It started with a few chic hotels in Phnom Penh. It continued with the massive, decades-long development of Koh Rong and the private island playground of Song Saa. With Koh Russey, Cambodia is continuing its quest to become one of Southeast Asia’s premier resort destinations.
Sitting on 25 hectares and boasting two kilometres of beach at its doorstep, Alila Villas Koh Russey aims to be Cambodia’s next great resort destination. Contemporary in design, ultra-luxurious and secluded for maximum privacy with amazing views the Alila Villas could be the tonic for the mass tourism of neighbouring Koh Samui and Phuket. As the resort’s sales agency, CBRE, sees it, villa retreats are all about privacy and exclusivity now, as both become harder and harder to find. “CBRE has introduced buyers to both Alila Villas Koh Russey and Soneva Kiri [in Thailand]. Most buyers tend to initially look into key resort destinations such as Phuket, but find that the product available does not match their requirements or the environment they desire,” comments CBRE Thailand chair David Simister. “Once these affluent prospects experience the true luxury island concept, they become keen buyers and are spurred by rental returns and capital appreciation.” Simister likens the potential for Koh Russey to that of Phuket, which has seen its land and condo prices rise at least 20 times since the very first properties became available there. As Cambodia’s tourist trade continues to develop — arrivals have climbed by 16, 14 and 24 percent from 2010, to ’11 to ’12 according to Cambodia Tourism — so do its investment prospects. “The partnership with Alila Hotels & Resorts ensures that owners maximise their rental income potential, whilst enjoying the personal use of their villas. Obviously, renting attracts highest returns in peak holiday seasons,” Simister finishes.
Alila’s developer agrees. “There’s a huge future in Cambodian tourism. We’ve seen it in Siem Reap. The average stay is two days — because not everyone is a fan of temples, though I am,” says Etienne Chenevier, chief executive of Citystar in Cambodia. Chenevier and Citystar have been active in Asia for 25 years, with seven of those in Cambodia. “You go to Angkor Wat once in your lifetime, but you go to the beach several times and people stay for four or five days. The potential for Sihanoukville as a beach destination is two to three times what Siem Reap is today. For the property investor, once you understand that, it’s a matter of patience.”
Cambodia is also rushing forward into the future, particularly with regards to foreign investment. Song Saa sold well and Koh Rong is trucking along, making investment seem less risky than it could appear. “Cambodia is a surprising country. I have to say, when I came here I had the ordinary attitude when it comes to an emerging country. How does it work, what are the local practices, what are the laws?” recalls Chenevier. “I have to say we’re happy with our investment there. The government understands that they need foreign investment They had a choice, where they could have had a transition period and controlled foreign investment, but they didn’t even go there. They said, ‘We’re too late. Thailand and Vietnam have emerged already. We have to catch up.’ So they moved fully forward.”
Like No Other
Alila Villas Koh Russey comprises 48 hotel suites complemented by a range of one- to four-bedroom pool villas for private ownership — the first internationally branded residences in the country — sized between approximately 1,250 to 6,700 square feet. Designed and master-planned by Singapore-based Studiogoto, the villas are big on open spaces: three-quarters of each property is dedicated to outdoor space. Located an easy 30 minutes from Sihanoukville, the resort features amenities (with owners’ discounts where applicable) such as a fitness centre, restaurants including a beachside grill, spa, infinity pool and floating pool deck and kids club as well as chef and butler services for residents. As part of the rental pool, owners also receive income on their investments, though Chenevier isn’t making any minimum guarantees. Prices range between US$480,000 to $2 million (HK$3.8 to $15.5 million).
Like Vietnam, Cambodia has a gruesome recent history that, for better or for worse, lingers in the public imagination. While the idea of the misery of the Killing Fields serves the many NGOs still operating there and their funding, the reality is much different. “As soon as you visit you understand it’s not the case. It’s a smiling country, very active, half the population is 30 years old,” explains Chenevier. “None of these people know the Khmer Rouge. Since the 1990s there’s been a change in the country, especially in the people. This is the new Cambodia. They’re young, they speak English, they’re tech savvy they’re like everyone else.”