Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Serving his clients and his country, he creates jobs while boosting Cambodian tourism

Vacation Visionaries.

Sokoun Chanpreda

Serving his clients and his country, he creates jobs while boosting Cambodian tourism


Cambodia has some of the world's most beautiful temples, but they are surrounded by dusty villages mired in extreme poverty. For the country's tourism trade, that would seem like a drawback. For entrepreneur Sokoun Chanpreda, it looked more like an opportunity-- a chance to put an industry with jobs to fill together with people who need the work.

At the Shinta Mani, an 18-room boutique hotel Sokoun founded near Angkor Wat, that's just what's going on. The hotel's hospitality institute opens its doors to poor students and gives them a free nine-month education in high-level restaurant and hotel work. More than 60 students have completed the program since it started in 2004, and all have managed to find jobs. After scraping by on as little as $5 a month, they can earn $80 to $120 upon graduation.

Philanthropy is the animating idea of the hotel, but it still needs to generate a profit to stay in operation. Sokoun, 42, who is also a co-founder of Bed Supperclub, a sleek Bangkok nightspot, has that worked out, mostly by making the charitable mission part of the hotel's allure. Visitors who come to the Shinta Mani help sponsor students, and have even donated $150,000 over the past two years to provide aid such as wells, livestock and sewing machines for 340 families in the area. "We create a unique differentiation between our hotel and the hotel across the street," says William D. Black, managing director of Bed Management, the Shinta Mani's parent company.

Sokoun's past is part of the reason he's driven to both do well and do good. He fled Cambodia with his family in 1970 just as a 20-year civil war broke out, and he returned for the first time in the early 1990s. "If my family had not left, I would be dead," he says. Instead, he can give back through the Shinta Mani. The hotel's guests, meanwhile, can go home thinking not just about Cambodia's poverty but also about their contribution to ending it.

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