Australian, Canadian firms launch projects in Vietnam

TARGETING TRAVELERS:Jetstar, an offshot of Australian carrier Qantas, aims to be Vietnam’s first low-cost airline, while ACDL plans to develop Las-Vegas style casinos


Mon, May 26, 2008 - Page 10

An Australian low-cost airline and a Canadian luxury resort and casino developer have launched two ambitious projects that aim to revolutionize Vietnam’s fast-growing tourism industry.

Jetstar, the budget offshoot of Australian carrier Qantas, teamed up with Vietnam’s Pacific Airlines to launch Jetstar Pacific on Friday, setting the stage for a dogfight with state-run Vietnam Airlines.

The following day Canadian developers broke ground on what they say will become Vietnam’s premier destination, a US$4.2 billion resort and casino strip near southern Ho Chi Minh City, scheduled to kick off in late 2010.

Between them, the two projects push forward a tourism industry that has grown strongly since the country emerged from post-war isolation in the 1990s to accept a trickle of backpackers.

Vietnam now aims to boost its domestic and international tourism industry — which has grown into one of the country’s five top economic sectors — to take on Southeast Asian neighbors such as Thailand and Malaysia.

Vietnam last year received 4.2 million foreign visitors, 16 percent more than in 2006. The World Travel and Tourism Council ranks it as No. 4 on its list of the world’s fastest growing travel destinations.

Visitors from China made up the largest group last year, followed by South Korea, the US, Japan and Australia.

Jetstar Pacific — at a lavish Hanoi launch gala on Friday, featuring Aussie marketing glitz, dance shows and lots of dry ice — promised to shake up Vietnam’s aviation sector.

“As Vietnam’s first low-cost, value-based airline, Jetstar Pacific will change air travel in Vietnam by making it more affordable for more people to fly,” said Jetstar Pacific chief executive officer Luong Hoai Nam.

The airline now has four Boeing 737s, with four more to come this year, and plans to add 30 Airbus A320s by 2014 with the option of drawing in additional Jetstar aircraft from the regional fleet.

Jetstar’s CEO Alan Joyce said the carrier entered Vietnam — an economy of 86 million people with a decade of growth more than 7 percent — hoping to “tap into a huge untapped market as the economy grows.”

“We felt that if you get your timing right you could be the biggest brand in Asia,” he said. “Vietnam is a very important part in that jigsaw puzzle.”

Vietnam, where many early visitors were put off by state-run hotels and the stodgy service, has now embarked on building up a string of luxury hotels in major cities and seaside areas to cash in on the high-end tourism sector.

International hotels are starting to crowd the “China Beach” area near Danang, and major resort plans are on the drawing board for the southern island of Phu Quoc, which lies off the Cambodian coast.

Toronto-based Asian Coast Development Ltd (ACDL) hopes to trump them all with the Ho Tram Strip of resorts and “Las Vegas-style” casinos in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, 80km southwest of Ho Chi Minh City.

“This is going to be the largest development of its kind in the history of Vietnam,” ACDL chairman Michael Aymong said.

“We’re building five major resorts, two full-scale casinos, a Greg Norman golf course, a celebrity tennis facility, a marina and a Dolphin Quest marine habitat, where families can swim face-to-face with dolphins,” he said.

The first phase will include two hotels with 2,300 rooms, retail areas and a convention center, and the entire 169-hectare stretch is scheduled to be finished within a decade.

Vietnam bans gambling for its citizens but allows foreign passport holders to visit casinos and use the betting facilities of major hotels.

Aymong said he could not comment on what Vietnam’s government may do but added: “I imagine that the government will examine and consider allowing Vietnamese to gamble in the next two or three years.”

For now, he said, “we’re targeting the Chinese, the Koreans, the Japanese, the Australians and the Russians.”

He said the casino and resort strip would be a family-friendly destination with a strong environmental theme and complement — rather than compete with — Macau.

“This is a different type of product,” he said. “It’s a destination resort. Our real competition is going to be Singapore.”