Danang’s small-town image – it was only classified as a city in 1997 – has strengthened the perception of a secure destination, a detail welcomed by business events professionals. Add to that, the fact that Vietnam also enjoys this cache overall and you have a future magnet for prestigious events. Danang has been identified by the national leadership as a Key Economic Zone in central Vietnam. Along with other nearby provinces, it is the growth nucleus of the important East-West corridor, linking international trade to vast untapped markets in the hinterlands of Laos, northeast Thailand and Myanmar. It is also the jumping-off point to four of the country’s five Unesco World Heritage Sites: Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Hue Imperial City, Hoi An Old Town and My Son Cham Sanctuary.
MIXING BUSINESS AND PLEASURE
Growing interest from clients to explore more of Danang and its surroundings is convincing event specialists like Destination Asia (Vietnam) to believe central Vietnam can start to sell itself as a distinct standalone destination, without help from perennial favourites Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Says Amy Summerhayes, general manager of the well established destination management company (DMC): “Vietnam is the ideal incentive destination, especially for high-end groups. Danang, when twinned with either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, can give them a well-rounded Vietnamese experience as it provides that contrast of city and countryside or city and seaside.
“But lately, we are seeing an increased demand for just Danang itself.”
In March of this year, Summerhayes’ team took over The Nam Hai Danang to stage a week-long incentive for a multinational financial firm keen to reward 320 top achievers. They were allowed to bring their spouses or partners, which was another treat. The group was split into two different arrival and departure dates to ease the flow of attendees into the resort.
The next few days (and nights) were packed with both onsite and offsite activities. The DMC and the resort personnel pulled out all the stops to dazzle the visitors. There was an evening beach barbecue, featuring cosy lounge set ups and open bonfires, and in the background, music spun by a popular Saigon-based deejay. More spice was added by the flame throwers, who strolled through the crowd thrilling guests with their antics.
The availability of a charming cultural treasure such as Hoi An Old Town – a 15- minute drive from the resort on a smooth highway – was used to good advantage. Summerhayes’ staff contracted a local restaurant, which was done up to resemble a typical street market, with the female servers donning the traditional ao dai and dispensing delicacies from bamboo baskets balanced on yokes. The farewell evening bash was threatened by inclement weather, but the poolside gala dinner proceeded under an elegant white marquee.
Summerhayes describes the entire activity as “stunning”, adding that The Nam Hai’s arrangements were impeccably executed. “It was just the right size (for our incentive). I fell in love with the place.”
However, Danang’s conference instructure, is still spotty, she observes, citing the Furama Resort Danang as perhaps the best equipped player to handle this business. “But with the arrival of Hyatt and other international five-star brands in the future, this should change.”
Since opening in 1997, the sprawling Furama Resort Danang, along the famous “China Beach”, has worked to convince the leisure and conference market it has the chops to cater for both fun and business, especially business, with a hefty arsenal of functional spaces, meetings technology, deluxe guestrooms, innovative cuisine and ancilliary services. These assets have impressed through the years, attracting customers such as the 2006 APEC Senior Officials Meeting, APEC’s Business Advisory Council, and in May, the 2011 World Conference on Drowning Prevention attended by Australian governor-general Quentin Bryce and 450 experts from all parts of the globe. Hotel general manager Duncan T Maclean says: “We’ve had umpteen Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meetings here, which has given our team a lot of exposure so they know immediately what to do.”
But access remains a bugbear in Danang’s ambition to evolve into a fully-fledged business-tourism hub, with currently Silkair the sole carrier running direct scheduled flights from a major Asian city, Singapore. Even Vietnam Airlines brings in visitors, first to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh; and if they are keen to explore, they must catch a domestic flight (either VN or rival Jetstar Pacific) to reach Danang.
Fix this problem and you are sure to lengthen visitors’ days of stay and allow the adventurous to get acquainted with a lesser known, but no less fascinating patch of Vietnam, Summerhayes of Destination Asia (Vietnam), says.
A BRIGHT FUTURE
Trying to imagine the current nondescript Danang International Airport as one of the world’s busiest air facilities can be a bit difficult. To think that during the Vietnam War, when it was used as a base by both the South Vietnamese and US air forces, some 2,595 flights operated there daily.
