Thursday, 20 March 2008

Tiny, innovative Cambodian hotel offers big service

By Amy Bradley-Hole
Travel columnist

March 19, 2008

It sometimes feels like there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to the hotel industry. I get daily press releases in my inbox: “We’ve gone green!” “You can buy our bedding online!” “We won an award!” Blah, blah, blah. Frankly, hotels are a little boring these days. But I recently heard about a unique property in Cambodia, and it really piqued my interest. It’s a cool concept that I hope spreads.

The One Hotel, in Siem Reap’s Old Market area in Angkor, Cambodia, is all about a singular guest experience. The One has only one room. If you’re the guest at this hotel, you’re the big cheese. The staff members have one role — taking care of you. And this one-room hotel is luxurious. Guests sleep on a king-size bed dressed with Frette linens, stargaze on a rooftop terrace from their own personal Jacuzzi, watch a flat-screen LCD TV, and enjoy their own iPod, iBook and personal mobile phone.

So we’ve got personalized and attentive service, stunning accommodations and a great location. This place has got to be expensive, like those private villas that cost tens of thousands of dollars for a week, right? Not at all. At around $250 a night, The One has relatively low rates. As owner Martin Dishman explains, it’s “affordable exclusivity.”

Dishman moved to Cambodia with the intention of opening his own hotel. First, he managed an existing property and then opened a bar across the street from a friend’s photography gallery.
When the building next to the gallery became available, Dishman knew it was the perfect place to house his dream hotel. He had planned on it having a few rooms, but the building was small. Even if Dishman offered only two rooms, they’d be cramped and plain, and they would command only about $50 a night.

“Then the idea hit me,” Dishman says. “One room! Make it amazing, five-star, every amenity and more and — best of all — price it at level that is in line with the deluxe rooms at competing five-star hotels. An exclusive place, with charm and cachet, offering an affordable rate.” And thus The One was born.

Ever the efficient hotel manager, I thought to myself, “How does he staff the place?”
I mean, if you go through a slow period and don’t have any bookings, do you have to lay everyone off? What does the chef do when the one guest wants to eat out? What does the masseuse do if the guest hates back rubs? At a large property, there’s always a guest who needs you or needs some sort of busywork to be done. So do the employees get paid to sit around and do nothing?

Not really. Remember, Dishman’s got that bar across the street. The employees at Linga Bar are responsible for providing food and beverage service at The One. He’s also recently opened a small sister hotel, the Hotel Be Angkor, in the same area, which gives him some more staff flexibility. And specialty staff, like drivers and spa service providers, is contracted on an as-needed basis.

Dishman is a pretty hands-on boss. He usually greets each guest at check-in, and he makes himself personally available to guests during the stay — he even gives guests his personal mobile phone number. How many hotel managers do you know that do that? But Dishman doesn’t have to do too much, as he’s trained his staff of 15 well and trusts them to meet his high standards. He’s lucky that there’s a local hospitality school, the Shinta Mani Institute of Hospitality, whose trainees he can hire, but he looks for anyone with English skills and a desire to work hard and learn.

Ever the skeptic, I still had lots of questions for Dishman. Like, what happens if you screw up and overbook? He agreed that it’s “impossible to overbook.” The property’s only been overbooked on one night, and Dishman graciously took care of the situation.

But here’s a sure sign that Dishman is crazy: The One doesn’t require a minimum stay, or a credit-card guarantee or even a deposit. You read that right. Because the hotel is not overwhelmed with bookings, staff has the time to give guests personal attention before their arrival. The One employees are constantly confirming and reconfirming their guests’ travel details, so there are seldom any unexpected no-shows or people trying to extend their stays. In fact, The One has had only one no-show since it opened in April 2006.

The One is also a bit of a hidden gem. Dishman doesn’t really advertise the property, though he does spread the word about his hotel through some public relations efforts. Most reservations come from Internet booking engines and travel agents. But word-of-mouth on the property must be great, because The One already has a 60 percent occupancy rate for this year.
Is one The One enough? Not if Dishman has his way. He’s eager to test his concept in other areas, but it’s an expensive proposition.

“Maybe some investors will come along to back us,” Dishman says. “But I am not interested in giving up any control, and I know exactly what I am doing, so I will look at silent investors, but not partnerships. Otherwise, I will grow the business at my own pace.”

I don’t blame him one bit. I think there’s a niche market for a hotel that makes each and every guest feel like, well, the only guest, and I don’t think he should tinker too much with his concept.

If you happen to be on your way to Angkor, check out The One. The room rate is $250 per night, plus tax, for single or double occupancy. The One offers some cool packages, including my favorite, the Good Karma package, which gives guests a chance to work with and donate to local charities. Taking care of the locals is very important to Dishman, and for that, I admire him very much. If you think The One is cool, but you’re traveling with more than two people, don’t despair. Remember, Dishman also runs the Hotel Be, which can easily handle the overflow for a larger party.


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