Together with Ho Chi Minh City and Lam Dong province, Binh Thuan province is a pole in the important dynamic triangle in tourism development strategy connecting South Central, Central Highlands and Mekong Delta regions.
Binh Thuan tourism had boomed since the event total solar eclipse on Oct 24, 1995. Until 2005, when tourism in Danang had not yet developed, tourism in Da Lat and Nha Trang had just started budding, Binh Thuan was already named as “the capital of resorts” with more than 80 resorts coming into operation.
In the last few years, Binh Thuan tourism maintains a steady growth rate and the government still values its important role and advantages for the biggest tourism centre in Southeast Asia on sea sports.
In the decision of the Prime Minister on approving the master plan to develop Mui Ne as a National Tourism site by 2025 with an orientation towards 2030, Binh Thuan is deemed to become a sea-sport tourism centre at the national level; and by 2030, Mui Ne tourism site is expected to become one of the top destinations in the Asia – Pacific region.
Thanks to local authorities' support as well as its geographical features and climate conditions, Binh Thuan has steadily proved itself as No.1 in Vietnam on sea-sport tourism, especially since the PWA windsurfing tournament was organized in Mui Ne nine years ago with the help from French sea sport expert Pascal Lefebvre, who has engaged with Mui Ne for over 20 years.
However, it is not long after the golden period in 2005, Binh Thuan tourism has gradually levelled off and lagged behind for the past one decade. While Binh Thuan was resting on laurels, other localities such as Danang and Phu Quoc islandsped up and attracted more and more visitors. Significantly, an international airport was opened eight years ago, Phu Quoc tourism has skyrocketed while Mui Ne has slowdowned and lagged behind due to the lack of an airport.
It can be said that if Mui Ne airport had started and inaugurated at the same time with Phu Quoc airport, Binh Thuan would have been competing with Phu Quoc in investment. This is because Binh Thuan’s coastline is around 192 km long which can take full advantage of tourism. However, so far the upgrading of the airport from 4C level to 4E level in the sharing role of civil and military finds it difficult.
While Vietnam's tourism in general has suffered severely from the Covid-19 epidemic, the number of high-quality resorts in Binh Thuan are still not enough to meet demand these days due to the sunny, windy weather condition all year round.
Of course, Binh Thuan authorities take precautions strictly. Most of visitors to Binh Thuan are not coming from China, but mostly from Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden, France, Germany, Australia and the US who are very passionate about Binh Thuan.
Perhaps, this is the time for Binh Thuan to wake up after a long sleep to accelerate its tourism development to deserve its potential and uniqueness.
To fulfill aspirations on sustainable tourism development, Binh Thuan must have a plan to develop featured tourism products and services in order to attract targeted visitors with key initiatives aiming at increasing length of stay, expenditure and coming back possibility whiles promoting and preserving local cultural identities and special values.
This can be done through a development orientation and architectural plan of tourism functional subregions.
Promoting investment in sea sports and festivals
The sea-sports industry of Binh Thuan is currently leading the country and converging geographic and climate conditions into becoming a sea sport tourism center at the national level and leading Southeast Asia.
Annually, the province organizes successfully the Fun Cup Kitesurfing and Windsurfing, attracting thousands of international players, with most of them coming from developed countries such as Russia, Eastern Europe, Northern Europe, Japan and Australia.
If this advantage can be promoted on the 192km-coastline, new sea-sport international centres will have opportunities to be opened. As a result, a wave of investment in international-branded resorts and services could be landed that will help Binh Thuan reposition itsellf as “the capital of resorts” in Vietnam.
However, lack of promotion in sea spots is a long-standing weakness. National television stations do not pay appropriate attention to this high-level and interesting sport. Not many people know about the Wind Surfing World Cup organized successfully 10 years ago which was officially ranked the world's top 15 in the Sea and Wind Sport.
The international traveller community in Mui Ne is very active in the investment and organization of new events to satisfy the needs of international connoisseur visitors.
Saigon Dub Station organizes parties on the beach with Reggae music, campsites and music in distinctive space orders, fell running, cycling race and marathon. They also have organizing higher-level events such as the international hot air balloon festival and the international sailing festival which were successful and attracted dozens of countries with the attending teams.
These initiatives are attracting a number of dedicated and capable travellers to become project developers.
Adventure tourism and picnic sports
The wilderness space in Bac Binh and Ham Thuan Bac districts is a rare area left in the country where it is semi-desert terrain. This is very suitable for terrain racing on a 200-300km route for future offroad motor racing. A terrain racetrack or even a Formula 1 racetrack is feasible to be built on a wilderness area of thousand hectares. It requires high-profile developer and investor.
Tuy Phong district currently has a hot trail for trekkers, namely Phan Dung-Ta Nang that attracts young people nationwide.
In addition, there are many trails crossing forests towards Lam Dong province which are often called Yersin Trail with the idea of redemption on the path through the forest that Dr. Yersin went on an expedition to discover Dalat. Horse riding, therefore, is favoured by a number of investors. It can be compared partly with high-level horse riding tours on the world, specifically Mongolia.