One arrives at a low-slung passenger terminal that has seen better days, exiting the plane, not by aerobridge but by the good old-fashioned staircase onto the tarmac, then walking into the baggage retrieval area. The main gateway to central Vietnam and its dramatic coastline is a real let down, but like many things in this feisty nation, the situation is one of transition and emergence. Danang is definitely marked for take-off.
The dearth of international connections may be solved later this year, if not next year, once the new US$160-million passenger terminal is up and running. The project’s first phase includes a new passenger terminal, five boarding gates, modern baggage handling systems, flight information display and high-tech security screening among others. “Vietnam Airlines would be the obvious leader in growing international traffic,” says Maclean of Furama Resort. “And let’s hope the new airport will attract some of those good low-cost carriers to fly from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok or Hong Kong.”
With many of the world’s multinational hotel groups building new properties in the area and the government in Hanoi finally committing major funds and effort into rapid development, it is likely that this will indeed happen, and Danang will emerge as an exciting new events destination. The question is no longer if, but when.
DESTINATION ASIA (VIETNAM)
FURAMA RESORT DANANG
THE NAM HAI
FURAMA RESORT DANANG
Synonymous with high-profile gatherings, Furama Resort is acknowledged as having put Danang on the business events map. Opened in 1997, it boasts an impressive range of networking venues, including the International Convention Palace, which can accommodate an international clientele. Earlier this year, internet speed was upgraded to serve as many as 1,000 wifi users simultaneously.
FUSION MAIA DANANG
Boasting sleek landscaping and 80 villas in different categories (pool, beach and spa), the resort is perfectly suited to an excom getaway-cum-strategy planning meeting. Venues include a function room, seating up to 100 people, a private dining room for up to 14 people, the poolside veranda and even the lounge bar. The reward – spa treatments that are incorporated in the rates, a first for Vietnam.
LIFESTYLE RESORT DANANG
The 4ha resort, located on China Beach, has one conference venue with a capacity for 750 delegates and three meeting rooms for up to 35 guests in each. Its Lotus Ballroom can be arranged for a dinner for 500. It has 186 rooms and villas.
THE NAM HAI
This award winning all-villa resort continues to feature in major “hot lists” of discerning travellers. But high net-worth individuals aren’t the only ones served here. Small conferences and especially incentive groups can be catered to by a highly experienced staff. A boardroom can be set up in a variety of ways such classroom, U-shape and cluster-round tables, and there is a pick of other areas, both indoor and alfresco, for other brainstorming activities.
IN THE WORKS…
With a soft opening scheduled for August, this 272-room hotel enjoys a prime Han River location. Meeting facilities include a grand ballroom – divisible by four, but when opened up caters to gatherings of 800 – as well as five more function spaces. The Privilege Club Floor will welcome frequent customers with complimentary breakfast and all-day refreshment in the lounge. Also coming soon: Hyatt Regency Danang Resort and Spa, Hilton, InterContinental, JW Marriott, Le Meridien Danang Resort, Pullman, Raffles Hotel & Residence, Somerset Danang Day and Novotel Imperial Hoi An Resort.
Erratic and seasonal demands have caused direct flights operating in the past to shrink now to just Silkair flying four times weekly from Singapore. The situation may pick up once the new Danang International Airport project is completed. Travellers’ other options to reach Danang include arriving in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and catching a one-hour domestic connection provided by Vietnam Airlines (up to nine times a day) and Jetstar Pacific Airlines (four times a day).
Citizens of Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) do not need a visa for stays of up to 30 days, while those of South Korea, Japan, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland can stay visa-free for up to 15 days. Visas can be secured prior to departure at all Vietnamese consulates or embassies or online for pre-approved on-arrival visas issued at the airport. The one-year visa is temporarily unavailable – but the three-month multiple entry visa is.
Vietnamese, a Mon-Khmer language, is the national language, with English fast replacing French as the second most popular means of communication. Many people in the tourism industry speak English with varying competency. Taxi drivers will still need to be told by the concierge where you want to go.
Danang lies in a tropical monsoon zone, with the rainiest months being October and November and the drier months being January to April. The annual average temperature is 25?C.