Transforming cities

Modeled after the original Hotel de Ville in Paris, the People’s Committee Hall stands among modern buildings in Ho Chi Minh City’s downtown

Ho Chi Minh City leads the way in Vietnam’s MICE industry, but Danang is making inroads with growing links and room supply. By David Andrews

Vietnam’s events industry is undergoing rapid transformation, and this is most apparent in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Danang and Hanoi, three key cities where the majority of MICE activities are focused.

According to Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), business travellers accounted for over 1.2 million arrivals, or 16 per cent of inbound tourism figures, in 2013.

The Vietnamese MICE industry is “professionalising”, observed Thomas de Lange, general manager of “Venues are getting more experienced in handling larger events and conferences. I don’t think we are as experienced as Singapore, Malaysia or Thailand but we are getting there.”

The country’s economic hub, HCMC remains a preferred MICE destination with its good mix of culture, entertainment and sightseeing options, plus availablity of quality accommodation and meeting venues.

Patrick Basset, COO for Accor Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines, said: “The meeting market overall for Accor hotels in Vietnam increased a whopping 85 per cent year-on-year in 2013, in which the top three market feeders into our hotels grew significantly owing to our three newly opened hotels – Pullman Saigon Centre, Novotel Saigon Centre and ibis Saigon South. We are seeing continuing strong demand in the first quarter of this year and hope to maintain the momentum in this market for the rest of the year.”

Josephine Lim, regional director of South-East Asia at Preferred Hotel Group, commented: “There is a growing demand by both business and leisure travel sectors for new options in Vietnam. In response we have recently made our debut in HCMC with Sedona Suites, a member of Sterling Hotels.”

Meanwhile, Starwood is on track to open Le Méridien Saigon in 2015 to meet the demand for upscale accommodation, according to Alison Taylor, senior vice-president for sales in Asia-Pacific at Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

Venue suppliers are reporting positive industry sentiments too. Saigon Exhibition and Convention Centre hosted 34 events last year, up from 26 events in 2012, with 26 events booked so far for 2014, according to branding and marketing manager, Nguyet Vu.

HCMC has also benefited from its steadily growing air connections. Vietnam Airlines has started twice-weekly HCMC-Fuzhou services from March 31. EVA Air has stepped up frequency on its Taipei (Taoyuan)-HCMC route from 10 to 13 weekly flights since March 30, with a 14th weekly service to be introduced from July 1, 2014.

On the domestic front, VietJet Air has launched a new HCMC-Dalat route from March 22, while Vietnam Airlines has temporarily increased flights to Hue from Hanoi and HCMC for summer 2014.

Said Taylor: “While Vietnam’s source markets for MICE are mainly from the Asia-Pacific region including India, China, Singapore and other ASEAN nations, with better connectivity we are also starting to see MICE groups from longer-haul markets.”

She added: “Being only an hour’s flight away from Hanoi and HCMC, Danang is often paired with either destination, particularly for incentive groups, which is the fastest-growing MICE segment for Vietnam.”

Exotissimo Vietnam MICE manager, Alexis Delespierre, said: “We are receiving more requests for Danang and Hoi An since the opening of more hotels in the area and the completion of the international airport.”

Sharing similar sentiments, Tan Robert, director of sales & marketing at Lac Hong Voyages, said: “Danang is a popular choice but it is hampered by a lack of direct international flights, and we lose a lot of clients from the Middle East as they often opt for Bangkok or Malaysia with direct flights.”

A meeting room in Sedona Suites Ho Chi Minh City

He added: “We are now pushing our marketing campaigns toward the Japanese and Russian markets where chartered flights to Danang are available.”

Although a shortage of large-scale convention centers and limited international flights in the central region remain challenges, industry stakeholders also urged VNAT to play a stronger role in promoting Vietnam as a potential destination for MICE groups and meeting planners overseas.

Accor’s Basset would like the Vietnamese NTO to “support more sales call missions, increase visibility, invite more involvement from the private sector at MICE trade shows, and offer incentives to entice MICE organisers and DMCs to increase traffic into Vietnam.”

How I did Novo Nordisk Malaysia’s annual conference

Asia World Destination Management was appointed the organiser for healthcare company Novo Nordisk’s Malaysian operations department annual conference, which took place over January 21-27, 2013 in Danang and Hoi An with 85 attendees.

Natalia Kortchouganova, regional operations director at Asia World Enterprise, told TTGmice that the biggest challenge was finding a suitable hotel with “generous meeting space to accommodate three full days of meetings with plenty of leisure facilities and dining options”.

The beachside Hyatt Regency Danang Resort and Spa was selected for its ample leisure facilities and meeting rooms that could accommodate over 100 pax, plus a location that allowed guests easy accessibility to local restaurants in Danang’s centre.

The final two days of the programme involved the exploration of Hoi An City, including visits to surrounding fishing villages and Cham Museum, followed by a trip to Marble Mountains to enjoy panoramic views of Danang.

View from the Marble Mountains in Danang

“One highly noted (experience) based on participants’ feedback was the opportunity to join farming activities in Tra Que Village – reached on bicycle from Hoi An. From there the journey continued to Cua Dai sand dunes where a local fisherman taught how to cast a net,” said Kortchouganova. “Finally the group was split into two teams for basket boat racing with prizes for the winners.”

Although the client requested for minor adjustments to the timing of select events, they did not affect the overall planned schedule. “The client was especially impressed by the sightseeing aspect and glimpse into local ways of life,” said Kortchouganova.

Need to know

Soar over Halong Bay on seaplanes

Come August 2014, Hai Au Aviation will launch a selection of 25- and 40-minute flight options on a pair of 12-seater seaplanes over Halong Bay. Clients can take off from the Tuan Chau Island Marina and enjoy a bird’s eye view of a scenic bay dotted with dramatic limestone formations below. The company also offers seaplane services in Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City. For more information, email

New Marriott in Hanoi

JW Marriott Hotel Hanoi, which opened its doors in late-2013, is a 450-room property located adjacent to the Vietnam National Convention Center. In addition to six restaurants, the hotel also boasts a total of 17 meeting rooms offering over 3,600m² in meeting space, including two ballrooms with extensive public foyers.

Pullman lands in Saigon

Since February 2014, Pullman Saigon Centre has started operations in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1. The 306-room hotel is home to four bars and restaurants, a swimming pool, a fitness centre and a spa. There are five meeting rooms, with the largest able to accommodate 600 guests. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the property.

Hong Kong Airlines heads to Saigon

Hong Kong Airlines has launched the Hong Kong-Ho Chi Minh City route from March 17, 2014. Operated on an Airbus A320 aircraft configured with all-economy class, the service operates every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The new Ho Chi Minh City service complements Hong Kong Airlines’ daily flight to Hanoi, bringing the carrier’s total flights between Hong Kong and Vietnam to 10 weekly.

Another Eastin takes shape in Hanoi

Absolute Hotel Services Group has entered into a management agreement with Vietnam’s Ngoc Joint Venture Company to rename and manage Lakeside Hotel Hanoi under the Eastin Hotels and Residences brand. Scheduled to reopen in mid-2014 as Eastin Hotel Hanoi, the property will see its 90 rooms and public areas revamped, alongside the addition of an all-day dining restaurant, a fitness centre and a small meeting room that can accommodate up to 80 pax.

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