“I was perhaps bored with the more traditional hotel experience the bigger groups provide.” Christian de Boer, Managing Director, Jaya House River Park, opened on December 22, 2016 and has been working in Cambodia for 15+ years now. Their motto, “Let’s Inspire,” speaks volumes about their motivations and inclinations. Jaya House previously had three properties: Jaya House River Park, Jaya House Angkor Park, and Jaya House Residences. However, due to COVID, they closed two of the locations and kept the original property, Jaya House River Park, which is located along the banks of Siem Reap. Jaya House River Park is a small boutique hotel aiming to do things a little differently with 36 suites, 2 pools, a spa, and arguably the best breakfast in town.
Environment & Sustainability: The Jaya House Way
As Christian shares, “We are an advisor to the United Nations in their aim to reduce #SingleUsePlastic in the tourism industry. Jaya House River Park has been # SingleUsePlasticFree since its inception in December 2016.At the onset of the global pandemic, Jaya House River Park is also the co-founder of a local initiative that saw us partner with 2 other hotels and donate 54.000 plastic and styrofoam free meals to the local population here in Siem Reap. The hotel is leading the way in developing solutions to address the root causes of pollution and plastic waste on a global scale.” They want to help and encourage hotels that are beginning the process of going plastic-free under the direction of the UNWTO, WTO, and Ellen MacArthur Foundations.
All jobs are held by full-time Khmer employees who run the hotel. The Jaya House staff genuinely live up to their promise, which is reflected in the guests’ experiences, online reputation (on sites like Google, TripAdvisor, etc.), and word-of-mouth. The initiatives and innovation that separate them from the competition and make them stand out as environmentally concerned businesses are the initiatives and innovation they apply in their operations. For example, a certain hotel imports a Christmas tree from Canada. Since Buddhism predominates in Cambodia, Christmas is not truly observed there. It’s not wise to spend thousands of dollars on something that will only be useful for three weeks. Here at Jaya House, they designed their tree, dubbed “Road to Recovery,” which will be constructed out of 24,000 individually painted and hanging black rocks in 2022. Additionally, Jaya House has always been free of single-use plastic. The group is also a co-founder of “RefillTheWorld,” which is now present in 19 countries, a UN advisor, ranking 19th in the world and first in Cambodia, among other travel review websites. They produce their very own in-room amenities under the name Jaya Organics, intending to foster local employment and educational opportunities, avoid the use of small plastic bottles in the room, and disseminate native plants and healthy natural ingredients from Cambodia. In 2020, Forbes recognized Jaya Organics as one of the Best Hotel Skincare Lines. Jaya House survived the COVID era in part due to Jaya Organics, which has garnered very favorable reviews from hotel guests and clients.
In early 2016, they began to plant 3-meter-tall trees in Siem Reap’s public spaces because they believe that “actions speak louder than words.” Today, there are more than 2100 trees in their village’s other regions and along the banks of the Siem Reap River planted by them.
Makings of an Amazing Brand: Jaya House
There are a lot of things that can be learned from the journey that Jaya House has had so far and equally so from Christian’s path that has led them to this point. Christian shares, “I want to re-think the complete hotel experience provided by the bigger brands. I created the brand with the intention of being a new kind of hotel experience. One that actually walks the talk where others are simply providing lip service. A hotel experience that’s making a sincere difference for the community as well as our team members. We have NO sales team; we don’t visit tradeshows; we don’t travel; and instead aim to make our guests our sales team and aim to create strong word-of-mouth. In short, we have actively identified those parts of any hotel experience that annoy guests (mini bar charges, resort fees, exorbitant rates for WIFI, breakfast vouchers, and others) and have simply eliminated all of them.”
The most important part of their hotel is the staff and their happiness. Their ability to showcase the very best of the Kingdom of Cambodiain a unique manner free of excessive SOPs and other industry standard forms. He argues that visitors should be made to feel welcome and inspired rather than being forced into formats and SOPs.
