The resort scene in the southern island of Phu Quoc continues to boom. Over the last two years, a number of luxury hotels have been opened such as Best Western Premier Sonasea Resort and Villas, InterContinental Long Beach Resort Phu Quoc, Premier Village and Radisson Blue, providing more than 2,000 rooms to the market.
Although these hotels are branded internationally, they all have been developed by local developers, who are looking to cash in on the island's tourism boom.
Among recent openings, two hotels, Best Western Premier and Novotel, are brainchild of Doan Van Binh, Chairman of CEO Group, who immediately fell in love with the island at the first sight. Binh flied to the island to take part in an investment promotion eight years ago when Phu Quoc was almost untouched by tourism.
As an investor, Binh saw the island as an unpolished gem. The island has a long coastline with beautiful beaches, rich primaeval forests and abundant fresh water. In addition, Phu Quoc has a strategic location, which is only one to two hours away from Southeast Asian tourist centres. The sunny weather all year round also favours tourism.
Binh then decided to make Phu Quoc a key investment area of CEO Group. In the past few years, CEO Group has totally changed the Long Beach with the opening of Novotel Resort & Villas and Best Western Premier Resort.
The pioneering investors like CEO Group have helped transform Phu Quoc from an isolated island into a tourism paradise. In addition to new resort openings, the island has seen new entertainment facilities such as a cable car system, a safari and a long-awaited casino.
A new international airport was opened six years ago and only a few years later it is being expanded to double the capacity as the number of tourists soars.
Last year, Phu Quoc welcomed more than four million tourists, an increase of 36 per cent compared to the previous year, of which there were over 500,000 international visitors.
The success in Phu Quoc has encouraged CEO Group to explore a new destination and recently it has signed up with Accor Hotels to develop three hotels in the nothern district of Van Don in Quang Ninh province, where a new international airport was opened one month ago.
The rise of new spots
Phu Quoc is a typical example of the rise of new tourism spots. So far, tourism have been developing strongly in famous localities such as Nha Trang, Danang and Halong. However, untapped provinces like Ninh Thuan in the south central region have waken up.
Ninh Thuan is hardly a blip on international visitors' map. Even in Vietnam, the province is only known for sand dunes and harsh weather all year round.
Therefore, industry insiders have been surprised by Crystal Bay Group's ambitious plans to develop nearly 20,000 hotel rooms in the province. The largest of project is the 766-hectare Ecopark Mui Dinh resort project, designed as the miniature Middle East.
When asked about the reasons for betting on such an arid location, Crystal Bay Business Development Director Nguyen Truong Son is bullish, saying, "Ninh Thuan is like a gem buried in the sand".
According to Son, Ninh Thuan has a beautiful and pristine landscape with some tourist spots having extremely unique scenery. Moreover, Cam Ranh airport is only an hour away from the provincial capital Phan Rang - Thap Cham.
However, Son claims the province has long been in a vicious circle. It lacks quality hotel rooms to attract tourists and the lack of tourists has discouraged investors to build hotels.
Although Ninh Thuan has a poor infrastructure for tourism development, Son said his group was confident that Ninh Thuan has adequate conditions to emerge as a tourism hotspots in Vietnam and Crystal Bay is building large-scale tourism complexes in the province as it has available tourist supply.
Crystal Bay is one of main tourist feeders for hotels in Nha Trang and it brought in more than 360,000 international tourists to Vietnam last year.
Son said Crystal Bay is developing another tourism complex in Van Don district of Quang Ninh province, which will feature 88-storey twin towers. The group will connect Van Don with Ninh Thuan so that tourists can explore the beautiful landscape of Halong Bay and enjoy sea, sand and sun in the south central coast.
Despite the persistent shortcomings such as underdeveloped transport infrastructure, lack of high-quality human resources, or weak promotion and marketing, investors still have high hopes for Vietnam's tourism. Investment opportunities are even ampler as Vietnam becomes an increasingly attractive destination for international visitors.
The country last year attracted 15.6 million international visitors and it expects to welcome up to 20 million foreign tourists in 2020.
However, industry players are looking for more.
"We have a desire to turn Vietnam into the world's tourism powerhouse," said Dang Minh Truong, Chairman of Sun Group, which owns the award-winning resorts such as InterContinental in Danang and JW Marriott in Phu Quoc.
"Vietnam has adequate conditions to become a tourism powerhouse of the world and we have opportunities and ability to turn that desire into reality," added Binh from CEO Group.
In order to become a global tourism powerhouse of the world, Vietnam must develop at the same level as Thailand's. Meanwhile, although Vietnam tourism has strongly developed in recent years, the number of international visitors to Vietnam is still half of Thailand's.
However, industry players like Binh or Son are still optimistic as they see Vietnam's tourism potential is more abudant than other countries'. The only problem is that its potential has not been exploited effectively.
Provinces like Ninh Thuan are moving faster to tap their potential. Earlier, the province focused on encouraging investment in industrial projects. However, according to Luu Xuan Vinh, Chairman of the People's Committee of Ninh Thuan, the province is now calling for investment in tourism development.
That appeal has been quickly responded by investors like Crystal Bay.
Binh said if the government helps remove four bottlenecks, which are transport infrastructure development, visa exemption for foreign visitors, awareness raising and human resource development, and tourism promotion, Vietnam can become the world's tourism powerhouse and tourism industry can contribute hundreds of billions of USD to GDP in the future.