Revitalizing Van Don: A new attraction in Vietnam's tourism landscape

By Giang Son - Apr 24, 2024 | 10:10 AM GMT+7

TheLEADERNestled along the pristine Bai Tu Long Bay in northern Vietnam lies the hidden tourism gem of Van Don, which is gradually emerging as a premier destination on the international tourism map.

Revitalizing Van Don: A new attraction in Vietnam's tourism landscape
The soft opening of Wyndham Garden Sonasea Van Don marks a new milestone in the tourism develeopment of the legendary land. Photo at the courtesy of CEO Group

It is not without reason that Cao Tuong Huy, Chairman of the People's Committee of Quang Ninh province, assessed the opening of Wyndham Garden Sonasea Van Don resort over the weekend as overcoming the existing weaknesses, opening up new opportunities for Van Don to take off and become a high-class coastal and island tourism center as directed by the Prime Minister.

The weakness mentioned by Huy is that despite its beautiful nature, unique culture, hospitable people, and diverse cuisine, Van Don has not been able to retain tourists for long stays because they only pass through due to the lack of quality accommodation facilities.

CEO Group Chairman Doan Van Binh also likened Van Don to a "sleeping beauty" waiting for "princes to awaken."

Being an island district just a bridge away from the mainland, Van Don still maintains its pristine beauty with the magnificent Bai Tu Long Bay containing over 600 islands of various sizes dotting the bay.

For a long time, Bai Tu Long Bay has been overshadowed by the fame of Halong Bay - a "treasure" of Quang Ninh and "those who have not been to Halong Bay have not traveled to Vietnam".

But as tourism in Halong Bay becomes overloaded and as part of the strategy to shift from "brown" to "green" - meaning transitioning from an economy relying on resource extraction industries and pollution to tourism and services - Quang Ninh has aimed to expand the tourism development space by connecting Halong Bay with Van Don and Co To Island as centers.

In line with that strategy, many investors such as CEO Group, Everland, Sun Group, HD Mon, and Viglacera have set foot in Van Don alongside local businesses like Mai Quyen and Ao Tien.

Binh recalled that CEO Group did not arrive first; it was not until 2017, after successfully developing tourism real estate projects and hotels in Phu Quoc, that he began to explore investment opportunities in Van Don and Bai Tu Long Bay.

After considering various criteria, he decided to acquire the incomplete Viet My resort project and relaunch it on a grander scale under the Sonasea Van Don Harbour City brand, with the Wyndham Garden Sonasea Van Don resort being just a part of it.

Despite having only 200 rooms, equivalent to only half the size of Novotel or Best Western Premier hotels that CEO Group had opened in Phu Quoc, the Wyndham Garden Sonasea Van Don resort still evoked many emotions for Binh.

He was proud that the resort achieved six firsts in Van Don: the largest hotel, the first 5-star hotel, the first international resort, the first Wyndham brand, and the tallest building completed and put into operation.

And finally, as evaluated by Huy, this was a project completed on schedule as initially committed among the four motivational projects in Van Don over the past two years.

Revitalizing Van Don: A new dawn in Vietnam's tourism landscape
CEO Group created statues of builders in Sonasea Van Don Habour City in apprecication of those who contributed to the development of the project. Photo at the courtesy of CEO Group

Passion and responsibility

Reviewing the journey, Huy highly appreciated the determination and resoluteness of CEO Group in "keeping promises to Quang Ninh province and the people of Van Don by putting the project into operation early."

Just two years ago, also at Bai Dai, Huy, along with the leaders of Quang Ninh province, simultaneously launched four motivational projects in Van Don, including an industrial cluster and three hotel-resort complexes invested by CEO Group, Everland, and Ao Tien - Cat Linh.

While other projects were still on paper or in the initial stages of implementation, CEO Group demonstrated its courage and capacity by being the first enterprise to complete a motivational project in Van Don.

Emphasizing courage and ability is crucial because investing in a 200-room international standard hotel in Van Don was a challenging journey.

In fact, many investors proposed large-scale projects when Van Don was oriented to become a special administrative-economic unit. However, when this orientation was put on hold, many ambitious plans were left unfinished halfway.

Some investors even withdrew despite having spent a considerable amount preparing for the project.

Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic dealt another blow to the Vietnamese tourism industry in general and investors in Van Don in particular.

Amidst nearly paralyzed tourism due to the pandemic, hotels had to close or operate cautiously, causing most investors to hesitate.

And along with market fluctuations and macroeconomic changes, in the years since Van Don international airport became operational and later the Halong - Van Don - Mong Cai expressway was completed, there was still no international standard tourism project operational in Van Don until the opening of Wyndham Garden Sonasea Van Don.

