During the last decade, Vietnam was lauded as one of Asia-Pacific’s hot new tourist destinations. This decade, it shows all the signs of emerging as a hot new events destination – several individual Vietnam venues are starting to win international awards, beating off more established Asian competitors.
This development is remarkable, given that the country is relatively new to this niche market and doesn’t promote corporate meetings and conferences as much, or as successfully, as other nations in the region.
“Vietnam’s MICE business has generally increased by around 30 percent, [compared to] 2009, thanks to a gradual recovery from the global downturn,” says Stephen Le, director of sales and marketing, Asia Top DMC (Hanoi).
Thailand’s recent unstable political situation has helped in part, with several organisations switching to alternative venues such as Vietnam, which is regarded as politically stable and was voted “Safest Asean travel destination” by Hong Kong risk-management company Political and Economic Risk Consultancy.
“Opportunities for Vietnam in the MICE sector are currently very strong with increased interest due to events in Thailand – and whilst confidence in Thailand is growing back fast, this is Vietnam’s time to shine,” reflects Charlotte Weston, regional marketing manager, Pacific World Asia.
The Thailand chapter could turn out a temporary blip. However, several long-term factors are contributing to Vietnam’s burgeoning potential for events: new facilities and venues increasing in numbers, size and sophistication, including state-of-the-art convention centres and improved infrastructure, new airport terminals and the introduction of more long-haul flights.
In sync with Vietnam’s enviable economic growth, arguably the biggest key to MICE development is its booming hotel and resort development.
This unprecedented expansion, especially in key areas to be discussed further, has led to dramatically increased choices for event organisers and participants. A prime example, Vietnam’s leading international hotel operator, Accor, plans nine more multi-brand properties in major hotspots in the next few years.
“The MICE Industry in Vietnam is growing and will continue to grow as the economy expands and infrastructure is built up,” says Anthony Slewka-Armfelt, regional director of sales, Sofitel (Accor) Southeast Asia. “The country is gradually becoming a mainstream travel destination, which will in turn result in MICE growth.”
As a relatively unchartered territory with landscape diversity and distinctive cultural identities, Vietnam also offers further appeal compared to more tried-and-tested destinations in the region. Not surprisingly, incentive travel is booming.
“Within our MICE business, 60 percent are incentive groups,” confirms Volker Capito, representative, European market, TransViet Travel. “The trend for incentive trips to Vietnam is stronger than ever, with big interest for groups of 25 to 45.”
Kerryn Alexander, representative, MINT Organisation (Australia) adds: “Vietnam is becoming a more popular venue for incentives and conferences for the Australian corporate sector, as it offers great value and new cultural experiences.”
But can Vietnam deliver? Proving its capability mettle, the country so far has successfully hosted many high-profile diplomatic and corporate events, including APEC 2006 and, as 2010 Chair of Asean, the 19th World Economic Forum (WEF) and Asean meetings this year.
The big cities
Vietnam’s largest cities – Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) – are key players in the corporate events industry, emerging as Southeast Asia’s new contenders. Both boast the nation’s most sophisticated facilities and, with all international flights entering via their airports (although Danang is an exception), they are the gateways to Vietnam.
HCMC is Vietnam’s economic powerhouse and one of Asia’s most dynamic business destinations; it’s now also the second fastest-growing city in the developing world. Where business is second nature, many regard the former Saigon as Vietnam’s leader in service levels, facilities and large-scale conventions and events. Two top-class venues opened in 2009 which helped along HCMC’s reputation: the elegant White Palace Convention Centre (www.whitepalace.com.vn), a five-minute run from the airport, and the Saigon Exhibition and Convention Centre (SECC) (http://secc.com.vn), located in a new suburban city district and the largest, most sophisticated development of its kind in Vietnam.
When work is complete, the international-standard SECC will comprise four indoor exhibition halls (40,000sqm in total), outdoor exhibition space (15,000 to 20,000sqm), a 2,000-seat convention centre and two adjoining upscale hotels.
A new international terminal opened at Tan Son Nhat International Airport three years ago, but with airline traffic growing at 15 percent annually and being increasingly constrained by urban sprawl, the government plans a new airport 40km northeast of the city. Scheduled to open by 2015, Long Thanh International Airport will comprise four runways that are capable of handling heavy long-haul international planes and 100m-plus passengers annually.
