Cambodian tourism has been severely affected by COVID-19 as international visitors coming to this country are believed to have dropped by 55 percent in the first six months of the year. It was a big change from last year when they rose 11.2 percent in the same period. As of May, government data shows COVID-19 forced the closure of nearly 3,000 tourism-based businesses and left more than 45,045 staff members unemployed. The impact of COVID-19 forced many tourism-based business owners to close down but some diversified into other enterprises to survive. Khmer Times’ reporter Sok Chan spoke to Thourn Sinan, Chairman of B2B Cambodia and chief executive officer of Temple Paint, who temporarily closed his business when COVID-19 struck and has diversified to another enterprise to survive.
KT: In what way did COVID-19 hurt your business in tourism?
Sinan: My tourism business was badly affected because of COVID-19. It killed all my tourism and expo businesses. Because COVID-19 is unprecedented and we had little savings to sustain the business, we could not manage to continue. We needed a new business plan because we were unprepared for the pandemic. We needed something to recover and support it to grow in a short time. At present, the tourism-based business does not work and gets zero profit. Therefore, some tourism-based business owners got depressed and some started a new business to survive.
KT: It pushed you to start another new business. How many cases of tourism-based business owners have you observed that they do this?
Sinan: Yes, I am running another business because I could not wait for tourists to return. But it does not mean I have given up my tourism-based business. There are no specific figures but I have seen many business owners transforming their enterprises to food and beverages and agriculture or started importing products from a foreign country into the Kingdom. They did whatever they could quickly.
KT: You launched into the paint business. Why did you decide to go to the construction sector, and the paint business specifically?
Sinan: Honestly speaking, I did not have any plan for running a business in construction. I used to think about real estate but not construction but because COVID-19 killed my businesses, what should I do? If I do agriculture, it needs time to start up and it takes longer to see rewards. So I saw the paint business as an opportunity.
Construction was also affected but it still has a market and few Cambodian paint products are available on the market. There are more than 20 paint brands in the Kingdom, but only two brands represent Cambodian products so I had to do something different. The paint business is sustainable and I could start it up early – within two to three months. The market is a fight but I believe Cambodian people will put their trust in and support Khmer products.
KT: Your new business is still young in the market compared with other products that have already built up their brands for years. How did you compete? Was it uniqueness and quality?
Sinan: Our product is different from others in terms of design and brand and its quality. Temple Paint brand is linked to Cambodian temples. We have three grades – Koh Ke paint, at a lower price, Banteay Srey paint at a medium price and Angkor Wat Paint – our premium product. We want Cambodians to support Khmer products, so we have to give them a choice.
We saw a lot of promotion on temples in the tourism sector, but we rarely saw promotion of our temples in the construction sector. Therefore, through my products, I will promote temples in the construction sector. We are not ambitious to manage to sell our products in the local market, but we have cooperated with foreign markets. Our quality paint can compare with imported paint products from Korea and Japan and France.
We can ensure quality and difference from others. Our products do not smell bad. We also guarantee the quality of the paint for up to 10 years. A container of the waterproof exterior wall paint consists of 20 litres, while others offer only 18 litres. Our containers can cover three to four metres or up to 80 square metres for a full container of paint.
Our product’s price is not expensive, but not cheap. We think about the income of the people. If it is expensive, people will not be able to afford it. However, if it is cheap, what is the quality? Because some people want cheap products they don’t care about quality. In Cambodia, some paint is cheap, but quality lasts only four to five months. Therefore, they have to buy a new one soon.
KT: Some paints can affect human health and the environment. How is Temple paint different? What is the production volume and sales distribution?
Sinan: Business now must care about the environment and human health. Our paint substance does not include chemicals that affect human health. Our raw materials are safe for human health and the environment. It is not a risky to breathe or hurt eyes. Some of our raw materials are local and some are imported from China, but processed and packaged in Cambodia. We can produce around 200,000 units of paint or more than this monthly according to market demand. We have 11 chains of production so we are not concerned about supply. Now, we have started distributing Temple paint to the provinces, especially Sihanoukville. We focus only on big projects for the moment, but we will reach out to households in the next few months.
KT: What do you think about the competition and challenges?
Sinan: If we compare our products with other products, the competition is limited. There is not high competition. A lot of companies keeps their prices stable so they do not use price for competition. Construction is a big sector, but it has yet to hit tough competition like other sectors, so there is a gap for us.
The challenges are never finished. We used to wear smart suits when we welcomed tourists. Now we wear flip-flops at the construction sites. But the challenges are that we have started a new business. People do not know us but we have to make ourselves easily recognised. They can test our products and use us. We are very new. It is only our second month in business. We can sell around 1,000 containers of paint each month. Our factory production will run at full capacity soon.
KT: What is your next plan?
Sinan: We have taken our first step. Now we have paint products. We have started in the construction sector. Then I will think of more light products in the construction sector that are less in supply in the country. That is our future plan. Within one year, our brand will be recognised. It is our Cambodian brand.