Every year, in preparation for The Guide Awards, staff from The Guide visit hotels and resorts around the country to learn more about their business activities and services to make a more accurate assessment of who the stand-out performers are. This year, with a theme of ‘Joining Hands to Develop Sustainable Tourism and Protect the Environment’, visits were made to hotels and resorts scattered along Vietnam’s coastline to collect information on environmental protection activities.
SAM SON BEACH, THANH HOA PROVINCE
Sam Son Beach has something of a ‘Sleeping Beauty’ quality, awakening from a long slumber with great vitality. Within less than a year the beach has undergone a complete make-over. ‘If I knew the beach was so beautiful I would have brought my family here already,’ said one member of The Guide’s study team. Like many others, he had long thought Sam Son was a cluttered, untidy beach with unappealing food stalls and overly-persistent vendors.
Thanks to substantial investment from the FLC Group, however, Sam Son Beach has had a facelift. It has been cleaned and 20 or so modern rest stops, known as hubways, now replace the unsightly food stalls and also open up more of the beachfront to visitors. As the sun sets a lively and romantic atmosphere descends upon the beach, with thousands of kites reaching into the twilight. Lights burn brightly as night falls, illuminating the golden sands and clear water.
‘Our first and foremost goal when building these hubways,’ said Mr. Gregory Cosyn, General Manager of the FLC Luxury Sam Son Hotel, ‘was to renovate the landscape while setting up convenient rest stops for travellers. It also more convenient for us in environmental control. Garbage and wastewater must be treated here very carefully before being discharged.’
As an eco-resort complex built in Sam Son town in 2015, FLC Samson Beach & Golf Resort consists of the five-star FLC Luxury Sam Son Hotel in the shape of a flying bird, a resort with a spectacular golf course, spas, fine-dining restaurants, luxury sea view villas, and beautiful beaches.
As a major player in the field of real estate and hospitality in Vietnam, FLC is committed to environmental protection, as shown not only at FLC Sam Son Beach & Golf Resort but in all its projects around the country. The Group focuses on foresight and long-term development with care and attention towards the environment and natural resources.
According to Mr Cosyn, before implementing any project FLC studies environmental protection and energy saving matters, from the selection of appropriate building materials and handling waste to saving water and using as few natural resources as possible. ‘In the hotel’s laundry, for example, we focus on limiting the use of detergents and take advantage of natural products or use environmentally-friendly products,’ he said. ‘The central region has experienced an environmental pollution incident recently, so besides protecting this beautiful coastline we also focus on protecting ocean creatures. We do not serve rare aquatic species and we encourage the local community to not use just one source of food, while providing ideas for long-term protection.’
Regarding the protection of the coastline, all staff at FLC spend one day a week collecting rubbish. Through this it hopes to help raise awareness among its staff and members of the local community about sustainable development. Mr Cosyn believes that every enterprise must pay particular interest to environmental concerns, focusing on long-term benefits rather than immediate business results. FLC doesn’t just care about environmental protection in Sam Son but also in other regions, as it has projects in Halong Bay, Quy Nhon and Vinh Thinh.
‘Last but not least, I would like to say that Vietnam is a beautiful country with half the population depending on the ocean, so environmental protection is something we need to do now because the ocean is the main source of our life and we must save it for the next generation,’ he said.
‘We now care more about the environment than ever before,’ said Mr. Le Van Dung, a sales executive at the Dragon Sea Hotel in Sam Son town. As a four-star hotel recognised by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, the modern and gracious hotel is conveniently located opposite the beach and features 100 guestrooms in the Superior, Deluxe Cosy, Deluxe City and Premium Suite categories, all of which are spacious and fully equipped with modern amenities. It also has three restaurants and a conference room inside the hotel’s grounds and the Phoenix restaurant two kilometres away, which can cater to 1,700 guests and provides MICE services.
‘After the face of Sam Son Beach changed and following the pollution incident on the central coast, I have noticed that environmental consciousness among people here has also changed a lot,’ said Mr Dung. ‘People seem to be increasingly aware about maintaining the source of their livelihood.’
Every Friday, he explained, hotel staff are encouraged to come to work an hour earlier than normal to clean up in and around the hotel. The hotel itself meets all requirements regarding environmental hygiene and food safety and proactively classifies waste while trying to save natural resources.
CUA LO BEACH, NGHE AN PROVINCE
Located further south along the same stretch of coastline, Cua Lo beach, near Vinh city, is also a well-known coastal destination in the north-central region. As a neighbour of Ha Tinh province, where the environmental pollution incident involving Formosa Steel took place, though not affected Cua Lo’s tourism has nonetheless experienced major losses.
‘We welcomed a large number of tourists from the north in previous years,’ the owner of a seafood restaurant on the beach told us. ‘This year, though, our customer numbers have only been one-third of those previously.’ As we enjoyed dinner here we could see the restaurant next door had just a few diners and others nearby remained empty all evening.