Thriving luxury hotels conveniently clustered in the city’s downtown, such as the award-winning Park Hyatt Saigon (www.saigon.park.hyatt.com), easily accommodate both international convention business and discerning corporate travellers. Two notables have particularly established HCMC as a serious events player: the five-star Sheraton Saigon Hotel and Towers, which is adept at hosting large-scale events, and the InterContinental Asiana Saigon (www.intercontinental.com/saigon), which only opened a year ago but is already proving a significant addition to the city’s event capabilities. In June, it hosted over 300 delegates from across the globe for the 19th World Economic Forum on East Asia.
With seminars and conferences held over two days, the unprecedented co-ordination between ministries and governmental authorities, the police, the department of foreign affairs and hotel management was “a resounding success”, says Thomas Schmelter, area general manager, IHG Vietnam. More city hotels in the pipeline include Accor’s upscale Pullman Saigon, opening in 2013 – a brand specifically designed to serve the corporate market and a favourite with event organisers.
Up north, Hanoi is a relatively new events destination but is experiencing increased growth. This historic, culturally-rich city is an attractive venue and now offers improved facilities and infrastructure. The jewel in the crown is the National Convention Center (NCC), which opened in 2006 in time for the APEC CEO Summit. Backed by advanced technological capabilities, this ultra-modern venue comprises 40 function rooms covering 60,000sqm, a conference hall seating 3,500 delegates, a banquet hall, conference rooms, a press centre and a rooftop helipad – ideal for high-ranking delegates such as presidents Vladimir Putin and George W Bush.
As the capital and diplomatic hub, conventions here tend to have a more VIP angle; the successful juggling of 21 heads of state during APEC cemented Hanoi’s stature. Hanoi has some long-established, business-oriented hotels which are well-versed in hosting corporate conferences and events.
These include the Hilton Hanoi Opera (www.hanoi.hilton.com), while the hotel and convention centre the Melia Hanoi (www.meliahanoi.com) is a slick old hand for ministerial delegations and high-profile conventions. With more upscale hotel brands planned, including the Crowne Plaza West Hanoi – the nearest five-star to the NCC, 3km away – Vietnam’s capital will be even better equipped for its burgeoning events market. For now, 2010 is panning out as a busy year, with more high-profile, Asean-related meetings and the city’s official 1,000th birthday celebrations in October.
Business is a beach
Nonetheless, both HCMC and Hanoi are suffering from worsening traffic, congestion and urban problems. Offering greater scenic value and space, regional destinations – for the most part served by domestic airports – are starting to find favour, such as Central Highland city, Dalat and premier beach resort Mui Ne. However, they are somewhat limited in facilities and infrastructure – Mui Ne, for example, has no airport.
New upscale beachside resorts in key coastal areas seem to be the way forward for Vietnam’s corporate events industry.
Expect more MICE activity in beach city Nha Trang, a 40-minute flight from HCMC. The first to make a mark in this southcentral region was Diamond Bay Resort and Golf (www.diamondbayresort.vn), which opened in 2008, but as the first internationally renowned five-star resort along this coastline, Sheraton Nha Trang has been emerging as a top-class venue since its opening in mid-2010 (see hotel highlights).
This fast-developing central coastal region, served by Danang International Airport and one hour from both Hanoi and HCMC, now aims to be one of Southeast Asia’s premier new resort destinations. But, with top-notch facilities, it is also shaping up nicely as a contender as a business events destination.
Although this region maybe better known for the Unesco World Heritage Hue city and 16th-century port town Hoi An, pivotal to its current development is Danang, Vietnam’s third largest city. Or rather, the 30km beach strip linking Danang and Hoi An and, especially, a 17km stretch known as “China Beach”. An R&R (rest and recuperation) hang-out for US GIs during the Vietnam War and ranked one of the “World’s Most Luxurious Beaches” by Forbes magazine in 2005, China Beach has mysteriously been left undeveloped for years.
Exceptions have been luxury beach resorts the Furama Danang (www.furamavietnam.com), and the internationally-acclaimed The Nam Hai (www.thenamhai.com). Finally, however, the authorities have given this much-prized coastline the green light for international brand resorts and golf course development (see relevant boxes).
“Danang has all the elements to be a global MICE destination. With a variety of resorts open or scheduled to open along this beach strip, capacity will soon be able to handle large corporate and incentive groups,” says Baron R Ah Moo, chief executive, Indochina Hotels and Resorts.
Just 20 minutes from Danang International Airport, with upscale beachfront resorts and MICE-oriented facilities, surrounded by some of Asia’s best golf courses and rich cultural diversity, this area is seriously transforming itself into an emerging destination of choice for business events.
As well as a single-centre destination, Danang can ideally combine with HCMC or Hanoi.
