Swiss-based luxury hotel group Kempinski opened its first hotel in Myanmar to great fanfare last November, when US President Barack Obama stayed in the Kempinski Hotel Nay Pyi Taw during the ASEAN Summit. The hotel’s general manager Franck Droin talked to Frontier about the challenges ahead and the emergence of Nay Pyi Taw as a travel destination.
Why does Kempinski run a hotel in Nay Pyi Taw?
We came [to Myanmar] with the aim of opening a hotel in Yangon and were asked by our local partner, Kanbawza, to open a hotel in Nay Pyi Taw. Seeing that Nay Pyi Taw is growing very quickly, we saw that there is potential here. Kanbawza own the hotel and we agreed to manage it. It is a good practice ground here of understanding, learning and training our staff to the standards we want, to make sure we are ready for the opening of our second hotel in Yangon.
Are there any plans beyond Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw?
Not at the moment. We are a company that has been operating hotels since 1897 and we believe that luxury is limited. So in Myanmar we will be having two hotels, maybe three, but not 20.
What are the biggest challenges you face running a hotel in Nay Pyi Taw?
As a hotelier, it is to create awareness of Nay Pyi Taw as a destination. It has a lot to offer, especially as a MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) destination. There are a lot of hotels, there is very good convention space and there is the know-how, because in a very quick time, Nay Pyi Taw was able to host the ASEAN Summit, the ATF (ASEAN Tourism Forum) and other important events, so they know how to do it.
Now the aim is create more awareness for people to come. Nay Pyi Taw is five times the size of Berlin, there are 4,000 hotel rooms, there is a shopping mall, a zoo, there are museums and parks, but there is the perception of Nay Pyi Taw not being open to the world. I have lived here for one year and I have to say that more and more people are coming.
How do you change perceptions about the capital?
We have just hosted the Eco-Tourism conference and people really enjoyed being here. There is space, there are no transportation issues, the service and food are good, and the hotels and the airport are fine as well. So there is a lot of leverage here.
I believe that many Myanmar people like to travel and to see new places. Nay Pyi Taw is definitely a place where not a lot of people visit. Many people have never been to Nay Pyi Taw before, and they can go to the zoo or to the gardens, so there are things for Myanmar people to do to come and visit the capital. Last month, tourists were authorised to visit parliament. I think this is interesting and educational for tourists.
What is the occupancy rate and what is your target audience?
We have 141 rooms and our current hotel occupancy rate is 46 percent. Nay Pyi Taw is attracting more international hotel operators, how do you differentiate yourself from them? I think in terms of training our staff to a particular level, as well as the level of food that we offer. To have President Obama stay here was also a very good opening for us.