Sailing along Vietnam's central coast

Vietnam's central coast is emerging as a major tourism hotspot with many untouched areas waiting to be explored, writes Vietnam Investment Review’s Timeout.
Vietnam's central coast is emerging as a major tourism hotspot with many untouched areas waiting to be explored, writes Vietnam Investment Review’s Timeout.

When it comes to travel in central Vietnam, there’s much talk about the imperial city of Hue, the Cham ruins of My Son and the old trading port town of Hoi An. Undoubtedly, these UNESCO-accredited world heritage sites have long been must-see spots for tourists in the region.

However, the gold central coast boasts a broader mix of attractions. Besides its numerous UNESCO accredited cultural heritage sites, pristine beaches and jaw dropping scenery make the central coastal localities, especially Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang and Binh Thuan, luxury sea-tourism centres that greatly contribute to the country’s overall appeal to travelers.

The area has a coast line of 1,430km, with most cities facing the ocean. These central coastal localities are developing eco-sea tourism, leisure tourism, and sea sport tourism, with scuba diving, parasailing and kayaking.

The region is also very rich in inland natural resources, with green forests, imposing mountain ranges, amazing hot springs and a thick density of cultural and historical relics which are still waiting to be highlighted as tourism products.

All this means the area is drawing the attention of both local and international investors. There are more and more prestigious local and international hospitality groups operating and due to open soon. The scale and structure of investment in the region is changing rapidly towards the luxury market. Major names now on the scene include Laguna, InterContinental and Six Senses.

Along with providing upscale services for tourists, many hotel brands have won prestigious international hospitality awards from world tourism organisers, magazines or travel websites helping to highlight Vietnam and its central coast and put it on the world luxury tourism map.

Another advantage of the central coast is its growing collection of world-class golf courses. Marketed as the Golf Coast Vietnam, it brings together some of finest golfing experiences available in Asia. Options now available include the Colin Montgomerie designed Mongomerie Links, Greg Norman’s Da Nang Golf Club and Nick Faldo’s Laguna Lang Co Golf Club in Thua Thien-Hue.

Furthermore, the international airport in Da Nang is bringing in more direct international flights which have given a significant boost to local tourism.

Sparkling figures for the central coast

Statistics show that sea-tourism in the central coastal area has increased markedly, with more than 4 million international tourists in 2012, accounting for 59 percent of all international tourists to Vietnam last year.

The GDP of the region increased significantly by 10 percent as a result.

The area is home to a strong mix of attractions, including natural resources, cultural treasures, memorable cuisines, and adventure travel options.

“Central Vietnam has a wide array of activities and landscapes that appeal to a mix of travellers, including tropical beaches, colonial towns, world heritage sites, top cuisine and more. Each tour is designed with flexibility to suit travel lers’ personal interests, schedules and energy levels,” said Pham Ha, CEO of Luxury Travel.

Light up the central coast future

“The central coast provinces have a great tourism potential, but have not received the proper care from tourism industry,” said Vu The Binh, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Tourism Association. He added: “Most provinces focus all their efforts, human and financial resources in promoting sea tourism. The inland tourism in the forest, up the mountains, and in other cultural areas remains underdeveloped. Therefore, we see few specialised and unique tourism products in the region.”

Despite rich cultural and natural treasures, the central coast provinces have yet to market these in a harmonious package; instead, most provinces offer similar tourism products, mainly including swimming, sightseeing and viewing pagodas and temples.

Moreover, the development of each province is not at the same level. The key investor locations are still Da Nang, Nha Trang (Khanh Hoa) and Binh Thuan. Meanwhile, potential destinations such as Tuy Hoa, Phu Yen, Binh Dinh, Ninh Thuan and Quang Ngai are left behind, without any master plan or promotion campaigns.

For Binh, a key reason is that infrastructure and human resourc es in these less developed provinces are lagging behind Da Nang, Nha Trang and Phan Thiet.

“These provinces are rich in natural beauty, but have a shortage of international hospitality brands to help to build up luxury hotels and resorts as well as promote the image of these areas,” said Tran Dinh Thien, director of the Vietnam Economic Institute.

According to Tran Bac Ha, chairman of the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam and the Central Research and Development Fund, it is necessary to set up a regional chain to connect all these provinces together to study and determine the unique character of each province.

“Though there are many more effective inter-regional programs and projects, the promotion campaigns are still run on a rather limited scale without any comprehensive cooperation,” he said. “We need a master plan for developing tourism in the whole region; it should not be spontaneous like it is now, especially in terms of large projects such as infrastructure development.”

To date, his fund has mobilised nearly 10 billion VND (460,000 USD) from eight businesses around the region.

A key disadvantage most provinces in the region face is weak traffic infrastructure. “Such provinces as Phu Yen have beautiful beaches, but few tourists know it. They just know Da Nang or Nha Trang, not the coastline that lies between the two,” said Truong Quang Nhat, vice chairman of the Phu Yen provincial People’s Committee.

He emphasises the dearth of tourism promotion campaigns nationwide and worldwide and the poor roads: “From Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, few tourists choose to travel by road to Phu Yen while flights from such big cities depart very early in the morning (before 6am) on only very small air planes. Even accessing from Nha Trang is inconvenient due to having to use the dangerous Ca pass,” Nhat said.

Phu Yen is a symbol for the under-development of these provinces, but there is hope on the horizon, with the opening in September of a new airport that will service bigger planes and which will herald many more direct flights to the area. Moreover, the province will also complete its tunnel under the Ca pass in 2016, connecting Phu Yen with Nha Trang.

Many more important traffic projects will be finished in the near future, including the North-South Highway passing through Thua Thien-Hue, Da Nang, and Quang Ngai. The Huynh-Dung Quat seaside road in Quang Ngai and the Cua Dai bridge in Quang Nam, are also key to perfecting the 500km coastal route connecting famous tourism destinations around the region.

In addition, the local authorities will also cooperate with Vietnam Airlines and other airlines to open many more regional and international direct flights to such airports as Da Nang, Phu Bai, Chu Lai and Cam Ranh.

Provincial authorities also plan to meet to build a detailed plan for sustainable development of such areas as Lang Co-Canh Duong in Thua Thien-Hue, Son Tra peninsula in Da Nang and Cham island in Quang Nam.-VNA

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