Around 10,000 feet over Koh Rong, I was on a jet with Peter Kaelli, the CEO of The Unique Collection of Hotels & Resorts, along with business partner Luzi Matsig, looking over what was soon to be their new baby ‘The Royal Sands’ in Koh Rong, Cambodia – the first 5-star resort in Koh Rong.
Why Koh Rong? As the story goes, Kaelli and Matsig were invited to do a site inspection in Sihanoukville of a potential hotel development opportunity. They weren’t too impressed by that particular property, and on the way back they were introduced to‘Koh Rong’ – unspoiled nature that most people haven’t yet heard about.
“We have a good joint venture with the Royal Group who has the lease for the island for 99 years. The Royal Group has a master plan for this island. We are a sub-leaser for 92 years. There is a plan to also build a small runway. We saw a good opportunity so we went ahead. There are not a lot of hotels developing there right now. No big hotel chains yet. We are excited about this project as it is a new destination. There are not a lot of beach resorts in Cambodia. People often choose to go to Thailand or Vietnam” said Kaelli.
He continued “The Royal Sands will be a 5 star resort. Our price range will start from USD$250 per night to USD$1000 per night. It is an eco-friendly resort. We are mindful about what materials we are using, and we have our own water treatment system, waste management and so forth.”
Koh Rong can go head to head with Maldives in terms of quality of water and beach, with a lot more things to do and a lot cheaper. You may ask how to get there? There are direct flights to Sihanoukville and you can then take a Catamaran or helicopter to Koh Rong. In fact, the hotel is building a Catamaran right now for its guests.
“We have less problems with blackouts than we have in Samui” Kealli responded when asked about infrastructure and stability. “We don’t rely on the government – we have our own generators”
With experience in managing beach resorts, Kaelli knows what to expect in terms of building, design and infrastructure.
The challenges that he and his team are facing right now are the new regulations that the Cambodian government came out with a few months ago after they had already signed the construction contract. “Due to this new legal setback, we have to re-locate two rows of villas. We had set the villas 20 meters back according to the original law, but then had to change to 50 meters. Now we have 150 meters more beachfront, taking us to a total of 550 meters of beachfront” The construction is now back in action and the opening date is set for October 2017.
Apart from the name, what makes The Unique Collection ‘unique’?
Kaelli used to be a hotel General Manager, and like many others is now running his own management company. There are however, things that he does differently. “It’s not just selling knowledge. I was committed to it at the beginning. I invested in my team since day one. I invested in people. There are a lot of consultants out there but not many fully managed consultant companies. We are a small company with 45 staff, with a full team of accounting, PR and marketing staff. We manage and develop hotels and have been doing it for 11 years.”
“We don’t standardize things. Everything we build, we think of how to make it different. There are a lot of clients out there that don’t want brand experience because brand has become too standardized, predictable while we give different feelings everywhere we build. We can share the resources it’s cost effective.”
Now it was time to ask him a more direct question – “Are you expensive?”
Peter said the right question isn’t how much the fee is but how much profit can the company generate. He also added that there are no cross charges, no hidden costs, and includes accounting, training, PR and marketing all done in house – so it’s very cost effective.
Sometime the banks come to Peter to seek help because they financed bad hotels and want The Unique Collection to help these hotels improve financially.
“We are not magicians. There is a limit too, and sometimes it’s a case of ‘good product, bad location’, or ‘bad product, good location’. It’s my job to see if we can really turn it around”