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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

London may help with garbage

By JENNIFER O'BRIEN, SUN MEDIA

The city's chief planning officer urges a partnership that would aid Cambodia.

The country is beautiful and the people friendly, but she couldn't help but notice the garbage.

On the roads and in the sewage canals, it seemed to be everywhere Jennifer Kirkham looked when she visited Cambodia last month.

Today, Kirkham, the city's chief strategic planning officer, will recommend to board of control that London get involved with a federal-municipal partnership program in which local solid waste management experts would help municipalities in Cambodia.

The partnership would be part of a Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) initiative that matches Canadian experts with municipal counterparts in developing countries.

"This is a great opportunity for London staff to share some of the expertise and knowledge that we have," Kirkham said yesterday. "It is an opportunity to do some peer coaching and for us to have a global impact in the work we do."
Last month, Kirkham went to the Battambang district of Cambodia and visited 10 municipalities, called communes, with populations of up to 25,000 people.

Meeting with officials from all 10 communes as part of a delegation with FCM's Municipal Partnership Program, Kirkham said she felt a sense of optimism and hope.

But there are many new issues for local governments to tackle, particularly around solid waste.

"They only have one garbage truck for all 10 communes and you have to pay to have your garbage picked up, so if you can't afford it, they don't come," Kirkham said. "There is garbage in the roads and in the sewage canals."

Solid waste management is a common issue for newly formed municipalities in Cambodia, said Noelle Grosse, outreach officer for the FCM.

"First is solid waste management, and also working at a national level with associations of local governance and the environment is a key theme," she said.

Controller Gord Hume said he would be shocked if there was any opposition to the recommendation at today's board of control meeting.

"I think part of our responsibility as a leading municipality is to help others in the world," said Hume, adding the partnership is funded by FCM, through the Canadian International Development Agency.

The FCM has operated its Municipal Partnership Program for about 20 years. The projects vary depending on the needs of the overseas municipality.

Many Ontario cities have participated in partnerships that often end up involving community organizations -- to their benefit, Grosse said.
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Cullen brings Locke close to tears in parliament

Finance minister Michael Cullen almost reduced Green MP Keith Locke to tears in parliament today when he taunted him about his personal beliefs.

The exchange came when Locke was quizzing Cullen over human rights in China and the proposed free trade deal between New Zealand and that country.

Cullen answering questions on behalf of foreign minister Winston Peters said the New Zealand Government always raised human rights issue with Beijing over the years.

"However, it is fair to say that the Chinese Government's record in these matters is somewhat better than in the depths of the days of the Cultural Revolution, when that member supported the Chinese Government's approach," Cullen said.

A clearly furious and upset Locke vehemently denied this.

"I assure the House that I have never supported the Chinese regime - the one-party state in its activities during the Cultural Revolution or at any other time," Locke said.

Cullen was unmoved by Locke's plea of innocence and threw another accusation at him.

"Clearly my memory as a fellow student of the member at Canterbury University is now somewhat faulty on these matters. I must remember him referring to the Pol Pot regime."

Locke has often been taunted for being a supporter of the Pol Pot regime which committed genocide in Cambodia and he has numerous times explained to the House this was not true.

"I think it is a disgrace for a Labour Deputy Prime Minister to sink to that level," Locke said.

This time Cullen withdrew and apologised, but later in the session tabled an article he said showed Locke did support the murderous regime.

Locke returned to the House and once again explained that he had never backed Pol Pot, but had once written an article in April 1975 when the "quite corrupt regimes in Saigon and Phnom Penh fell", hoping it would be good for the country when the new governments came into power. This was before Pol Pot and the genocide.

Locke hoped the House would stop baiting him on the issue.

Cullen was a friend of his family so should well know that what had driven Locke to be a campaigner for human rights. Locke said a formative time for him was learning his mother quit the Communist Party after hearing Russian tanks had entered Hungary in 1956 and shot people in the street.

National MPs said later in the debate that Cullen had almost reduced to tears a member of a party that Labour hoped it could do business with in the future.

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Tiny, innovative Cambodian hotel offers big service

It sometimes feels like there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to the hotel industry. I get daily press releases in my inbox: “We’ve gone green!” “You can buy our bedding online!” “We won an award!” Blah, blah, blah. Frankly, hotels are a little boring these days. But I recently heard about a unique property in Cambodia, and it really piqued my interest. It’s a cool concept that I hope spreads.

The One Hotel, in Siem Reap’s Old Market area in Angkor, Cambodia, is all about a singular guest experience. The One has only one room. If you’re the guest at this hotel, you’re the big cheese. The staff members have one role — taking care of you. And this one-room hotel is luxurious. Guests sleep on a king-size bed dressed with Frette linens, stargaze on a rooftop terrace from their own personal Jacuzzi, watch a flat-screen LCD TV, and enjoy their own iPod, iBook and personal mobile phone.

So we’ve got personalized and attentive service, stunning accommodations and a great location. This place has got to be expensive, like those private villas that cost tens of thousands of dollars for a week, right? Not at all. At around $250 a night, The One has relatively low rates. As owner Martin Dishman explains, it’s “affordable exclusivity.”

