Peter Olszewski profiles Ashley Lai, general manager of Courtyard by Marriott Siem Reap.
A University of Hawaii graduate, Ashley Lai was so determined to make a success of her posting as general manager of the new Courtyard by Marriott Siem Reap Resort that she came to Temple Town in May 2016, about twenty months before the property actually opened in January this year.
“I may have been here a little longer than usual at a pre-opening stage of the property,” she says.
“But it was very crucial to ensure that the first Marriott in Cambodia and only one of three Courtyard resorts in Asia Pacific opens in an amazing way.”
Marriott is increasing its footprint in Southeast Asia and especially in Cambodia, with the newly opened Siem Reap property blazing the trail. Other Marriott hotels are slated to open in Phnom Penh in 2021 and in Sihanoukville in 2022, to capitalise in part in the Chinese tourism surge.
The China National Tourism Administration estimates China’s travelers will take 700 million trips over the next five years.
With rising incomes, China’s burgeoning middle class is looking for quality travel, and both Marriott and Cambodia are poised to benefit.
“The force of numbers from Chinese tourism is already revolutionising Cambodia’s tourism industry,” Ashley says.
“It does benefit us as well, as Marriott is popular in China. We are starting to see many young and affluent Chinese looking for something comfortable and trendy booking with us.”
According to Ashley, the Siem Reap’s Courtyard’s current customer base is about 30 percent Chinese, with Singapore, Japan, and Korea also the hotels’ key source markets, including the US due to the power of Marriott brand and the Marriott Rewards scheme.
But Ashley Lai is also looking beyond the Chinese market and hopes to boost occupancy rates – wooing the international business market by tapping into the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) tourism segment, and by promoting a “bleisure” concept – getting business guests to the extend their stay for leisure purposes.
Ashley is adamant that the MICE market is a good fit with her hotel because it’s in Courtyard’s DNA to target business travel customers.
“This means that the MICE segment can perfectly complement the leisure segment and help to provide a more constant flow of activities and visitors, therefore allowing the creation of more jobs and more stability,” she says.
“It is in our commitment to serve not just our customers but also the community as a whole. Many companies are also seeking to be more adventurous and not return to the common MICE destinations such as Bangkok, Bali and Singapore. Therefore we see the opportunity here in Siem Reap, as we are well equipped to cater to their needs.”
The majority of hotel guest-stays in Siem Reap is relatively brief – usually about three days or so – and Ashley hopes the Courtyard marketing strategies can convince guests to break the short-term habit.
“That is why we are promoting ‘Bleisure’,” she says.
“Many tourists travelling for business purposes will extend their stay in order to spend a few days discovering the destination. These tourist profiles are also those who opt for more premium services and tend to use additional services.”
“A heavy focus on marketing Cambodia as a one country destination with different experiences and sights to offer will only be of benefit so that guests stop seeing Cambodia as only an extension of their visit to neighbouring countries.”
Ashley also plans to boost the Courtyard’s revenue by convincing Siem Reap residents to use some of the hotel’s fine facilities.
“Public spaces play such a critical role in supporting either the travellers’ or the locals’ needs – from dining, to meeting, to socializing,” she says.
“So we put extraordinary thought into creating spaces that would cater to them and exceed their expectations.”
“We have been promoting our Quan Spa to local clientele, as well as our roof top bar, Upper Deck. This bar offers a breathtaking panorama of Angkor Wat on the horizon, and brilliant sunsets to the west. The bar is equipped with giant telescopes, and serves a distinctive menu of unique, contemporary creations that mark this as Cambodia’s ultimate chic lounge.
“Other facilities include our all-day dining restaurant Lok Lak, our bar The Lounge, our meeting spaces including our Grand Room, and a Kids Club that includes a mini playground designed for the little ones. It’s a safe, fun, and educational place for children to play as they learn.”