VietJetAir will help develop tourism industry along central coast


A star in the making
The central coast is growing in stature as one the hottest tourist spots in Southeast ASia with a variety of attractions but what else has to happen before to help the tourism industry take off?


Danang's day in the sun
The central a potential coast has been tipped rival for regional as tourism

heavyweights such as the compelling evidence

Sali and Phuket.

Jim Sullivan from Mandarin Media examines

Ready for take off
In this special issue of Timeout we look at Central Vietnam to see if this breathtaking destination now has the infrastructure and amenities to step into the limelight as one of Asia's premier coasta I desti nations

Sky's the limit for VieUetAir
VietJetAir aims to bring flexibly-priced and affordable air tickets to domestic and international tourists and business travellers in Vietnam, thus helping to stimulate the development of business, travel, and investment in the country


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The central coast lathers up for a reputation as bright as Bali's and Phuket's. But is it possible? Jim Sullivan* reports

Jim Sullivan while cycling through Central Vietnam
In 1992

n my first pass through Central Vietnam in 1992, I bicycled from Hoi An to Danang on a sandy coastal track that couldn't properly be called a road. I was nursing a stomach bug and stopped frequently to draw water from local spigots, water that had to be treated with a carbon-filter pump first. Everywhere I stopped, the locals crowded around, ballooning in size until I knew what ·it must have been like to be John, Paul, George and Ringo. Flash forward 20 years, and that same track is one of Vietnam's most enticing roads. I can select from a diversity of designer waters anywhere along that route. And you'd have to be a foreigner with a name like Brad or Angelina to excite local interest today.


Good story? Yup. And it's only getting better. In the history of Vietnam, we have never seen the kind of development that's taking place along the Central Coast of Vietnam. Nha Trang and Mui Ne each had their day in the sun, but the Central Coast - Danang, if you will - is being trumpeted as the next best thing since Bali and Phuket. Are the comparisons warranted? Well, no and yes. MORE THAN A BEACH Danang can't exactly go head to head with Phuket's beaches. The coastal waters lack the placid tendencies of the Andaman Sea, tsunamis notwithstanding. The region can't bank on the requisite azure water. And remember, there is December, January and February to contend

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with. Ask any general manager what it's like to be a general manager during those months, and he'll talk about the weight of the weather. "Danang can be a challenge in the winter months if you're focused on the beach," said Ed Unsley, general manager of The Nam Hai, one of the first luxury resorts to open in the area, in 2006. "But - and this is a big but - we've got a larger, more compelling story to tell about an incredible tapestry of culture, and recreational opportunities, whether you're here for golf, bicycling and mountain biking, photography, trekking, rock-climbing and motorbiking. The anchor is the beach, and it always will be, but it's everything else that really takes this place to the next level." Danang's beaches can compare to Bali's, but people don't go to Bali for the beach anyway. Not really. They go for the incredible landscape, for temples and art. As a cultural experience, Central Vietnam is every bit as compelling. Moreso. From the UNESCOWorld Heritage sites at Hoi An, My Son, Hue and even Phong Nha, there is a density of cultural attraction that's without parallel in Southeast Asia. Check the map on UNESCO'swebsite. The only place that rivals Danang for density of cultural attractions is Indonesia, and that location is not nearly as accessible as Danang especially not now that the new international airline terminal has come on line. "So many Western travellers who come to Vietnam have much more on their minds than the beach," said Anthony Gill, general manager of La Residence Hotel & Spa in Hue. "If it's the beach they want, they have the Gold Coast, or the Caribbean or the Riviera. What they are really after, when they've come this far, is an authentic experience of a place, and a story to tell when they get back home." DREAM DESTINATION One thing Hue, Hoi An and Danang have that Hanoi or Saigon do not is immediate access to the natural environment. With the exception of Halong Bay, most travellers to Vietnam miss this part of the Vietnamese experience. They get city, they get beach, but they don't get landscape. A trip over the Phu Xuan bridge in Hue is a commercial for the natural beauty of the region, with mountains fixed on the near horizon like etchings on a Chinese ink painting. To stand in the valley at My Son and behold the cup of surrounding mountains is to understand

something about Vietnam that you can't get in the larger municipal districts. "For the Chinese, the canton is all important as the principal means of an individual's identification," said Stuart Murphy, general manager at the Ufe Heritage Resort Hoi An. "But in Vietnam, to understand Vietnam, you have to understand the village and the vital link that people have to this most intimate space. You have to be able to walk from place to place to really know the place, and that is accessible in Central Vietnam." Easy for Murphy to say as the Ufe Resort is just a five-minute walk from the Old Town of Hoi An. But the sentiment makes sense. And as Vietnam's cities develop, sometimes it seems with great abandon and little regard for green space, and as the ability to walk becomes more and more of a chore, the central region of the country retains an accessibility that's part of the traveller's dream of destination. The intensity of experience on the highways and byways of Vietnam is not as low-key as it

"50 many Western travellers who come to Vietnam have much more on their minds than the beach ... "

- Anthony Gill,
general manager of La Residence




was 20 years ago when my competition for space on the "road was trumped by the 50cc Honda Cub, the lowly Lambro and the odd International Harvester truck, a hold-over from the days of the American presence. I miss the relative peace of those roads. But I don't miss the rats that came into the rooms of my nha khach, or the absence of air conditioning. No discussion of Danang's rising status would be complete without reference to the accommodation. It's what's most obviously happening on the coastal strip between Danang and Hoi An where enormous developments beckon the foreign tourist with multi-million dollar amenities. The range is magnificent, from the artful interpretation ofthe Vietnamese nha ruongthat is The Nam Hai, the ultra-contemporary appeal of Hyatt Regency Danang, the faux-colonial experience at the riverside sanctuary of the Life Heritage Resort Hoi An and the actual colonial experience of La Residence Hotel & Spa in Hue.

His vision involves a sharply defined brand' for the region, a massive media outreach campaign and a dynamic Web site to serve as a clearinghouse for all there is to do and all there is to say about the destination. In conversation, Blanco ticks off a greatest hits package of places that travellers love about Vietnam: Halong Bay, Con Dao, Mekong Delta, Mui Ne. But therein lies the rub, he says: Travellers. "Vietnam, for the past 20 years, has been a great place for travellers. But we're ready for the next step, for the vacationer, for the person who wants to go to a place, one place, and be sustained by that place for at least a week. Can you do a week in Mui Ne? Maybe, if all you want is the beach. But in Danang, you can do a week and have the beach, and the town and the palaces and the mountains. To be a real destination, you've got to be a place people vacation in and not just travel through." In order to make it work, Blanco is rallying all hands on deck, remembering that a rising tide lifts all boats. "What's good for us as hoteliers is good for people who work in hotels, is good for airlines, good for government and so on," he says. The only thing it won't be good for is the appeal of an incredibly wayward place where the international traveller experienced what it was like to be like a Beatie. But hey, that's what memories are for. *Jim Sullivan is the managing director of Mandarin Media Hospitality, with offices in Hue, Ho Chi Minh City and the United States .

'We've got a
larger, more compelling story to tell about an incredible tapestry of culture, and recreational opportunities" - Ed Linsley, general manger of The Nam Hal

If you build it, they will come, right? Well, they've built it. And Danang is waiting. Well, Danang was waiting. In January, a consortium of hoteliers in the area formed an executive committee to launch a major new destination marketing organisation. The group, led by Indochina Capital's John Blanco, is working to round out its ranks with the region's golf courses, restaurateurs, airlines and tourism authorities. The goal? "A publicity campaign the likes of which we've not seen anywhere in Southeast Asia," said Blanco.