THE HOTEL THAT GIVES AND GIVES
There’s a lot more soul to this hotel than just luxury
There’s more soul to boutique hotel group Shinta Mani than just luxury
From luxurious accommodation, great food, memorable excursions and indulgent pampering, great guest experiences are the goal of most luxury hotels in Asia. But behind the scenes, many of them also go the extra unseen and unsung mile of giving back to the communities they work in, some more so than others. Luxury boutique hotel group Shinta Mani in Siem Reap, Cambodia, is an impressive example. In its portfolio are boutique hotels Shinta Mani Shack and Shinta Mani Angkor in Siem Reap, as well as upcoming Shinta Mani Angkor Bill Bensley Collection and Shinta Mani Wild, both of which open late this year.
While high-end holiday-makers enjoy pampering stays at its properties, part of the Shinta Mani Group’s revenue funds its own foundation, which runs a plethora of community programmes mainly in the form of education, healthcare programmes and ‘direct assistance’.
The Shinta Mani Foundation (SMF) was founded in 2004 by Sokoun Chanpreda, a Cambodian businessman and the owner of the Shinta Mani hotels. This not-for-profit organisation started on the grounds of the group’s first hotel, the Shinta Mani Shack, in the form of its own hospitality school—one of the first in the country. Here, underprivileged students are taught international-standard hotel operations free of charge, with their meals, accommodation and materials provided and a small stipend of money and rice given to help their families. Says Brad Akins, Director of Shinta Mani Foundation, “We work together with other organisations to find at-risk students—at risk of being taken advantage of. These include women, which comprise 50 per cent or more of our students, orphans and displaced people.”
Students would be picked based on their desire to learn, their needs and suitability. Once in, they are taught skills in areas ranging from culinary and housekeeping to front office and spa therapy, as well as English, computer and general life skills, including personal finance and health. The 10-month training programme sees about 24 students each year. The idea is clear—to give the underprivileged youth a leg up in life, and the skills to find meaningful employment for themselves.
While Shinta Mani hotels hire many of their own graduates—a testimony of putting your money where your mouth is—a low turnover of staff prevents them from hiring more. However, Akins says they have a “100 per cent hiring rate from graduation”, with most graduates finding employment in other hotels in the area, including “three of the largest international hotel chains in Siem Reap”.
The SMF has the satisfaction of knowing that their impact is long term, and has helped push local standards in tourism. “We have former students working all over Siem Reap and many in really good hotels in good positions. I know of former students who are now general managers of small hotels,
executive chefs [specialising in] Khmer food, rooms directors. It is really cool to see them doing well,” he adds.
With tourism being one of the largest engines of Cambodia’s economy, the hospitality school has made significant impact. “I think we helped set the standard [in the hotel scene] here in Siem Reap,” says Akins. “We were among the first to provide hospitality training, and it’s something that has really grown with so many organisations offering courses and training now. And, I think because of our example and the attention we had received for the programs, we had a hand in encouraging this development. Because these students and others like them have become so proficient in their work, it has had a direct impact on the guest’s experience. It’s been really good for the entire community.”
And then, there’s its ‘small business start-up’ programme which offers microfinance loans to start a business or get a university degree. The SMF has given a leg-up to over 60 small businesses to date, ranging from farms and tailors and food shops, to motorcycle repair workshops and tuk-tuks. According to them, repayment of loans are used to fund new ones.
FOOD & HEALTH
Not long ago, the foundation expanded its education programme by setting up the Farming Development Centre to help improve the lot of young Khmer villagers in the countryside. Collaborating with the World Vegetable Center and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), it is researching vegetable varietals that can thrive in the country’s harsh climate and producing seed kits to grow home gardens designed to feed a family of four with their daily vegetable nutrient intake. With this, the
foundation plans to teach 1,900 families in the Siem Reap area to grow their own vegetables. In this way, it hopes to help create a sustainable food supply and reduce malnutrition in the countryside.
The foundation also works with international organisations to bring in dentists and doctors to provide medical check-ups and treatments to villagers in rural areas, without which many ailments would go untreated. More recently, the foundation, with the help of renowned designer Bill Bensley and business concern Kohler Executives, provided over 300 water filters which provide clean water to health centres and hospitals, schools for displaced children and in-need families.
Currently, Shinta Mani is busy opening a new resort, Shinta Mani Wild – Bensley Collection, a luxury tented camp resort in the wilderness of Tmor Rung, two hours’ drive from Phnom Penh. Comprising 16 elevated luxury tents and located along 1.5 kilometres of river and waterfalls, the resort is where guests can “feast on delicacies grown and foraged from the surrounding land and encounter extraordinary wildlife”.
Significantly, the sustainable tourism resort will also double up as a research and conservation centre. According to Akins, they are hoping to partner with a great organisation for animal protection and forestry. “But it’s also a community project. We want the local people to realise how important their natural habitat is, and if taken care of, how it can also provide opportunities for employment,” he says.
Cleverly integrating Shinta Mani’s not-for-profit activities with its for-profit hotel operations, Shinta Mani has helped about 1,400 families get access to clean water, treated over 12,000 students in its dental clinics, given 60 entrepreneurs loans to start a business, built 99 homes for families, given out over 800 bicycles for students and families, and helped build schools. For Akins, though, numbers alone are not that important. “Our stated vision is to see a strong prosperous Cambodia where each individual has access to education and opportunities for the betterment of their lives... And we are seeing it, family by family, using what little help we can give, pulling themselves out of poverty and giving their children a better future.”
Above Celebrated designer Bill Bensley during his visit to SMF village
Above Shinta Mani Angkor