“Most incentive groups combine a second destination. Danang is the most popular, as it can be additionally combined with [HCMC or Hannoi, as well as] smaller surrounding hubs,” says TransViet’s Capito.
Development is further accelerated by improved infrastructure. Danang International Airport now receives flights from Singapore, Guangzhou and Taipei, and direct flights from Hong Kong and Shanghai are imminent. With a new airport terminal opening in April 2011, Danang will have access to more international flights.
“2011 will be the year for Danang and Hoi An as a destination. The airport’s expansion will be a big plus for client events, increasing accessibility to a rewarding incentive or conference destination,” says Weston of Pacific World.
Perhaps a sign of things to come, The Nam Hai has recently been listed by Lonely Planet in their worldwide “Top 10 Dream Business Destinations, 2010”.
Overall, Vietnam seems primed for the growth of its business events market in the next decade. However, there are still some weak areas that need to be addressed, such as English language skills and service levels, visa applications and national information sources. And, for now, the market is mostly regionally-based.
“The one challenge to the growth of Vietnam’s events sector is that the medium- and longhaul business hasn’t picked up yet, since the majority of contributing countries and companies are still mindful of the expense,” says Sofitel’s Slewka-Armfelt. “But this should improve with the global economic condition.”
What’s new at China Beach / Danang
When it opens late 2011, the five-star Hyatt Regency Danang Resort and Spa will add another new venue in this region – but with luxury Hyatt brand appeal. The exclusive beachfront features a 200-room resort and residential complex along China Beach. Also along here, Le Méridien Danang Resort and Spa promises to be another luxurious beachfront property. The 12ha complex, comprising deluxe villas, residences and a five-star hotel, is due for completion in 2013.
Golf can go hand-in-hand with a corporate event programme as a welcome add-on activity. With the launch of two world-class golf courses at China Beach, plus half a dozen more planned on the Central Coast, this region is emerging as an important golf destination.
“Various factors have conspired to peg Danang as Vietnam’s top golf destination and one of the best in Southeast Asia,” says Mark Siegel, chief executive, Golfasian Vietnam.
Crafted by golf legend Greg Norman and opened to acclaim in May 2010, links-style Danang Golf Club (www.dananggolfclub.com) is, “as close as you’ll come in Asia to the UK’s great links courses”, according to Golf Digest Singapore. Nearby, one of Asia’s best new golf courses and Central Coast’s first 18-hole facility, Montgomerie Links (www.montgomerielinks.com) opened in 2009. The par 72, outstanding links course designed by golfer Colin Montgomerie comprises a sleek 3,000sqm clubhouse and state-of-the-art PGA Golf Academy – Vietnam’s first. Ranked seventh among the top 20 courses in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam (Southeast Asia GLOBE, 2010), Montgomerie Links has already hosted many corporate events for high-profile companies such as HSBC.
Catering for groups of all sizes, the course team can offer corporate teambuilding activities, golf clinics with British PGA Professional and lunch/dinner components.
Developing from this, Vietnam Golf Coast (www.vietnamgolfcoast.com) was launched in August this year as a new joint marketing strategy to promote the Central Coast as Asia’s “next golf Mecca”. The informal group of founding members includes Montgomerie Links, Danang Golf Club, The Nam Hai, Life Resort Danang and Golfasian Vietnam. These are soon to be joined by additional upscale golf courses and resorts developing in the area.
Near to both courses, Dutch brand Life Resort Danang (www.life-resorts.com) was the first resort to open early this year on China Beach since the global recession. Taking hospitality and beachfront stays to new heights in the region, a 250-seat concept kitchen restaurant, and a ballroom accommodating 500 for banquets and 700 in theatre-style seating make an appealing new venue. Sitting on four hectares, the beachfront property can also offer open-air venues for functions.
Further south of China Beach, along Hoi An’s own strip of beach, Accor has two new beachfront properties: the 131-room Le Belhamy Hoi An Resort and Spa (www.mercure.com), already operational but with MICE facilities available from the beginning of next year, and the 220-room Novotel Imperial Hoi An (www.novotel.com), scheduled to open in late 2011.
Tim Russell, managing director, Come & Go Vietnam :
“Vietnam remains a challenging but rewarding destination for MICE groups. Hotel rates, although lower than their 2008 peak, remain uncompetitive compared to neighbours like Thailand, while logistical arrangements are hampered by appalling traffic. Vietnam’s MICE industry is still in its infancy, with no conference bureaus and few tour operators who understand the attention to detail and service levels required. Wi-Fi is everywhere and internet speeds are good The main problem at meeting facilities, however, is that staff invariably set up things at the last minute and don’t test the equipment. This invariably results in meetings being delayed.