Dishman moved to Cambodia with the intention of opening his own hotel. First, he managed an existing property and then opened a bar across the street from a friend’s photography gallery. When the building next to the gallery became available, Dishman knew it was the perfect place to house his dream hotel. He had planned on it having a few rooms, but the building was small. Even if Dishman offered only two rooms, they’d be cramped and plain, and they would command only about $50 a night.

“Then the idea hit me,” Dishman says. “One room! Make it amazing, five-star, every amenity and more and — best of all — price it at level that is in line with the deluxe rooms at competing five-star hotels. An exclusive place, with charm and cachet, offering an affordable rate.” And thus The One was born.

Ever the efficient hotel manager, I thought to myself, “How does he staff the place?”

I mean, if you go through a slow period and don’t have any bookings, do you have to lay everyone off? What does the chef do when the one guest wants to eat out? What does the masseuse do if the guest hates back rubs? At a large property, there’s always a guest who needs you or needs some sort of busywork to be done. So do the employees get paid to sit around and do nothing?

Not really. Remember, Dishman’s got that bar across the street. The employees at Linga Bar are responsible for providing food and beverage service at The One. He’s also recently opened a small sister hotel, the Hotel Be Angkor, in the same area, which gives him some more staff flexibility. And specialty staff, like drivers and spa service providers, is contracted on an as-needed basis.

Dishman is a pretty hands-on boss. He usually greets each guest at check-in, and he makes himself personally available to guests during the stay — he even gives guests his personal mobile phone number. How many hotel managers do you know that do that? But Dishman doesn’t have to do too much, as he’s trained his staff of 15 well and trusts them to meet his high standards. He’s lucky that there’s a local hospitality school, the Shinta Mani Institute of Hospitality, whose trainees he can hire, but he looks for anyone with English skills and a desire to work hard and learn.

Ever the skeptic, I still had lots of questions for Dishman. Like, what happens if you screw up and overbook? He agreed that it’s “impossible to overbook.” The property’s only been overbooked on one night, and Dishman graciously took care of the situation.

But here’s a sure sign that Dishman is crazy: The One doesn’t require a minimum stay, or a credit-card guarantee or even a deposit. You read that right. Because the hotel is not overwhelmed with bookings, staff has the time to give guests personal attention before their arrival. The One employees are constantly confirming and reconfirming their guests’ travel details, so there are seldom any unexpected no-shows or people trying to extend their stays. In fact, The One has had only one no-show since it opened in April 2006.

The One is also a bit of a hidden gem. Dishman doesn’t really advertise the property, though he does spread the word about his hotel through some public relations efforts. Most reservations come from Internet booking engines and travel agents. But word-of-mouth on the property must be great, because The One already has a 60 percent occupancy rate for this year.

Is one The One enough? Not if Dishman has his way. He’s eager to test his concept in other areas, but it’s an expensive proposition.

“Maybe some investors will come along to back us,” Dishman says. “But I am not interested in giving up any control, and I know exactly what I am doing, so I will look at silent investors, but not partnerships. Otherwise, I will grow the business at my own pace.”

I don’t blame him one bit. I think there’s a niche market for a hotel that makes each and every guest feel like, well, the only guest, and I don’t think he should tinker too much with his concept.

If you happen to be on your way to Angkor, check out The One. The room rate is $250 per night, plus tax, for single or double occupancy. The One offers some cool packages, including my favorite, the Good Karma package, which gives guests a chance to work with and donate to local charities. Taking care of the locals is very important to Dishman, and for that, I admire him very much. If you think The One is cool, but you’re traveling with more than two people, don’t despair. Remember, Dishman also runs the Hotel Be, which can easily handle the overflow for a larger party.

Amy Bradley-Hole has worked in the hotel industry for many years in many different positions and at all types of properties — from small luxury boutique hotels to large resorts, both in the United States and abroad. E-mail her or read more of her articles on Tripso.com.

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Bear fund opens discovery center in Cambodia

TAKEO, Cambodia, March 19 (Xinhua) -- The Australia-based Free the Bears Fund Inc (FTB) and the Cambodian Forestry Administration (FA) here on Wednesday opened a Bear Discovery Center at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center for education purpose.

This is the first center of its kind to be specifically designed to promote the issues related to bear conservation anywhere in Southeast Asia, said a press release from FTB.

"With the illegal trade in Sun Bears and Asiatic Black Bears still prevalent throughout Cambodia, Free the Bears hope to promote local awareness in bear conservation issues amongst the 300,000 visitors who come to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center each year," it said.

The Bear Discovery Center will operate as an environmental education facility primarily to illustrate to its visitors the efforts that Free the Bears and FA are doing to protect and preserve the bears of Cambodia, it said.

"As people walk through the center they will learn of the plight that bears have endured in recent times, experience the different achievements that have been made since FTB started operating in Cambodia, and gain knowledge about what they can do to help protect one of Cambodia's great faunal treasures," it added.

FTB was founded in Australia by Mary Hutton of Perth, and has been working in Cambodia since 1997. So far, FTB have rescued more than 100 bears from the illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia.

The aim of Free the Bears is to protect, preserve and enrich the lives of bears throughout the world. Over 500 bears have been confiscated from the illegal pet, wildlife and medicine trades throughout Asia.

Currently, there are 88 bears at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, 65 of them adult and others cubs.

There are eight species of bear in the world, six of which are found in Asia. Two species of bear can be found in Cambodia, the Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) and the Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus).


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