Jasmine Lodge attempts to spread the benefits of tourism to isolated rural communities through its employment of poor local people, responsible tour and food policies, as well as philanthropy. Guests are encouraged to both stay longer and travel Cambodia more widely.
The accommodation has taken steps to optimise the host/guest relationship, encouraging interaction and immersing guests fully into Cambodia’s history and culture.
This has led to improved guest satisfaction, the Lonely Planet “Author’s Choice” accolade and higher levels of occupancy.
Jasmine Lodge is a family-run business owned and managed by Chab Van Kunn, his wife Yandy (Jasmine), and their extended families. It opened in 2003, providing budget accommodation for visitors to Siem Reap/Cambodia. Jasmine Lodge has 47 rooms, ranging from US$6 to US$22 per night.
Jasmine Lodge’s development has been driven by two overriding ideologies of its owner.
i) Creating an improved host/guest relationship
When the guesthouse initially opened in 2003, Kunn travelled to the border of Thailand on a tri-weekly basis to pick up potential guests and bring them back to Siem Reap. On arrival, many subsequently chose not to stay at Jasmine Lodge and of those who did, they could often be distant and uninvolved during their stay, not engaging in conversation with the family, or forging any sort of relationship with them. Kunn became quickly unmotivated and disillusioned with this sort of business exchange, and the poor host/guest interaction that resulted from it.
Having originated from the Sampov Lourn village, 54km outside Siem Reap, Kunn was also keen to see the benefits of tourism reaching further afield, where fewer opportunities exist for Cambodians. Well hearsed in the nuances of the tourism industry, having started out as a cook, and then tour-guide as his English improved, Kunn was ideally positioned to address this.
From 2004 onwards, Kunn and his family integrated various ‘initiatives’ into Jasmine Lodge’s offer to meet these two objectives.
Trips to the border, to pick up guests, are now a thing of the past. The guesthouse is at 100% occupancy in the high season (November to January) and 80% occupancy in the low season (March to August), with bookings primarily coming through the web presence (Jasmine Lodge’s homepage and three key booking engines - whl, hostelbookers and hostelworld). This is a marked improvement on early years when low season occupancy could be as little as 20%.
Kunn now revels in the tourism exchange, his family are very much a part of any visit, and guests enjoy the genuine interaction, cultural immersion and authenticity they experience from a stay here. As a result of their efforts, in 2005 Jasmine Lodge received the Lonely Planet Author’s Choice accolade for “going the extra mile” to ensure guests were well looked after. Kunn partly attributes this accolade to the years of success and high occupancy that have followed.
Actively Encouraging Interaction, Cultural Immersion and Understanding
Kunn has set about creating an informal “home from home” for tourists, with a large communal lounging and eating area, encouraging interaction between both his family and fellow travellers. In his desire to improve the host/guest interaction he attempts to immerse his guests in the country’s history and culture through conversation (with him, his family and his staff) as well as literature. He also showcases educational / cultural films daily (the Killing Fields / Angkor Wat history / Have Water Have Fish - Tonle Sap etc).
While he enjoys this exchange, the tourists also enjoy the authenticity of the experience and the learning they get out of it:
“I knew very little about Cambodia’s history before I got here. But they are a font of knowledge about Pol Pot, and a local insight on food and cultural etiquette and things like that. You can just learn so much more from a locally owned place and that’s what this trip is all about for me” Sue-Lyn, lone female traveller staying at Jasmine Lodge, UK
This improved understanding may, in part, have contributed to increased take-up of the other initiatives that follow.
Actively Encouraging Guests to Stay Longer and Travel Further
To counteract tourist perceptions that Cambodia is only about the Angkor complex, Jasmine Lodge offers, and heavily promotes, a comprehensive list of package tours from 2-7 days both around Siem Reap and further afield. These package tours include trips as far afield as Phnom Penh, using a network of local transport and accommodation providers. Tours naturally include the temples, but all itineraries also include visits to smaller, off-the-beaten track community projects, initiatives and attractions that many tourists may otherwise have failed to visit. These include Artisans d’Angkor, the silk farm, floating villages, the handicraft centre, a paddy field visit, the Phnom Koulen waterfall etc.
Jasmine Lodge also fully supports the Stay Another Day initiative (www.stay-another-day.org). As standard, all guests receive a copy of the Stay Another Day guidebook on arrival at the property.
