Siem Reap’s newly-refurbished Les Bambous Luxury Hotel has an unorthodox business plan. It specializes in charging groups of up to eight people $25 per head to be locked in one of four special rooms until they can escape. The hotel’s new money-making initiative is all part of a global game phenomenon called ‘escape rooms,’ and it’s a first for Siem Reap.
Last July, MarketWatch reported that, “Part game, part theater, part team-building exercise, escape rooms are taking off around the world. And the growth has been explosive.”
The South China Morning Post wrote that the new game in Hong Kong struck a chord with “highly stressed students and overworked young professionals and students” who literally looked for a way to escape.
The games are particularly popular with computer buff-types who are attracted by the novelty of actually dealing with real live people in what is essentially a computer or video game concept. The first escape games emerged in Silicon Valley in 2006 and the concept spread globally, becoming especially popular in Asia.
A Kyoto publishing company, Scrap, developed the Real Escape Game in 2008 and escape games appeared in Singapore in 2011. Permanent escape rooms, such as the ones in Siem Reap, were first opened in Asia.
The escape rooms in Siem Reap started operating in January this year but it wasn’t until March that word spread and guest escapees were recruited by flyers handed out in the town’s busy Pub Street and in other hotels.
The ‘City of Temples’ escape room. Supplied
The Siem Reap escape rooms have been incorporated as a permanent fixture into the Les Bambous Luxury Hotel by a franchise company called EscapeBreak, which also has two outlets in Thailand. The franchise is owned by Simon Gould, a Singapore-based Brit in partnership with the hotel owner ‘Tommy’, aka Rithy Sam, a Phnom Penh-based business man.
Day-to-day operations are run by a core group of savvy young Filipinos headed by EscapeBreak general manager Mark Lampano.
“Our real life room escape game experience, where teams are locked into a themed game room and must work together to carefully search for clues, solve puzzles, and attempt to escape within 60 minutes, has reached the Number 2 Fun and Games in Siem Reap on TripAdvisor,” Lampano says.
He adds that each of the four escape rooms at the hotel can accommodate up to eight players, but larger groups in town for team building or on company retreats are entertained by “fun games” while waiting their turn to enter an escape room.
Assistant general manager Albin Bautista is also the senior escape master, and he was recruited from a technical support job at a Philippines call centre.
He says he’d never heard of escape rooms before applying, adding that at first he thought the job was online and was surprised to discover he’d be working with real live game players.
“To play, all you need to do is form a group, and choose a theme room,” he says. “You then get locked in that room and all you have to do is search for the clues scattered everywhere,”
But he admits that the clues are difficult and hence a short explanatory video is available for players, plus Albin himself gives expert advice.
The most popular of the four themed rooms at the hotel is the Angkor-inspired City of Temples room, and the most difficult to escape from is Outbreak, based on an “ultrasecretive Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.”
While most people, after some coaching, can nut out their escape from three of the rooms, Outbreak is extremely difficult, with an 80% fail rate according to Albin.
But it seems for Cambodia there is no escaping the escape room phenomenon; the EscapeBreak outfit, intent on capturing more of the market, will open a Phnom Penh outlet in late August or early September this year.
Les Bambous Luxury Hotel
Address: Kruos, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
Phone:+855 63 966 226