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Op-Eds

Securing tourism growth

Released at: 09:28, 09/06/2019

Securing tourism growth

VET magazine

Long-term tourism player Mr. Paul Stoll from Chao Global shares his thoughts on the development of Vietnam's tourism sector over time.

by VET reporter

How do you view the development of Vietnam’s tourism sector at this time? Is the current growth in foreign visitor arrivals sustainable?

Defining tourism success by the number of travelers could create a mass market destination, which is counter-productive to Vietnam’s vision of being a quality tourism destination. In my opinion, focusing on quality standards could guarantee sustainable tourism growth, and there lies the opportunity. All it needs is a Quality Tourism Program that guides service providers, a People Awareness Program to allow them to make the most of business opportunities, and a Quality Investment Program.

MR. PAUL STOLL is CEO of Chao Global,a tourism real estate development and management company. He has been actively involved in the development of Vietnam’s tourism since 1994, working on micro and macro tourism projects including the set up and management of The Furama Resort in Da Nang and, more recently, working on various Master and Vision Plans for regional tourism development in Vietnam.

A destination should not be built to be destroyed, which has been a challenge for authorities since modern tourism in Vietnam began in 2000. I remember many talks with relevant authority representatives where we discussed ways to avoid mass tourism and price wars as a result of a demand and supply imbalance, and focus on building a quality tourism product. These talks feature in my new book, which is about Vietnam’s modern tourism development and will be published later this year.

Lately I have realized that the brave ideas we came up with have been abandoned and I see over-tourism affecting destinations like Ha Long Bay, Da Nang, and Nha Trang. I learned that 50-floor hotels on the beach were being approved and that entire resort colonies were being built on sand dunes, which is going to affect the environment and become a major challenge for any sort of sustainable tourism.

Travelling in Vietnam, I can see the positive and negative effects of tourism, which makes me concerned about the sustainability of the destination’s development, which so many people depend on.

Another opportunity lies in the marketing of Vietnam as a destination, of which there have been improvements seen. Back in 2000 I initiated Vietnam’s first ever International Promotion Campaign, called “Vietnam - A destination for the new millennium”, which triggered a tourism boom. At that time Vietnam had 2.1 million foreign traveler arrivals, compared to 15.5 million in 2018. I expect this number to grow 7 per cent each year.

It’s great to see how marketing efforts have continued to improve since then, with efforts by authorities to promote the economy in general and tourism in particular, turning Vietnam into a stable and rapidly-growing country in the global economy.
Vietnam is a great country to invest in, especially when it comes to tourism, in particular with regard to infrastructure such as transport, renewable resources, and logistics, as well as superstructures like buildings and facilities. The latter I would like to see be concept-driven and not design-driven, adding relevance to the quality of facilities and services, culture, history and people of Vietnam.

■ How are the main resort destinations performing and what can we expect in the next three to five years?

Ha Long Bay is a typical example of a tourist destination that has fallen to mass tourism. I remember when I was supporting the World Heritage designation of Ha Long Bay in 2000, with the vision of creating a cultural tourist destination for Vietnam. Instead, Ha Long Bay is on the way to becoming an entertainment destination, Disneyland style, developed for mass market tourists. As a result, tourism income is rather low and so are the facilities and service standards.

Authorities in Quang Ninh have recognized the situation and attempted to develop a new destination, Van Don, to balance the province’s tourism products and create a place for travelers interested in quality tourism.

I’ve been working with the government on the Master Plan 2050 and Vision to 2070 for Van Don, which looks to develop the land spread over 30 islands in the area. As part of the Master Plan I proposed the Integrated Quan Lan Island Resort on 3,500 ha, with several international-standard resorts and centralized support facilities that match the eco standards expected of responsible development.

The Integrated Resort includes the community, and I developed it to set a standard and create a model development for Vietnam’s tourism sector. The concept was accepted by the government and so far I have planned two resorts, of which one is in the process of construction.

In the same destination, Chao Global is working at present on another resort plan for a 1,200-ha space on Cau Bai Island, which has recently opened an international airport that can handle 20 million passengers a year, with the intention of increasing the size when the time is right. This project is focused on eco-tourism and the introduction of new tourism products to Vietnam.

■ What is the tourism potential of inland destinations (Sapa, Da Lat, Can Tho, Buon Ma Thuot, for example) and what are the challenges?

Vietnam’s modern tourism was built on main “Gateway Tourism”, meaning visitors enter through Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and also on “Beach Tourism”, meaning destinations were created along the coast. This strategy was developed further, creating international airport access in Da Nang and Nha Trang. More airports followed and with them coastal destination development.

The government aims to equally distribute tourism business opportunities and at the same time grow tourism, adding Inland Tourism. That requires clear guidelines and a further developed tourism product based on Environment, Culture, and History and adding new types of tourism such as Agriculture Tourism.

The opening of a Coffee Museum in Buon Ma Thuot is a typical example of introducing Education Tourism. Marketing the destination effectively will be the key to its success. Here I see great investment opportunities and development, such as was experienced in coastal provinces. Inland Tourism is going to grow from airport destinations, including Da Lat, Buon Ma Thuot, and Can Tho.

Development will be further supported by theme road connections, including the Green Road opening up the central highlands and the Ho Chi Minh Trail - an alternative route to National Road No. 1A. Other theme roads are going to follow. Networking these will create an Inland Tourism Product that’s interesting for all kinds of visitors.

That strategy has proven to be successful for central Vietnam, with the World Heritage Road connecting 17 cities and provinces, which I set up in cooperation with authorities in 2002. I also believe that a quality hotel is required in every destination, to drive tourism development.

■ What do you consider to be the best destinations and why?

My choice of best destination is Da Nang - a destination I created from scratch alongside some key partners. I arrived in Da Nang in 1994 to develop and manage The Furama Resort, the first international-standard beach resort in Vietnam. Around The Furama Resort I could build a destination in cooperation with the Da Nang City People’s Committee, creating one of the world’ best beach images and a favorable environment for hospitality investment.

Da Nang attracted many international hospitality brands and developed from 100,000 international visitors and around 300,000 domestic visitors in 1995. In 2019 the destination expects 3 million foreign travelers and 5 million domestic travelers.
To support destination development, the international airport was made bigger to accommodate increasing visitor numbers. In my opinion, Da Nang is on the way to becoming a truly international-standard resort destination.

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