Sofitel loses Dalat but gains Phnom Penh in Southeast Asia


BANGKOK (eTN) – Just two-and-half years after celebrating the opening of its 300th hotel in Asia, Accor Asia Pacific celebrated earlier in 2010 its 400th property. The group forecasts to pass the 500 hotels mark by 2012.

Some brand adjustments have, however, been made. Sofitel Luxury Hotel’s ambition is to become the premier French and European ambassador of international hospitality – a position currently led by American and Asian groups. In early 2008, Sofitel announced this repositioned vision for the brand. A new logo has been introduced, while an ultimate distinction “Legend” was created within Sofitel Luxury Hotels. Repositioning Sofitel into the Accor ultimate luxury brand has translated into a slowdown in its expansion. In 2009, some 50 properties were rebranded (mostly into Pullman or M-Gallery) to give a more homogenous image for Sofitel. All remaining properties will have been fully renovated by 2012.

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With Asian tourism roaring back, Sofitel is also growing in Southeast Asia, albeit at a slower pace. In Southeast Asia, the luxury chain has a portfolio of 9 properties in Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The most famous of them is the Sofitel Legend Metropole in Hanoi, an architectural masterpiece dating back to the French colonial times. The chain, however, recently lost another colonial property. Effective October of this year, the Sofitel Palace Hotel in the mountain resort of Dalat has been rebranded into the Dalat Palace Hotel. “The owner Dalat Resort Incorporation (DRI) did not renew the contract with us,” explained Anthony Slewka-Armfelt, regional director of sales for Sofitel South East Asia.

Sofitel is, however, turning its eyes to its newest flagship in Cambodia. The Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra is due to open by the end of the year. “It is a modern building, but it will have a distinctive colonial flavor, especially for the restaurants, the spa, and the meeting rooms,” added Mr. Slewka-Armfelt. The property is set riverside amongst landscaped gardens in an old French quarter of Cambodia’s capital and will offer 210 luxurious rooms and suites overlooking the Mekong River. Opening on December 11, the hotel will be play[ing] host to the coming Asean Travel Forum, due to take place from January 15 to 21. “We will host a series of meetings from ASEAN tourism bodies, and we will be one of the official hotels for delegates,” told Dider Lammot, Sofitel Phnom Penh GM. The Sofitel will have the capital’s largest ballroom with 1,800 square meters.

Another exciting development is the opening of two Sofitels in Bangkok by next year. The trendy brand SO Bangkok by Sofitel will be located on Sathorn Road facing Lumpini Park. It will be distinctively contemporary, targeting young Asian urbanites and will offer 230 rooms. The Sofitel Sukhumvit will also open at the end of next year. The construction has been delayed by a year following the slump into the hotel market in Bangkok earlier this year. “We are now confident that the hotel will open on time. With 345 rooms, it will be another exciting property in our portfolio in Thailand’s capital,” said Mr. Slewka-Armfelt.

Despite Sofitel withdrawing from Dalat, there are more exciting projects for Accor in Vietnam. “Vietnam has always been considered as one of the strategic markets in Southeast Asia for Accor, which is demonstrated through Accor’s early entrance and consistent growth in the country since 1991,” said Patrick Basset, vice president of operations for Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan.

Accor plans to expand the number of brands on offer in Vietnam to include upscale products such as Pullman and MGallery, through to the more economical ibis hotel brand. By 2013, Accor will open 5 Pullman hotels in the country (Danang, Hanoi, Hai Phong, Ho Chi Minh City, and Vung Tao). A second MGallery, Hotel De L’Opera in Hanoi will open before year-end, while three Novotels – Novotel Imperial Hoi An, Novotel Resort Phu Quoc, and Novotel Saigon Centre – will be completed by early 2011. A new Mercure will also be completed in Hanoi, while the first Ibis hotel in Vietnam has been announced for Ho Chi Minh City in 2012.

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1979), beginning as a travel agent up through today as a publisher of eTurboNews (eTN), one of the world’s most influential and most-read travel and tourism publications. He is also Chairman of ICTP. His experiences include working and collaborating with various national tourism offices and non-governmental organizations, as well as private and non-profit organizations, and in planning, implementing, and quality control of a range of travel and tourism-related activities and programs, including tourism policies and legislation. His major strengths include a vast knowledge of travel and tourism from the point of view of a successful private enterprise owner, superb networking skills, strong leadership, excellent communication skills, strong team player, attention to detail, dutiful respect for compliance in all regulated environments, and advisory skills in both political and non-political arenas with respect to tourism programs, policies, and legislation. He has a thorough knowledge of current industry practices and trends and is a computer and Internet junkie.