Since the pollution incident at the beginning of the tourist season, bookings of many hotel rooms were cancelled and tourism agencies suspended tours to the region.
‘The effect hasn’t been great but fewer tourists have come here after the incident,’ said Mr Dao Van Son, Human Resources Manager at the Grand Muong Thanh Cua Lo Hotel. ‘Thanks to the efforts of the local government, however, the number of visitors has been improving recently.’ The Nghe An Provincial People’s Committee, he said, has been testing water quality every two days and published the results in the media. They have also made assessments of aquaculture safety, in order to provide transparent information and convince guests about the safety of the sea in the province.
‘As one of 30 hotels in the Muong Thanh Group we are aware that environmental protection must accompany business development,’ he said. ‘The hotel always meets legal provisions on environmental protection and we regularly hold activities to clean up the sea.’ Opened in March 2015 the hotel has launched a campaign collecting garbage on the coast involving 60 of its staff and volunteers. The group has also started its ‘Keep Me Clean’ campaign, promoting awareness among staff nationwide about environmental protection.
The four-star Grand Muong Thanh Cua Lo Hotel has 249 luxury rooms, with free wi-fi in all rooms and public areas, 24/7 reception and room service, a spacious dining hall on the second floor and an indoor swimming pool with sauna, Jacuzzi and massage services on the fifth floor.
After a night in King Deluxe rooms on the eighth floor with great sea view we left to visit Bai Lu Resort on the way back to Hanoi.
‘The things that make Bai Lu Resort “chic and unique” is its location,” said Mr Nguyen Quang Tinh, Marketing Manager at Bai Lu Resort. ‘It’s a place where the mountains, the forests and the sea meet.’ Nestled on Bai Lu Peninsula in Nghe An province, it’s no exaggeration to say the resort is a ‘paradise by the sea’. It boasts a natural white sand beach on a clean blue sea with gentle waves and fresh breezes while being embraced by spectacular brown stone mountains. Guests can indulge themselves within its green oasis or walk a short distance to explore tiny rock islets close to shore, where every day local people catch tiny oysters clinging to rocks for sale at the afternoon market. ‘In order to protect the marine environment we have launched a monthly “Green Campaign” with the participation of trade union officials and staff in collecting rubbish along the coast,’ Mr Tinh said.
Given the recent pollution incident, the resort’s visitor numbers are down about 30% compared to last year. Lately, however, the number has improved, and ‘this is motivation for us to serve our guests better than ever,’ Mr Tinh said.
The first resort in Hoi An The Guide team visited was Almanity Hoi An Resort & Spa, located in the heart of the ancient town. Its My Chi Spa is the largest in Vietnam, with 40 treatment rooms designed in a harmonious space to balance the body, mind, and spirit. At Almanity guests enjoy a complementary 90-minute Spa Journey daily during their stay. The resort uses saltwater chlorination technology to keep its swimming pool clean, the preferred practice for guests with chlorine sensitivities.
We then dropped in on the Palm Garden Beach Resort & Spa on Cua Dai Beach. The five-star resort is set on five hectares of beautifully-landscaped tropical gardens and is ideal for family holidays, with a large swimming pool, a kids club and activities such as kite making, traditional Hoi An lantern making, marble jewellery making, and Vietnamese hat painting.
According to Mr Truong Minh Toan, Director of Sales and Marketing at the resort, in 2016 it has improved its rooms and bungalows, expanded its buffet section and the outdoor space at Terrace Restaurant and offered new services at the spa to meet guests’ needs. ‘This year we attended ITB Berlin, Hana International Travel Show in Seoul, JATA in Japan, ITB Asia in Singapore, road shows in the US and a Tourism Fair in Vietnam,’ Mr Toan said, ‘All aim to create and develop the image of Palm Garden Resort as a holiday paradise for families and companies.’
Ba Na Hills and Son Tra Peninsula in Danang are new attractions for tourists when visiting the central city. Both are located in the mountains and feature poetic natural landscapes and luxury resorts.
The Guide team reached Ba Na Hills by the cable car system 1,487 metres above sea level, and discovered the ‘marvellous land in the clouds’. Sun Group built Ba Na Hills, a four-star complex with entertainment venues for the whole family, great shopping, an indoor swimming pool, restaurants and bars and surrounded by stunning views.
We paid a visit to Mercure Danang French Village Ba Na Hills, which offers 494 lavish, antique-style rooms designed to resemble a 19th century European village. Every room is built in an open concept, providing a light and airy feel. Mr Shane Edwards, General Manager of Mercure Danang French Village, introduced us to its café, recently opened as part of the ‘Planet 21’ project that encompasses sustainability, community care, and environmental concern. The café uses recycled materials in its décor. ‘We have also joined the “Soap for Hope” program, which takes old soap, breaks it down and puts it back together again to provide soap for the community,’ he said. ‘Vietnam is a beautiful country and while I’ve only been here for a short time from what I see there is so much potential here, but it’s very important to take care of the environment.’