Christian’s personal life has been as inspirational as his professional life. Christian shares, “The opportunity for me to meet (and become friends) with one of the most inspiring people on the planet: the founder of the “Green Gecko Project – center for street children” in Siem Reap, who gave up her life to help 100+ kids in Siem Reap: Ms. Tania Palmer. Tania introduced me to the concept of “making a sincere difference daily” as a way of life. Things like ‘buy local and shop local’ have a big impact on the various individual sellers. Tania introduced me to the way of life here in Siem Reap for the local population and showed me its beauty beyond the obvious. Tania introduced me to so many amazing people and their culture and, in short, re-directed my life.” Christian feels that the current decline in tourism, which is nearly at a standstill due to global pandemic concerns, is undoubtedly the hardest obstacle he has faced in his 20-year career. He and his team needed to think creatively and differently because they needed to have employment, salaries, and means of subsistence for themselves and their families, but what has most motivated Christians has been the ability to keep an open mind and challenge the status quo.
Achievements, Accolades, and Inspirations: Leadership Lessons
Christian considers himself extremely fortunate and is pleased to say that he has been able to experience a few high points, like becoming a United Nations advisor on plastic in the tourism industry and being given the chance to give the first speech at the University of Commerce in Pyong Yang (North Korea). He adds that having two distinct properties appear five times in the top 20 of TripAdvisor’s “World’s Best Hotels” (global ranking), starting the “Made In Cambodia Market” ten years ago and seeing it survive Covid and continue to generate much-needed cash and jobs, and growing a small local project like RefillTheWorld to now 19 countries (pre-Covid) have been a few of the major achievements that he and his company have been able to achieve. He feels that to achieve success, people must possess the ability to show a sincere amount of empathy, imagination, and creativity.
In the bid to achieve optimal efficiency Christian has been at the forefront of embracing new technologies and platforms. He shares, “We are strong on ‘emerging technology’ and have embraced technology ranging from Instagram, TripAdvisor, Facebook, and any other form of technology/new media. We partnered with a market-leading company, namely “FrontDeskAnywhere”, which helps us to create a seamless arrival experience and gives us the option to check-in a guest literally ‘anywhere’ and at any time. We, therefore, operate our lobby as a living room and don’t require guests to stand at a long reception desk, further enhancing the guest experience.”
When reflecting on his earlier years, Christian feels lucky to have met and worked for Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group, one of the most inspirational people on the planet. These early encounters gave him the confidence to take a chance with the knowledge that everything would turn out all right in the end if he had the correct outlook, set of beliefs, work ethic, and level of conviction. Nevertheless, he believes that, in retrospect, he should have begun to travel and explore other cultures sooner rather than continue to play a consistent and laid-back role in his early twenties. He views it as a blessing that he can use all of his ingenuity in his work every day and that he can start each day with a satisfying cup of coffee. He shares, “I don’t really work but instead have a hobby for which I receive a salary.”
Looking Ahead: What Does the Future Hold?
Christian shares,“Tourism won’t return in 2019 numbers until November 2023 (which means now is the very best time to see Angkor Wat without the tourists), but I am confident about our little operation thanks to our guest-centric approach and the fact we started to create a word-of-mouth effort all those years ago in 2016, making us rather established. I do believe that our style of operation is actually the future of tourism in destinations like Cambodia. Guests want/demand “an experience,” which requires a set-up that larger branded (chain) hotels simply cannot (or do not want to) provide.” It is one of the reasons that they are putting a lot of effort into Jaya Organics. They are expanding the range of products. Building on the aforementioned success of their in-room amenities ranges that saw them shipping the products globally during COVID is something that they want to push further, strengthening the brand.
Christian’s future plans look promising. He aspires to eliminate #SingleUsePlastic from the travel and tourism industry. There are now so many excellent, practical options that it should not be long before all hotels and tour operators make an actual effort. Some of the big brands have made big, audacious promises, and he wants to make sure—or at least do his part—that those big chains keep their word and it’s not just a marketing ploy. In contrast to the “Save a towel, plant a tree” campaigns that saw large hotel chains make huge commitments, ostensibly planting vast trees, anyone can now check and verify whether commitments are being met using services like Google Earth.
Christians bid farewell with this note: “Be creative, don’t follow the mold, it’s OK to be different and simply hard work always pays off.”