Not only facing unpredictable business environment fluctuations but also pioneers like Binh and members of CEO Group faced numerous challenges when investing in Van Don.

Investment procedures were favorable because, as Binh affirmed, the leaders of Quang Ninh Province provided "maximum support" to enterprises by investing in island infrastructure such as island road systems while streamlining administrative procedures, thereby reducing burdens for investors.

However, challenges were not few. The project was implemented against the backdrop of social distancing nationwide due to Covid-19. Project planning had to be adjusted to fit the overall development plan of Van Don. Compensation costs, land clearance, material prices, and overtime labor costs all increased.

Although not facing the arduous task of transporting materials as in Phu Quoc, Binh revealed that the investment cost for hotels in Van Don was also high compared to the southern island due to the complex limestone under the ground, requiring more advanced technology and higher construction costs.

Moreover, while Phu Quoc's beaches remained pristine, in Van Don, CEO Group had to spend hundreds of billions of dong to purchase sand from elsewhere to renovate the beaches to be cleaner and more beautiful.

Binh estimated that up to this point, CEO Group had poured nearly $200 million into building items of the Sonasea Van Don Habour City complex, with the investment cost for the Wyndham Garden resort alone nearly reaching $40 million.

Revitalizing Van Don: A new attraction in Vietnam's tourism landscape 1
The complex overlooks the picturesque Bai Tu Long Bay. Photo at the courtesy of CEO Group

Right time

With such large investments, Binh is confident in the business effectiveness that the project brings. Despite being offered for sale amidst the complex Covid-19 pandemic, nearly 750 commercial townhouses and resort villas of the first phase were fully booked by customers.

And with the opening of the Wyndham Garden hotel, Binh is even more confident in the business prospects because this is a product that the market needs.

In his calculation, as the first resort in Van Don, Wyndham Garden simply has "no competing counterparts". Meanwhile, there is a high demand for resort stays among people in the northern region.

With the advantage of being close to Hanoi and major northern provinces and cities with tens of millions of people, just under three hours by car, Van Don will become the ideal choice, especially in the context of expensive airfares, where the airfare for a beach vacation in the central south can cover the cost of two nights' stay at a hotel in Van Don.

Not to mention that Van Don can reach 600 million people from most ASEAN countries, while also being close to the markets of tens of millions of people in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan with just a few hours' flight.

For this reason, Nguyen Trung Khanh, Director General of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, has reason to believe that the opening of Wyndham Garden is "at the right time".

Khanh stated that this year, the tourism industry is striving to restore international arrivals to pre-Covid-19 levels, which means welcoming around 17 -18 million visitors. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to increase Vietnam's attractiveness through the development of new products as well as expanding the tourism development space.

And Khanh believes that "Wyndham Garden will be the ideal destination for beach-island tourism, health care tourism, MICE tourism, and high-end comprehensive services".

However, more importantly, the project is pioneering and leading, helping Van Don attract more investors and major tourism brands to develop large-scale, high-quality tourism projects, thereby "awakening the huge tourism potential of Van Don".

Khanh revealed that for a long time, Quang Ninh has wanted Van Don to become a national tourist area, but it lacked criteria for hotels with 4-star rating or above. With the first international 5-star resort, the province now has the conditions to elevate Van Don.

Therefore, despite knowing that being the "first" is tough, pioneering individuals like CEO Group have made significant contributions since the resort's operation.

Pioneering through "serendipity" as Binh often says, but he also hopes for "more friends" to create synergistic strength to "awaken" Van Don.

Not far from the Sonasea Van Don Habour City project, the Crystal Holidays beach apartment complex is also rising higher, casting its shadow over the modern Ao Tien port newly put into operation.

Outside Bai Tu Long Bay, the Angsana hotel is undergoing completion on Quan Lan Island, and when it opens, it will connect Van Don with international tourists through the global booking system of major hotel groups like Wyndham Garden.

Binh is also planning to build an international-class marina and may bring a large-scale art performance program to Van Don. He believes that the land of the legendary dragon will be revitalized thanks to bustling tourism activities surpassing the trade of a port from a thousand years ago.

The opening of Wyndham Garden Sonasea Van Don has also kicked off the Van Don summer tourism season. This year, Van Don plans to launch 14 new products, and the emergence of high-end resort products coupled with comprehensive transportation infrastructure will gradually awaken the high-quality coastal and island tourism potential in Van Don.

Huy emphasized that this year, Quang Ninh strives to welcome 17 million tourists, including 3 million international visitors, and to achieve that goal, high-quality products like Wyndham Garden Sonasea Van Don are indispensable.