Currently, hundreds of visitors experience the sand desert route Bau Trang by terrain vehicles. This is a second-to-non traction for Binh Thuan tourism. Automobile corporations are also targeting on sales-services centers and high-end rental services or fleet sales, as well as diversify rental self-drive services.
Deserted flat asphalted routes of dozens of kilometres long in Mui Ne, such as 706B road and Hoa Phu road, are also rare places nationwide for motor enthusiasts and racers. This is a wonderful condition for high-class motorsports teams like DUCATI, BMW Motorrad, Harley Davidson ... to parade and perform the speed safely and excitedly.
Healthcare tourism and convalescence
Different from bustling tourist destinations, visitors come to Mui Ne-Binh Thuan with distinctive thinking and routines spend a lot of time for sunbathing on the beach and relaxing in silent gardens in resorts or under coconut trees or beside swimming pools.
Currently, investors in spa, mud bathing and mineral bathing industry are coming to Binh Thuan. Bung Thi mineral hot stream in the primitive forest of Ta Cu mountain is under construction.
Binh Thuan is witnessing a new wave of investment in second homes, with typical projetcs including NovaHills Mui Ne, NovaWorld Phan Thiet, Mui Ne Summerland and Thanh Long Bay. The province is also suitable for developing small-scale spa and reflexology establishment using traditional medicine.
International schools in Ho Chi Minh City are looking to open their branches in Mui Ne beach in order to develop the model ‘ecological and physical semester’ which can complement to professional theoretical lessons and hard days in the crowded city.
Odontology tourism which began in Ho Chi Minh City four years ago has started to move to tourism cities, including Mui Ne.
Promoting large-scale entertainment projects
It is known that recently Binh Thuan has invited international prestigious consultant McKinsey & Company for tourism development planning towards 2025-2030.
Accordingly, innovational initiatives along with the progress of constructing Phan Thiet airport has created a wave of investment into Binh Thuan. Hopefully, this is an important highlight and breakthrough in the coming years.
Mui Ne can be compared with other large tourism centres in the Southeast Asian region such as Phuket and Bali. Furthermore, its unique terrain allows developing its own values as steppe and desert are one of a kind in the region. Together with the development of high-class sea sports, it is able to attract international investors. That is the missing piece of tourism in Binh Thuan today.
In an investment promotion conference in Binh Thuan late last year, investors table projects worth up to $30 billion. It is a very impressive number.
However, to realize and promote the investment, many things need to be done. The most important thing is the construction of Phan Thiet airport and Dau Giay-Phan Thiet highway.
Engage the value chain in agriculture-based tourism
Developing tourism in-depth in each locality should always engage with communities. Currently, a multi-national resident community has formed in Mui Ne, in which Russian, French and Northern Europian residents account for a high proportion. This community is promoting investment in sea sport, high-class services and more un agriculture-based tourism.
In addition, local leaders are also more active in connecting value chains aiming at consuming products in tourism activities. In particular, dragon fruit garden landscape and local foods are highlight in home-stay tours. At the same time, agricultural products are processed to produce dragon fruit wine and mango rum which are well received by visitors.
Hundreds of functional foods are being sold in many shops along Mui Ne seaside town. However, the local government must monitor and inspect the quality and origin of these products to protect the prestige of the locality, true producers and brands.
Binh Thuan must have a further strategy on attracting retail chains and high-class services for diversifying products and services to keep visitors.
Therefore, not only professional real estate investors are needed but also creative and professional service developers.
Accordingly, making use creatively of value chains of agriculture, processed fruits, seafood, processed seafood, functional food and pharmaceutical products is a high potential for innovational startup projects in Mui Ne-Binh Thuan tourism area.
Attaching special importance to the product brand and human resource
Recently, Binh Thuan has put efforts to develop local and geographical brands but product brands and also brands of associations have not yet focused.
In addition to collective product brands of Phan Thiet fish sauce and Binh Thuan dragon fruits, brands of many other products need to be paid more attention to, including brands for processed fruits.
At the moment, dragon fruit wine has been not achieved its potential in terms of quality and wine-standard taste. The pressure to sell dragon fruits recently due to the Covid-19 outbreak has created an initiative that uses dragon fruit juice to produce bread by ABC Bakery. This initiative has then been applied by many bread makers in Phan Thiet.
Lobster in Phu Quy island is one of the high-class products of the South Central Coast. Rum is currently an attractive product that is popular with Russian tourists. Gel made of snake venom for treating joint problems from Najatox brand (Mekopharm) is also a typical item.
Educational products such as international schools or their branches in this seaside city connecting with Ho Chi Minh City is a high potential.
Due to unique international environment in Mui Ne, it is easy to find international teachers, coachers and artists participating in lecturing.
In addition, the provincial government plans to build an international and professional marketing centre. This innovation is initiated by the consultant McKinsey & Company and supported by local authorities. We hope that this marketing centre will play an active and professional role in tourism and economic development strategy for Binh Thuan in the coming years.
(*) Branding and economics expert Vo Van Quang is a member of the drafting board of the national image promotion strategy.