As the Park Hyatt lands in Siem Reap, Sholto Smith will steer one of the Kingdom’s most anticipated new hotels
By Sacha Passi
Within minutes of meeting Sholto Smith, general manager of Park Hyatt Siem Reap, it becomes clear that he is a man with a presence – and not simply because he stands 206cm tall. Rather, it is Smith’s attention to detail that sets him apart: Immaculately dressed, he points out small elements of design that bring the hotel together.
Formerly the Hôtel de la Paix, the Park Hyatt Siem Reap’s opening follows a 12-month redesign of the luxury stalwart and artistic hub.
“This hotel really is your ideal little boutique Park Hyatt, where the emphasis is not on big meetings and car launches, or gargantuan gathering spaces for thousands of people,” Smith said. “The focus here is not that we want to come into the market and stick out like a sore thumb. We’re very sympathetic to local culture and local design, so there is a lot of Khmer influence. The big focus for us is really bringing the global brand of Hyatt to Siem Reap.”
While ownership of the hotel has not changed since its Hôtel de la Paix days, Smith says that the refurbishment and Park Hyatt rebranding will connect it with a global network and industry expertise that will ease daily operations and encourage even more high-end travellers to Siem Reap, which saw tourist arrivals leap by 8.6% to 694,729 during the first quarter of 2013, compared to the same period last year.
The fusion of ancient Khmer design with a hint of art deco is the brainchild of Bill Bensley, who first redesigned the hotel in 2005 and was commissioned again in 2012. His trademark style of dark woods and contrasting whites are still evident throughout, as are pink hues and splashes of silver. This is best highlighted in the Livingroom – a space divided into an informal check-in area, a library and a bar – which Smith describes as like “opening a jewellery box” upon entering. “I have not seen a single person walk in there and not say, ‘Wow!’,” he added.
Park Hyatt Siem Reap will continue to work with local artists and charities, as Hôtel de la Paix did in the past, says Smith, noting that the hotel will be one of the venues hosting the 9th Angkor Photo Festival later this year. Sasha Constable, a British contemporary artist known for her small weapons sculptures in Battambang and Kampong Thom provinces, will work as a curator to integrate local artisans into the hotel’s fold.
Although this is Smith’s first venture into hotel rebranding, he is confident that with the full support of a local and international team behind him, the hotel will slip back into its previous role as a local institution in temple town.
“Obviously we’re in the dollars and cents business, but I also think it’s more than that with this project,” he said. “We really want to be accepted back into the market, but we also want to be a game changer for accommodation standards in Siem Reap.”
“Better with age” – Chivas Brothers’ James Maxwell hopes to capitalise on Southeast Asia’s burgeoning love affair with Scotch whisky
“Back to the future” – Harald Link of B.Grimm Group will lean on his company’s rich history in Thailand as the conglomerate goes regional