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Siem Reap hotels report full occupancy over Khmer New Year

Gareth Johnson

Hotels in Cambodia’s tourist center of Siem Reap hit almost 100 percent occupancy over the Khmer New Year holiday as over 400,000 tourists travelled to the province, but a full recovery for industry is still looking to be a long-time coming. 

This year was the first Khmer New Year to happen without almost no restrictions on movement since 2019, Siem Reap’s vital hospitality industry was certainly confident that things would be busy, but few would have expected just how big a deal it would be. 

According to the Ministry of Tourism there was a total of 400,591 people to the Siem Reap Province over the four day period.

Pub Street, the town’s tourist hotspot, finally looked like it did prior to COVID, bars and restaurants were full and tens of thousands hit the streets as people took full advantage of the hawkers selling overpriced water pistols, guns and suitable attire. 

The town’s hotels though were some of the biggest winners, with occupancy rates across all standards hitting 100 percent for the first time since long before the outbreak.

Booking sites report 98 percent occupancy

Occupancy rates first started to increase last week when according to leading hotel reservation site booking.com hotels were at 72 percent full, which had risen to 98 percent by Thursday – Khmer New Year’s Day.

Speaking to Cambodia Investment Review Tim Scott owner of Star Bar and Hotel said: “By Tuesday you could see things were getting crazy and people started to double and triple their prices. Even when the booking sites were reporting 98 percent full, the few hotels that were available were anything from 5-25km away. We had to turn down many a bemused tourist looking for accommodation”. 

Another hotel owner said: “After we saw others raising their prices we simply quadrupled ours and still filled every room with ease”. 

Large scale events such as the Hanuman beer festival returned to Siem Reap after two years of Khmer New Year cancelations.

And it was not just at the lower end that hotels were booked out, with Ewan Taylor, the newly employed General-Manager of the high end Shinta Mani Angkor and Bensley Collection Pool Villas, one of the most prestigious hotels in the city was also fully booked.

He told Cambodia Investment Review: “We’d initially reopened the 10 Bensley Collection Pool Villas in November of last year, but managed to get our 39 Angkor Rooms ready for April 1st, as well as our Kroya Restaurant specifically in time for the new year rush and were at full capacity. The hotel though is not yet fully open, with us planning to reopen the remaining 115 rooms by November”. 

To read more about the Shinta Mani experience in Siem Reap click here.

Yet while the city boasted “100 percent occupancy”, much like the Shinta Mani Angkor Pool Villas not only were many not yet open in full, but the city landscape is still blighted by hotels either in hiatus, or seemingly permanently closed.

This lack of infrastructure had though led to some innovation, with AirBnB seeing an increase in users and customers, while bars such as Charms Lounge had converted staff areas into rooms as an extra revenue source during the celebrations.  

While the revival was indeed welcomed by those in the service industry it was also not indicative of a sea change in the tourist landscape of the city, with Ewan Taylor of Shinta Mani Angkor and Bensley Collection Pool Villas stating: “Prior to Khmer New Year our occupancy was about 28-33 percent with us looking at 40 percent for April, most of which has been local guests, although we have seen many more Singaporean customers since they reopened to tourism. Like everyone we are all still waiting for China to open”.

This was a sentiment echoed by other hotel and hostel owners who stated that occupancy levels had largely hovered around the 30 percent mark, again mostly local guests, with lower-end hostels stating that they were seeing an increase in backpackers on the so-called bamboo trail across Southeast Asia.  

Increased foot traffic not increased spending

As the streets of the city were literally standing room only, this did not necessarily translate into starkly increased revenue, even for bars that had literally opened just for the holidays.

Groups of people in Siem Reap celebrated in traditional Khmer New Year activities but reportedly not spending a lot on food and beverages.

The well-known F&B chain Hard Rock Cafe Siem Reap, which was last open in early 2021, told Cambodia Investment Review: “We are only opening for the four days during the holiday and don’t plan on fully reopening until November at the earliest. It has been busy enough to warrant our opening, but people have not been spending that much”, with the second floor of the well-known brand offering one of the best views of the riverside. 

And it was largely the same throughout Pub Street, with bar owner Sita stating that: “You see bars like Picasso and Temple full of people, but no one is buying big rounds of shots, or high-end liquor”. And this was visible on the busy streets of the city, with most drinkers of Hanuman beer, who once again were heavy sponsors of a major event, rather than drinking in the trendy bars. 

Aside from the hoteliers though the other main winners were the entrepreneurs selling water guns from anywhere between $2-20, with one lady placed on some prime waterfront real-estate saying: “I borrowed money to get my stock, but if I manage to sell everything I will have made a few hundred dollars in four days”. 

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