Thursday, March 13, 2014

RantRantRant: Foreign-Owned Hotels in Cambodia Charging Through the Nose and Hiring Foreign Staff

Footprints hotel on Otres Beach II in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Southeast Asia
Great beach views, angry British owner. Footprints, Otres Beach II, Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
Alright, it's rant time. So I'm in Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia. Surprisingly, it's also been very expensive as most tourist establishments want U.S. dollars as opposed to the local currency, the riel. Not only that, but they charge U.S.-comparable prices, not the equivalent to the local rate.

Let's just stop here. I'm never going to the be dick who rants on and on about how Western tourists should always pay local prices. We can afford to pay a bit extra and usually the people in question need that bit extra (I make an exception for gouging i.e. extremely overinflated scams which is just not cool). It makes me cringe when people get angry because they refuse to pay $3 on what they think should be a $2 tuk-tuk ride. It's one thing to be asked to pay $10 or even $5 but $3? Shit.

In my two plus weeks in Cambodia I've now stayed at my fair number of foreigner-run hotels. Why? Usually because they were recommended to me and I've learned the value of a no-surprises clean hotel. For the most part, the hotels were well-run, clean and relatively well-priced. Right now I'm staying in a room at the Magic Sponge in Kampot, Cambodia with fan, hot shower and private ensuite that's clean, secure and is in a great location. It's $9 a night. NINE dollars. Can't complain there.

What gets me is that these hotels subsidize these decent and Cambodia-appropriate rates by charging through the nose for food. $4.50 for fruit salad, muesli and yogurt in Cambodia? You have to be kidding. 

Now, Cambodia is a country that could sure use some cash. Most people make under $1000 a year. So if there's a place where I would invest some hard currency, Cambodia would be it. Yet, these hotels are foreign owned. I'm basically pouring my dollars into expat hands. But you say -- he or she pays taxes, employs staff, buys Cambodian supplies. True, though I'd be a lot more comfortable giving these funds directly to a Cambodian.

To add insult to injury, I've seen a couple of these establishments hire foreign staff. Footprints hostel in Sihanoukville offered backpackers food and accommodation if they worked behind the bar or at reception. As a backpacker struggling to write to support my travels, I know the value of an accommodation/food arrangement. I've done Workaway placements in Malaysia and payed a low daily rate in Indonesia for food and accommodation in exchange for teaching at local schools. In the latter case, I worked alongside Indonesian English teachers. No one's job was being stolen.

That said, Cambodians really, really need these jobs. The backpackers probably don't, at least compared to the locals. That Canadian at reception? A good job for a Cambodian. The British guy behind the bar? Another needed local job. And the British owner who was continually and loudly rude to her one Cambodian waitress? Reprehensible.
Otres Beach II, Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Southeast Asia
While I love these little beach towns, I sometimes feel like their purpose is to
seal tourists off from the realities of local life. This is Otres Beach II, Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
Alright, so the million dollar question is: why aren't you just staying at local places, Bronwyn? Well, other than the recommendation thing I have a limited time in Cambodia so I'm hitting up the highlights where the foreign-owned quotient is probably a lot higher. That said, I do feel like I'm doing things wrong, that I should have tried harder to put dollars in Cambodian hands, that I should be getting off the beaten track and staying with and paying Cambodians.

It's so easy and yeah, comfortable, to just hop to the nearest tourist compound where some American or Brit delivers cheap beer, expensive Western food, all the English DVDs you could ever want and other comforts of home. I guess you pay for that experience, the experience of not being too uncomfortable in a strange place. But would I do it again? Definitely not.

What do you think? Am I a dick for trying to divine Cambodians needs? Do you have a different perspective?


juliane said...

"I'm never going to the be dick who rants on and on about how Western tourists should always pay local prices."

I agree to that more than 100%. I friend recently went to Thailand and told me a full meal costs under 1$, so what the heck? That's like nothing compared to the prices we pay back home. So a little more is really no big deal, absolutely not.

Oh btw, do you have any experiences using air asia? I heard it's actually pretty nice.

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