The train journey from Danang to Lang Co is truly fascinating. It moves along slowly to allow passengers to take in the wonderful nature around Hai Van Pass, with yellow and white flowers carpeting the mountain slopes and valleys on one side and the vast sea with wild beaches curving under the foot of the Truong Son mountain range on the other.
Lang Co Bay, recognised as one of the most beautiful in the world, has a peaceful aura, dotted with old fishing villages and rice fields. The Guide team visited Angsana Resort and Banyan Tree Lang Co, a world-class integrated resort with stunning views over the East Sea and the magnificent mountain range. It really is the perfect destination for couples and families, with services including spas, restaurants, shops, a swimming pool that meanders around the resort, and an 18-hole golf course. Activities include hill treks, bike tours to the Canh Duong fishing village, a kayaking safari, speed boat trips, an organic farm experience, a yoga retreat, and cocktail, cooking, and fruit carving classes. The resort also offers a daily shuttle bus for guests to visit the nearby World Heritage Sites of Hue and Hoi An.
Ho Chi Minh City
The Guide began its southern review tour in HCMC, the most dynamic city in Vietnam, with the first stop being the Le Meridien Saigon, the newest five-star hotel in town, having opened in September 2015. Situated on the banks of the Saigon River, the 343-room hotel offers panoramic views of the river and the bustling cityscape. Occupying the 10th to 22nd floors of a modern building, the hotel is designed in a unique concept, with a series of ‘Art Windows’ crafted from local materials telling the story of the city’s 300 years of history. Beginning with the earliest recorded time and ending with an image of the developed and vibrant city it is today, the group of local artists involved have conveyed a great story using regular materials, which makes each Art Window a unique masterpiece yet unified into one extraordinary memorial depiction. The Guide visited three of the hotel’s nine different room categories - Grande Deluxe, Grande Suite and Presidential Suite. After welcoming guests for nearly one year the hotel also recently opened Explore Spa, with an indoor infinity-edge saltwater pool and offering breathtaking views over the Saigon River.
We spoke with Mr Vasin Chaiyawan, Director of Sales and Marketing at Le Meridien Saigon, about environment matters. ‘Before being discharged, all of our wastewater undergoes biological treatment, not chemical treatment,’ he said. ‘We communicate the idea that everything we do today impacts on society and development, so we do everything carefully. Our hotel also joined in the “Earth Hour” event, switching off all unnecessary lighting at the hotel for one hour to raise awareness about saving energy and protecting the environment.’
Our next stop was Chi Hoa Vietnamese Restaurant on Le Thanh Ton Street, which is popular among both Vietnamese and foreign tourists. It’s a lovely space in a traditional Vietnamese design serving authentic Vietnamese cuisine with a simple, open kitchen that is reminiscent of warm, intimate family meals and has a profound understanding of and a desire to maintain traditional recipes. Its signature dishes are all made from natural, seasonal ingredients and are carefully prepared to retain freshness. The restaurant also offers homemade Vietnamese sweets, honey, many types of tea, and traditional Vietnamese rice wine.
The team then left HCMC for Ba Ria Vung Tau province, where it visited Pullman Vung Tau, the first five-star international hotel in Vung Tau city, opened in December 2015 with 356 rooms and suites featuring spectacular views over Back Beach and Front Beach. The lobby is impressive, with subtle designs created from Vietnamese non la (conical hats). Riviera, on the ground floor, is its all-day dining restaurant and capable of seating over 200 guests. It offers a Friday night seafood BBQ dinner and a Saturday night seafood extravaganza dinner buffet every week. Of special note at the hotel is its two-storey conference centre designed in the shape of a globe. Its largest meeting room covers 1,037 square metres with a capacity of 1,860 people, making it ideal for MICE events.
‘Pullman Vung Tau has been open for seven months already,’ said Operations Manager Mathiew Le Besq. ‘We have taken part in beach cleaning activities here in the city and have a program called “Soap for Hope”, where we recycle used soap with an organisation called My Vietnam. We also have very strict lighting schedules, with a BMF system, so each and every area in the hotel has a timer to turn lights on and off. This allows us to strictly control energy consumption at the hotel. In our rooms we also invite our guests to participate in helping the environment with small actions. For example, guests can decide whether they want us to change their bed linen every day or not by leaving a small pad on the bed or in the bathroom.’
