Interview with Jacques Guichandut, Managing Director of All Dreams Cambodia and Tourism & Hospitality Committee Chairman

This week, we interviewed Jacques Guichandut, Managing Director of All Dreams Cambodia and Chairman of the Tourism and Hospitality Committee. Mr. Guichandut has long been promoting Cambodia as a premier tourist destination, working with the government and the private sector to showcase everything the country has to offer. His work in the sector was commemorated by the Ministry of Tourism in September 2022 when he officially became the official Representative of the Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia to France, Switzerland, Belgium, Monaco, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

EuroCham: The last time we visited, Covid was still a major problem, and now that we've come out of Covid, a new set of challenges has emerged for international tourism. How is tourism faring in Cambodia and how is it changing to adapt to modern challenges?

Jacques: I would say it’s bad. We need to face reality, you can go to Siem Reap and there’s not many people there, apparently the hotel occupancy rate is about 6%. It’s even worse than COVID times because locals are not traveling so much either. I’ve seen this coming for quite some time, but people didn’t realise what it would be like.

It's still partly linked to COVID. The medical effects are gone but people have changed the way they travel and Cambodia has historically been seen as a travel extension and not a destination in itself. People also don’t think to come to Cambodia because of the price of a ticket. A key issue is that to come here from abroad, from Europe or the US, it’s expensive.

It's around $1,500 round trip from Europe, whereas you can fly round trip to New York for €450. So that’s the issue and for us, during the summer, many people want to come here but when they start to look for the price of flights, it was too expensive.

So these are two key points I will say that’s been affecting the business. 

If you look at the statistics as well, we may have had 2.2 million tourists last year, but about 1.4 million were from Thailand or Vietnam, and only abour 3% of these toursists bought tickets to Angkor Wat. We do have some increases in regional tourism, but most long-haul destinations are far down from 2019 levels. For example, arrivals form Thailand have jumped 400% since 2019, but arrivals from China are doan 80%, and arrivals from western countries are all down as well.

One part to solving this is improving the marketing, which can come from a collaborative effort between the public and private sector. There is a slogan “Every day is wonder” and it needs to be pushd more to fully reveal how amazing a destination Cambodia really is. It’s not just Angkor Wat, it’s other destinations, and more importantly, the warmth and hospitality of the people.

EuroCham: The EuroCham Tourism and Hospitality Committee recently co-hosted the 7 to 14 Days Cambodia event. Could you explain the basic premise of the event and was it a success?

Jacques: For me, it was a big success for two reasons: We managed to get all the key players in the tourism industry together to find answers to issues that are facing us all. It’s easier to find solutions when we are all working on them together. The event was productive, we’ve selected a few key issues.
We are planning to present these issues to the Ministry of Tourism to see how the private sector can help the government to promote Cambodia as a standalone destination.

EuroCham: All Dreams is known to be community-oriented and sustainable. One example of this is the One Plastic Campaign. How did that campaign come about and how else does All Dreams give back to the community?

Jacques: First of all, I would like to say that I see the government has been paying a lot of attention to the plastic issue, which is a great sign. There are so many small efforts taking place on this issue across the country, and it’s great to see. But we do need to have a sort of national campaign, where it’s much easier to promote than small actions. This was the idea of #OneStepNoPlastic, to be able to bring together actors in the tourism industry on this issue. 

We did succeed in that, and did quite well together. Even smaller companies with two or three staff sent people to help out, so that was great to see.

EuroCham: During our ASEAN-Cambodian Business Summit, All Dreams will be offering a Tour of Phnom Penh for interested participants. Could you give us a brief preview of the tour?

Jacques: Yes we will offer a small tour of Phnom Penh following the summit, with visits to the Sosoro Museum and Royal Palace. If participants have the time afterwards, we’d like to propose an extension as well, for anyone that wants to extend their stay in Cambodia and visit places like the Kampot area, or even Kratie.

EuroCham: We have heard you say before Cambodia needs to be known as a tourist destination for more than Angkor Wat. With that in mind, what are your top three alternative destinations in Cambodia for someone who hasn't been here before?

Jacques: Some people don’t view Phnom Penh as an attractive city, but it has changed so much over the past few years. So you can easily spend three or four days here. We discussed this at the recent 7-14 days event as well. It was meant to say to the world, you can stay seven to 14 days in Cambodia and have plenty to do. 

Once you have enough time to see what Phnom Penh has to offer, of course we have the coastal areas, the islands with beautiful beaches, and it’s still not so much polluted by mass tourism. The development happening in Siem Reap, and in Kep and Kampot, for me this is every positive. Things are still being developed but the wider project itself is a very good thing for Cambodia.

As I said before, too, it’s not just the destination, it’s the people. GIZ conducted a recent study analyzing tourists’ image of Cambodia before and after they visited the Kingdom. Not surprisingly, almost 50% of the 791 visitors surveyed thought of Angkor Wat, nature, and history before they visited Cambodia. Only about 10% considered the locals and the lifestyle as a prominent factor. However, after visiting Cambodia, this number ballooned to over 62%. 

There is vast potential still in the sector, and this can be realized with better national marketing campaigns and by advertising Cambodia as a sole destination, not an extension. Beyond Angkor Wat, there is so much to explore, and so many amazing people to meet.

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