Working abroad has offered opportunities that David Ashworth, general manager at the Phum Baitang resort in Cambodia, believes he wouldn't have had in the UK. He talks to Janet Harmer
Can you describe the style and setting of the hotel?
Phum Baitang is the second resort from Zannier Hotels, after sister property Le Chalet Cannier in Mègeve, France. It's set among lush gardens and green paddy fields and comprises 45 private villas which resemble houses in a traditional Khmer village.
Who owns the hotel?
The hotel was founded by Arnaud Zannier of the French textile dynasty, Groupe Zannier. His vision is "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication".
You have enjoyed a long and distinguished career overseas, which began as executive chef at the Riyadh Military Hospital in Saudi Arabia in 1982. Why did you go abroad in the first place?
I was attracted by the lure of working in different cultures, with the aim of broadening my culinary knowledge.
Do you think you would have achieved the same level of success if you had remained in the UK?
Definitely not. Working overseas has opened so many doors and enabled me to reach success at such an enjoyable pace. I've worked with remarkable talent along the way, which has been inspirational.
How many staff are employed at Phum Baitang?
There are 141 staff. Besides myself, there is one Australian, three Filipinas and 136 Cambodians.
What are the key challenges of working in Cambodia?
There is a lack of skilled labour in the hotel sector, particularly considering the new resorts slated for opening this year and next. Then there are the challenges in the banking and IT sector as they try to bring systems up to date to compete with Thailand and Vietnam. The lack of some basic raw materials can also be a handicap to progression in certain markets.
What do you like about working in the country?
I love the warm culture, combined with the gentleness and eagerness of the people and their can-do attitude. The unspoilt beauty of the landscape and the interesting local produce make it a wonderful place to live and work.
The traffic and noise pollution in Siem Reap, poor discipline on the roads and the widespread litter problem, which causes damage to the environment around the city.
Is there a British expat community within the hospitality industry in Cambodia?
There is a limited expat community here, compared to other major cities in South East Asia, as the industry is still in its infancy. As hoteliers, we have monthly meetings of the Cambodia Hotel Association.
How and why did you make the transition from chef to hotel operations?
I moved from an executive chef role to become a food and beverage director. It was not easy in the beginning, as there was some resistance to the move. However, I was eager to move on and today I believe that I made the right decision.
Of all the countries you have worked in, which country has been the highlight and which has been the most challenging?
The Caribbean was the biggest challenge in my career. There, I was involved in the pre-opening of two multi-outlet resort operations with limited talent and difficult working conditions.
The best experience has to be Thailand. What a wonderful culture. The country enjoys food and service credentials that are some of the best in our business.
Would you ever return to work in the UK?
I still have a great admiration for the UK. It is a wonderful country, but after many years of living in Asia, I strongly believe I couldn't return to the UK after so long.
General manager, Phum Baitang, Siem Reap, Cambodia
2008-2015 General manager, Six Senses Hideaway Resort and Spa, Koh Samui, Thailand
2002-2007 Resident manager, Imperial Queens Park hotel, Bangkok, Thailand
1998-2001 Director of food and beverage, Imperial Queens Park hotel, Bangkok, Thailand
1997-1992 Director of food and beverage, Dorsett Regency hotel, Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia
1995-1997 Director of catering development, Roadchef Hotels and Motorways, Gloucester
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In