We ended the first day of the review tour at Alma Oasis Long Hai, just east of Vung Tau on the coast. The resort has beautiful gardens and pathways leading down to quiet white sandy beach. Historically a site for the private residence of Bao Dai, Vietnam’s last emperor, the resort offers fresh designs in the two main colours of white and blue, which bring a calm ocean feeling indoors. Its featured rooms and villas are scattered over undulating hills. Alma Oasis Long Hai is equipped like a five-star resort with spacious rooms, espresso machines, bluetooth speakers, wi-fi, comfy mattresses with fluffy pillows, and adjustable lighting. All bookings include a signature 90-minute spa daily.
The following morning the team departed for Mui Ne, Phan Thiet. Along the way we enjoyed the beautiful landscapes of the coast and mountains and poetic villages with green rice fields and vast dragon fruit gardens in Ham Thuan Nam district in Binh Thuan province. In Mui Ne we stayed at Sun Sea Resort, a truly boutique resort with 15 rooms and thatched-roof bungalows located by the beach under the shade of coconut trees. The resort has two swimming pools with a Jacuzzi and its Sukhothai Restaurant serves Thai cuisine with Thai ingredients as well as Vietnamese and international dishes. It’s a small resort but Sun Sea has excellent services, with rooms boasting luxurious amenities. The staff are friendly and professional and our breakfast was delicious.
Mui Ne Bay Resort was our next stop. We walked around the four-hectare resort among beautiful tropical gardens offering serenity and refinement in colourful surroundings. It is designed to embody the vibrant spirit of the Champa culture combined with a contemporary style. We had a fantastic moment on the beach as flocks of white seagulls perched on the beach and then together took to the skies. It really was a wonderful, natural moment. Seagulls are common at the resort’s beach during the summer as a traditional fishing village is still located nearby. We hope the resort will remain well preserved so that every year the seagulls return.
The team began a new day with a journey from Phan Thiet to Nha Trang. Different from previous years, when we stayed overnight in Nha Trang, this year we chose Bai Dai Beach in Cam Ranh peninsula, which is famous for its beautiful coastline and blue, clear water and is within easy reach of Cam Ranh International Airport. In recent years Bai Dai has attracted many local and foreign investors to build luxurious resorts and hotels. Some resorts have already opened, such as Fuison Nha Trang, The Cam Ranh Riviera Beach Resort & Spa, and The Sea Lion, while others are still being built, including Vinpearl Bai Dai, Ana Mandara, The Alma, Movenpick Resort Cam Ranh Bay, The Westin Resort & Spa Cam Ranh, and the East Sea Luxury Resort & Spa.
The team visited one of the newest luxury resorts, The Cam Ranh Riviera Beach Resort & Spa, located on a pretty beach. ‘Cam Ranh Riviera Resort wants to be one of the most environmentally-friendly resorts in the area,’ said General Manager Patrick Fernandez. ‘So to start we first introduced an environmental activity day every two weeks, when we invite department heads to go around the resort and do a clean up. The resort has five hectares of land and the staff and executives are all involved.’ The resort has a large green space with tropical gardens and beautiful ponds with lotus flowers and water lilies. ‘We have hundreds of palm trees and we’re planting more and more trees all over the resort to make it greener,’ he said. ‘And we’re also implementing an energy saving strategy by introducing solar power systems.’
According to Mr Eugene Hendriks, General Manager of the AVANI Quy Nhon Resort & Spa, Quy Nhon is one of the best kept secrets in Vietnam and a place travellers will easily fall in love with for its pristine beaches and natural forests. It many historic sites and cultural events make it worth placing on your travel bucket list. One of the greatest challenges is that Quy Nhon does not receive sufficient promotion on the international travel market. ‘We look forward to more support coming from the government,’ Mr Hendriks said. ‘Domestically, Quy Nhon still does not receive the attention given to Nha Trang and Danang. It is still quite difficult to reach, with local flights only available to and from Hanoi and HCMC.’
Despite those challenges, he told us, the resort has recorded 34% year-on-year growth in arrivals this year compared to last year. This is testament to Quy Nhon’s brand acceptance and recognition as well as its tranquil beauty.
The Guide paid a visit to AVANI Quy Nhon Resort & Spa, which belongs to the Minor Hotels Group and is the only international resort or hotel in Quy Nhon. Located on a quiet stretch of Bai Dai Beach with a background of green forests, the resort is an upscale hideaway on one of Vietnam’s most naturally beautiful shores and where guests can sunbathe on a quiet private beach, cool off in crystal-clear waters, or picnic on a private island.
Next door to AVANI Quy Nhon Resort & Spa, Minor Hotels are set to introduce the luxury brand Anantara. New Anantara Villas will feature 12 beachfront pool villas and 12 hill view pool villas, with one bedroom villas ranging from 180 to 195 square metres and two bedroom villas up to 620 square metres.
Vietnam is already one of the leading destinations in Asia. To grow further, Mr Hendriks said, tourism authorities must work to increase flight routes and frequencies and promote tailored tours and destination-led trade shows.