eventually found a way to get rid of that staff. Sometimes they have two jobs, one in the morning, one in the afternoon/evening. There was this one receptionist who used to disappear for his break for an hour leaving the reception unmanned at 7 pm when guests were going out for dinner or returning, or checking in. When we found out about that we gave him a warning but he even stayed away for more than 2 hours once afterwards upon which we let him go. He had 2 kids to look after in the evening until his wife came home who also had a job at a different hotel. And so on, and on, and on.
What made this entire situation with all that frustration really unbearable was the financial aspect, and I haven’t even begun to write about some crazy guests. We had invested a sizable amount of money and with all the repairs we couldn’t even break even when we paid ourselves a normal salary. The hotel did support us but nowhere near the level we were used to before. We didn’t expect to make $10,000 a month but at least expected compensation in line with Cambodian pay scales, which would have been $3,000 a month for 2. Whenever there was a profit that would have enabled us to that kind of pay we needed to spend the money on repairs, purchase of new equipment etc. It did get better the last 18 months when we finally managed to pay ourselves a bit more.
People reading this will certainly be discouraged to go into this kind of business here but what with all that is going on in this town we don’t think anybody is even remotely contemplating going into business, any business, here at all. It may be somewhat different in Phnom Penh which doesn’t have these pronounced seasons as a resort town but the sheer number of new hotels that have opened there pose a very serious problem for anybody who wants to invest there. So beware!
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