Business Insider: The Big Cheese in Cambodia's MICE sector

ASIA DMC Founder and CEO Tran Thanh Nam photographed at his office last week in Phnom Penh.
ASIA DMC Founder and CEO Tran Thanh Nam photographed at his office last week in Phnom Penh. Sreng Meng Srun

As the Cambodian tourism market has evolved from attracting intrepid backpackers to large leisure-oriented group tours, ASIA DMC is carving out a niche in the high-end market. The Post’s Kali Kotoski spoke with founder and CEO of the Hanoi-based travel management company, Tran Thanh Nam, about finding more value in Cambodia’s tourism sector and the challenge of marketing the Kingdom as a high-end destination.

What is your company’s involvement in the Cambodian tourism market?
We first established an office in Cambodia in 2005, but we do not have a dedicated headquarters here. For Cambodia, all of our sales, marketing and product development have been done through our Hanoi headquarters. But we have plans to build a dedicated Cambodian branch in the next two years that can operate independently.

Over the last 10 years we have always just focused on selling Cambodia as an add-on to Vietnam. However, now we are seeing Cambodia emerge as an independent destination. For our company, we are already seeing a 40 percent increase this year compared to the same period in 2016.

How important is the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) tourism segment that caters to high-end corporate travel?
The MICE sector is a very important segment for us because they generate the high-income clients who stay in luxury hotels, need catered meals and who have corporations pay for their employees’ trips. We are seeing a lot of growth of the MICE segment primarily from countries in Southeast Asia, India, Turkey, Japan, Hong Kong, China and the Middle East coming to Cambodia.

The MICE segment always comes as big groups and Cambodia can benefit more from these business-oriented travellers than from large leisure group tours because MICE travellers spend more on shopping, events, team-building exercises and gala dinners.

How has the tourism industry changed in Cambodia and what are the challenges for growth?
If you look back over the past 10 years, Siem Reap has always been the preferred spot because of the temples. So, in my opinion, the real challenge is how to expand destinations across the country so that they are not just spending a couple days in Angkor Wat. The country needs to develop new products.

In Cambodia, you have a lot of people talking about Sihanoukville, but I don’t see it as having the infrastructure yet. The beach product is not there yet compared to Vietnam and Thailand.

So what does Sihanoukville need to do to be considered a top tier destination?
I think Sihanoukville should position itself as an untouched family beach destination. The country should not promote it like a “Pattaya” of Cambodia. The government should first build the quiet authenticity of the place for families and honeymooners so they can forget the world. But it also doesn’t need to be expensive.

Do you see its development as a coastal casino resort as problematic?
I think in a developing country like Cambodia the people that are building these casinos and hotels are just trying to make some quick money and attract the big charter and gambling groups. But this is not sustainable if you look at neighbouring destinations that have well-established casinos. If the government only promotes gambling, Sihanoukville will only have visitors that fly in and out, rather than those that stay for weeks or even months to enjoy the beach.

What does the Cambodian government need to do to promote the country?
The government needs to play an active role and spend money. The government should have easily accessible information websites in multiple languages and also be active on social media promotions. If Cambodia can spend on technology, they will attract more travellers.

But of course, the marketing needs to be consistent to bring people to Cambodia and not just pass through the country. Cambodia has a national tourism slogan, but it doesn’t offer anything tangible besides just putting up a photo of Angkor Wat on display at major tourism expos in Europe.

The Ministry of Tourism is always lacking in providing the adequate material to promote the country. Cambodia will need something new, especially in the next 10 years. It needs to define what type of market segment it wants and that is something it is not fully doing. The government needs to spend money now. Nobody knows anything about Cambodia besides Angkor Wat.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.