White, sandy goodness

Phu Quoc’s strong tourism infrastructure for the holiday market is helping to attract bleisure-seeking MICE groups

Phu Quoc Cable Car, which connects Phu Quoc island to Hon Thom in southern Vietnam, is named the world’s longest by the Guinness Book of World Records

The Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc is planting itself firmly on the region’s map as it emerges as a healthy player in the business events market.

Phu Quoc Cable Car, which connects Phu Quoc island to Hon Thom in southern Vietnam, is named the world’s longest by the Guinness Book of World Records

Vast development in tourism and infrastructure, as well as the entry of a string of quality local and international hotel brands and products in recent years, have seen Vietnam’s largest island position itself as a major contender for events.

With its white sandy beaches, marine parks, vast jungle and growing collection of business-related facilities, Phu Quoc is all ready to combine business with the beach to entice bleisure-seeking event attendees.

William George, area director of marketing at IHG Indochina, said: “The location is beautiful, with unspoiled beaches and opportunities for outdoor teambuilding activities, and for delegates to learn about the rich local culture.”

InterContinental Phu Quoc Long Beach Resort opened in June 2018, pushing the island’s MICE offerings. The 459-key resort features more than 2,000m2 of indoor event space. This includes an 870m2 Grand Ballroom for 600 banquet guests, a purpose-built auditorium for 130 people, and multiple breakout rooms.

George added that the island’s strategic location is helping to boost its profile. It sits a 40-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City and two hours from Hanoi, and connects to the key regional cities of Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Guangzhou in less than two hours. He added: “The destination is also new; something important for many MICE bookers.”

Alexander Leven, general manager of Asian Trails Vietnam, said the increase in regional flights to Phu Quoc is playing a part in stimulating growth.

According to the latest statistics from Kien Giang province’s Department of Tourism, Phu Quoc welcomed more than 2.2 million visitors in the first seven months of 2019. In July alone, 528,809 arrivals were recorded, a 28.5 per cent year-on-year increase. Of these, 48,167 were foreigners, marking a 5.2 per cent rise.

Another factor spurring growth is all nationalities now qualify for a visa exemption for up to 30 days, and visitors using a connecting flight through Hanoi also do not need a visa.

A major game-changer to the island’s MICE market was the opening of JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay in 2016. The luxurious Bill Bensley-designed resort features indoor and outdoor meeting spaces totalling 5,080m2, with the Grand Ballroom able to host up to 600 people in its 688m2 space.

Francesca Barba, director of sales and marketing at JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay, noted the MICE sector has been increasing “year on year”, with the main source market being domestic, followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, China and India.

The ease of combining a business trip with island activities also makes Phu Quoc an attractive destination for business events. Barba said water sports, island and beach hopping, pepper farm visits and riding the world’s longest over-the-sea cable car to amusement complex, Sun World Hon Thom Nature Park, are among Phu Quoc’s highlights.

Despite its rise in popularity in the MICE space, tourism players claim challenges remain for Phu Quoc to reach its full potential.

Jeff Redl, managing director of Diethelm Travel Vietnam, said equipment is lacking on the island.

“Hotels are offering a lot more meeting facilities and the number of conference and ballrooms are increasing. But if you need audiovisual equipment and other items, you cannot find it there and have to bring it from Ho Chi Minh City, which brings up the cost. Phu Quoc still hasn’t reached the level it really needs to truly develop as a MICE destination,” Redl elaborated.

Seasonality is another issue for Phu Quoc. Redl added: “During low season, there are many hotel rooms but, for example, during New Year and Tet, there is a shortage. There is also a big difference in hotel rates between low and high season.”

In response, Barba said business events can get around the seasonality issue by planning outside of peak periods. “We have seen (business events) coming to our property even off-season.”

Despite the island’s growing reputation, George thinks more promotion is essential as “Phu Quoc is still an unknown destination” among longhaul guests and international MICE buyers.

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