Policies on Tourism and Poverty Reduction:
Despite a booming tourism industry, Siem Reap province remains one of the poorest in Cambodia with negligible amounts of economic prosperity reaching those in the countryside. Jasmine Lodge has attempted to rectify this where possible with its ‘pro-poor’ employment, tour and food policies.
Kunn employs eight permanent members of staff (6 general, 1 cook and 1 laundry) and all have been recruited from villages outside of Siem Reap (Kunn: “Tourism does not reach there”). All eight employees receive accommodation and training, and can go to school locally. They also receive $40 per month in salary. These staff benefit from on-the-job English language training, through interaction with guests, as they go along.
As well as the 2-7 day tours, Kunn also offers and promotes alternative tourism experiences in the form of homestays. Using his background and knowledge of the countryside he offers guests the opportunity to really experience rural life, connect with real communities and eat traditional food, whilst spreading the benefits of tourism. Guests can stay in his home village for $5 per night, or take just a day trip there to join a family for lunch. Similar experiences are also offered to have lunch or dinner with families from the floating village communities on the Tonle Sap.
The menu at Jasmine Lodge offers a large selection of both western and Khmer food and all products, where possible, are sourced from the local market by Kunn’s wife.
In 2004 Kunn set up the Angkor Jasmine Foundation, a not for profit association again hoping to benefit those in isolated villages, through tourist philanthropy. Kunn asks guests to donate any unwanted clothes, books, stationary etc and deposit them in a large basket in the reception area. Once every quarter a village is chosen where all the materials are distributed.
Tourists are also able to donate cash or offer services in kind, and they are encouraged to come along on these charitable 4WD tours to visit the villages.
Any cash donations are used for medicines and educational materials (stationary, school uniforms, pens, pencils etc). Large donations can also be made to sponsor children to go to school or recruit English-speaking teachers to teach them.
As well as his own foundation, Kunn actively supports others charities. Cambodian “Love cards”, painted by children in local schools, are sold on the premises, with all proceeds helping to subsidise teaching salaries. The White Bicycle Scheme is also supported. Two bikes are available to guests to use as a sustainable form of transportation and $1.5 of every $2 daily rate goes on to fund local organisations and projects.
Early Environmental Measures
Finally, while environmental aspects of CSR are currently thin on the ground, the property has recently installed solar panels for heating the water. All rooms also include the generic water-saving advice to guests.
Any investments in this project are negligible in what is seemingly a win-win situation for satisfied hosts and guests. CSR comes less from any official plans or large financial investments, and more from immersion, education, opportunity, encouragement and support. These have simply been holistically integrated into the philosophy, and day to day running of the business, leading to a mutually positive experience and a thriving guesthouse, optimising the chances of spreading the benefits of any tourism.
Some of the initiatives may actually be saving the guesthouse money. For example, by acting as a sort of hospitality school, providing opportunities and training to rural people, Jasmine Lodge saves on the wages that would have to be paid to more experienced recruits.
The guesthouse received in-kind assistance from angkorhotels.org (worldhotellink) to create the comprehensive website showcasing the accommodation, which approximately 70% of the business is now believed to come through.
With around $500 per month spent on food at local markets and $320 per month on 8 x staff from isolated rural areas, Jasmine Lodge has an estimated continuing ‘pro-poor’ value of $9,840 per annum. However, the less tangible benefits (i.e. training, livelihoods) and unofficial knock-on financial benefits of the various initiatives (i.e. tourists travelling further / staying longer), are believed to be a lot higher (although it is not possible to attribute actual figures to these).
No cash donations have as yet been made to the foundation but physical and in-kind donations have seen Jasmine Lodge make around 12 trips to local villages so far.
The benefits of implementing the initiatives for Jasmine Lodge are clear with high occupancy, very little seasonality, the Lonely Planet endorsement, satisfied clientele and much word of mouth recommendation.
“Staying in Jasmine Lodge made us feel like at home. Mr. Kunn and his staff have been very accommodating. He also shared his knowledge on the tourist attractions there, recommending to us where are the good places to visit besides Angkor Wat. Thanks also to the tuk-tuk driver, Mr Chong, for driving us around and being so humble even though he is a man of a few words. I will definitely come back to Siem Reap and stay at Jasmine Lodge”. Sarina & Kelly, Singapore