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Rising star
Vietnam is no longer taking a back seat as event specialists tap the creative courage of clients and the country itself. Louis Allen reports

31 Mar 2015

For many years, any presence at a travel trade show by Vietnam has been piecemeal – usually a property or two, or a DMC. But within the yellow star nation, planners with the right contacts find they have more of a free rein with creativity once red tape and shortcomings in infrastructure are overcome. 

Vietnamese officials are likewise seeking a more serious stake in the meetings, incentive and events market. Ho Chi Minh City Department of Tourism exhibited at Aime in Melbourne this year, as did Vietnam Airlines, while the HCM People’s Committee staged a seminar there as well as one in Sydney.

On-the-ground operators and event planners see immense potential in Vietnam's three main regions: north, central and south. Darren Kerr’s FACTOR168 has been making use of Hanoi for C-level meetings and VIP galas, with the resorts of Danang for incentives, while Ho Chi Minh City hosts business gatherings. Hotels are gearing their product towards teambuilding and post-meeting activities in addition to the French colonial charm found in venues such as the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. 

“Vietnam is a fantastic emerging destination for business tourism and particularly for incentive event experiences,” says Kerr. 

“We work regularly in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Danang – and each destination offers the opportunity to craft some amazing experiences.”

Danang

In coastal Danang, Vietnam’s third-largest city, there are plans to build an international convention centre and the city is looking at running its own MICE expo.

“There are plenty of natural resources here, but we need investors to explore the potential,” says Nguyen Xuan Binh, director of the Danang Center for Tourism Promotion.

With its strategic location, the city has become an important destination for the domestic MICE market, especially for small to medium-sized enterprises.

“They use the resorts and hotels for meetings, and open space for team building,” says Binh.

“There is now enough room capacity in the city for regional and international conferences. We have five-star hotels and resorts with venue capacity for up to 1,000 people.”

Danang hosted an Apec senior officials’ meeting in 2006, based at the Furama Resort with its new US$3 million conference palace. Business has been ticking along since with central government and corporate meetings, but Binh says there are still “many things to do”.

Danang has had a modest exhibition centre for about 10 years, and a site is now being sought to build an international conference centre. Binh says a Hilton and Marriott will be coming on line this year as well as two five-star resorts.

Vietnamese investors are also coming to the party, investing in hotels and golf courses. In the four years since it built a new terminal, the airport has had a 280 per cent increase in inbound traffic. Seven international airlines have regular services, and five million passengers passed through the airport last year. There are direct connections to Cambodia, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.

Eleven airlines also bring in charter flights from China and Russia.

Hong Kong Express will be starting direct services twice a week from April 1, and Dragonair has five flights a week.

Mr Binh says the city is trying to promote to the Australian market, using Silk Air to avoid a domestic transfer at Ho Chi Minh.

Helicopter service 

Helicopter tours were introduced in March with plans to expand the service to Halong Bay and Phu Quoc, an island in the southwest which has a new five-star resort and golf course.

Another big project for Danang is the DHC Marina, just a few paces from the “fire-spitting” Dragon Bridge. This river development features a 5,700 sqm tourism service centre in the shape of a five-storey cruise ship. It will host events and exhibitions as well as performances. 

Stage one of the US$9 million project is scheduled to launch in April with plans for chartered yachts to bring groups along the river to offshore islands or other ports of call. 

Vietnam’s Sun Group has two projects in Danang – Ba Na Hills, a mountaintop resort complex, and Asia Park in the city, now with a big wheel and developing a monorail.

Alongside is the new Helio Center, a leisure venue, but with a conference room. Helio is eyeing the incentive market for events with its bumper-boat rides and indoor car racetrack.

Room for improvement

Vietnam is suitable for meetings, incentive and event groups of all sizes in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and now the central coast (Hue, Danang and Hoi An), says Diethelm Travel Group managing director Torsten Edens. The company, which has an events arm, had a dozen business event and conference groups visit Vietnam in 2014.

“We have received significantly more MICE requests, especially from Australia, France and the UK, for 2014-15, ranging from 50 to 200 people.”

Edens says that while the meetings industry has come a long way, there is plenty of room for improvement. He says Vietnam lacks a clear investment strategy, is short of qualified people to meet the demand for conferences and workshops, does not have a good marketing strategy, and needs large convention centres.

In the face of competition from Thailand and Malaysia, be believes Vietnam needs to invest in infrastructure. 

Creative courage

A dash of creative courage can surmount most bureaucratic or infrastructural uncertainties in Vietnam, says Darren Kerr, co-founder of Factor168 Creative Events.  

One corporate gala at Hanoi Opera House saw a cast that included the national symphony orchestra, singers, ballerinas and executives from a leading cloud-computing company donning traditional Vietnamese costume.

“We’ve produced a huge number of bespoke event experiences. The beautiful opera houses in Hanoi and HCMC [Ho Chi Minh City] provide a grand canvas for events and the resident AO Show in HCMC is on equal standing with the best that Cirque Soleil produce – but with a very distinct Vinh finish,” says Kerr.

“The key to producing any truly creative, engaging event experience is to ensure that your client brings to the table real creative courage. Armed with that, then together we have and can continue to produce some outstanding, memorable, evocative and unforgettable, special event experiences.”

One of the secrets to creative event planning success in Vietnam, says Kerr, is to consider the unique qualities that the regions of north, central and south offer.

“As you’d expect, each destination has its own distinct personality and vibe. Hanoi has a very rich creative industry – home to the national symphony, ballet and a thriving fine arts community. HCMC is the commercial centre and boasts some of the nation’s best dining, fashion, shopping and nightlife.

“Danang with its little lantern sister Hoi An has a less frantic, more community connected feel.”

Over to Hue

One of the niche destinations being sought for groups visiting central Vietnam is Hue, a former imperial capital with Unesco World Heritage-listed monuments and a two-hour drive from Danang.  

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh, Hospitality Marketing Executive with Alba Vietnam, a hot springs resort which also runs teambuilding activities, says Hue deserves to be a business tourism destination, but infrastructure and workforce skills are struggling to keep up with demand. 

“Our partners often organise two- and three-day trips for MICE groups here with the high season for those groups being from April to September,” says Nguyen.

Groups hosted by Alba recently include NGOs such as Medical Committee Netherlands – Vietnam and Vietnam Forest Management Project. Corporate groups have included Navi Bank, Sacombank, MB Bank and BIDV Bank.

Phan Trong Minh is General Manager at La Residence Hotel & Spa, another property where teams are creating experiences for delegates. “We are doing sunset cocktails and dinner cruises. We use the Hue Double Dragon Boat for this experience.”

Phan says the hotel is also putting the finishing touches to an Imperial Dinner Experience drawing on Hue’s heritage as a royal capital. A large royal boat moored at the Citadel (Imperial City) is available for private function via event organiser Le Qui Duong. The same company offers a pavilion at Hoa Binh gate, at the back of the Imperial City, for private events.

The royal garden inside the Imperial City close to Duyet Thi Duong has been renovated for prestige event use with catering for up to 300.


Tags :
Danang   Hanoi   Vietnam  

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