On the plus side, upscale hotels opening in HCMC and Hanoi have increased conference facility availability, plus the new SECC means that HCMC now has state-of-the-art exhibition facilities. Outside major cities, hotel rates are excellent value, particularly in popular beach resorts like Mui Ne and Nha Trang. And, while service industry staff are generally less professional than in more established MICE destinations, they more than make up for this in friendliness and enthusiasm.”
Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN) in Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s busiest airport hub, handling nearly two-thirds of international arrivals and departures in all of Vietnam’s airports. Located 7km northwest of downtown, it can take anything from 35 minutes to two hours by road to get to downton, depending on traffic.
Vietnamese is the official language, but English is increasingly used in the tourism and business sectors.
Standard tourist visas are 15 to 30 days. Visas on arrival are available at Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City or Danang international airports and arranged with a pre-approved letter from an authorised agent. Visit www.vietnam-embassy.org for visa details.
Vietnam’s climate is diverse and varies widely regionally and seasonally. Ho Chi Minh City has year-round tropical climate with two distinct seasons; the best time is the dry season (November/December to April/May) with clear skies and little rain. Hanoi has four seasons. The best time is spring (April – June) and autumn (late September -November) with little rain and plenty of sunshine.
HCMC’s largest five-star hotel located in central downtown, Sheraton Saigon Hotel and Towers (www.sheraton.com/saigon) boasts a 760sqm pillarless ballroom, 16 multipurpose function rooms and a team of premium executive meeting specialists. A hotel within a hotel, the 25-floor Grand Tower is world-class and features deluxe benefits such as butler service and an exclusive Lounge (over 500sqm) – an ideal base for executive delegations.
HCMC’s newest five-star property, InterContinental Asiana Saigon (www.intercontinental.com/saigon), is geared to the corporate guest. The largest pillarless ballroom downtown (818sqm) and 10 meeting rooms – wired with cutting-edge technology – are located all on one level. The adjoining InterContinental Asiana Saigon Residences is InterContinental’s first residential property in Asia-Pacific.
Secluded in a stunning bay setting (with two private beaches) and a 15-minute drive from Nha Trang, the 342-room Diamond Bay Resort and Golf (www.diamondbayresort.vn), has a convention centre with 7,000 seating capacity and 1,782sqm Grand Banquet Hall. This was put to good use when hosting the Miss Universe Pageant in 2008. Nha Trang’s first 18-hole golf course is scheduled to open here in 2010.
The all-new Sheraton Nha Trang (www.sheraton.com/nhatrang) offers luxury events facilities , yet is downtown, opposite Nha Trang’s sweeping 7km beach. The 30-storey property boasts 11 event facilities on two levels, including two ballrooms, backed by advanced audiovisual and telecommunications equipment.Inspirational outdoor venues include a multipurpose event room, Altitude, on the 28th floor, for breathtaking bay views and intimate receptions.
When all-villa beach resort The Nam Hai (www.thenamhai.com) opened in 2006, it raised the benchmark for luxurious accommodation in Vietnam. A GHM Asian flagship, this exclusive five-star resort on a 1.5km section of China Beach now organises high-end “boutique” events; target markets include top executives’ meetings and retreats, CEO-level public relations and networking trips. With just one boardroom, the resort prides itself on the availability of alternative venues – like the 40 Living/Dining Pavilions of the Residential Pool Villas – and a more casual, interactive approach. “Clients can also book the entire resort for their private use – mostly incentive groups not requiring meeting space,” confirms director of sales and marketing, Albert Lafuente.
Perched right on West Lake, Hanoi’s latest luxury property, the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake (http://www.intercontinental.com/hanoi) offers a unique, resort-like setting, yet is just 15 minutes from downtown. The modern conference centre sits separately from the main block, comprising Grand Ballroom (364sqm) and four meeting rooms. IHW’s tranquil lakeside setting is conducive for inspired meetings and incentive groups – especially at the semi-al fresco Sunset Bar, set on its own island.
Hanoi’s century-old landmark, the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi (www.sofitel.com/1555) offers a distinct colonial charm and its nine meeting rooms are elegance personified. However, the first Sofitel worldwide with “Metropole” branding has recently completed extensive upgrades. Along with three other Sofitel properties in Vietnam, Accor has launched its specially customised InspiredMeetings concept, intending to become a leading business events location.
Asia Top DMC
Come & Go Vietnam
Pacific World Vietnam