I recently returned from a client trip to Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam. I was visiting a new hotel that has been developed by a Vietnamese family in the heart of the city with no expense spared. With views stretching over the Mekong River to one side and exclusive retail district to the other, combined with interiors and furniture designed by the leading Italian design houses, this was unlike any hotel I’ve stayed at in the world.
This hotel is testament to the extraordinary growth in Vietnam. Not just growth in terms of the economy or construction, but rather the international intents of a country still controlled by a Communist regime. It is far from a traditional ‘Vietnamese’ styled hotel aimed at those looking for ‘an authentic cultural experience’; rather a modern and exquisite hospitality experience for those that demand the highest modern standards whilst appreciating the very finest design in the world.
Like the Vietnamese economy itself, Chi Minh City is growing at an extraordinary rate. Construction recently started on two on the world’s tallest skyscrapers – 461-meter Landmark 81 and 86-floor Empire City Tower. Cranes tower over the skyline in every direction, new luxury stores are opening every day and bustling coffee houses with inch-thick menus cater to the ever-increasing demands of the city’s inhabitants.
Since 1986 a series of political and economic reforms have transformed Vietnam from one of the poorest to one of the fastest growing GDPs in the world. As a result, incomes have risen sharply along with the growth of a new, highly educated middle class – the Vietnamese population has become one of the best educated in the world with an unusually high life expectancy. A staggering 93% of the population is literate and results show Vietnam ranks higher than the US and much of Western Europe for mathematics and science grades. This, combined with the restructuring of the banking sector and opening of the economy, has led to a vast increase in foreign investment to the country.
The property market in Vietnam is showing the results of this activity with the country quickly becoming established as one of the best real estate investments in the region. According to CNBC, a local developer Vingroup recently confirmed it received deposits for 112 apartments from foreign buyers within two hours of going to market. Apartments in Ho Chi Minh City in the first half of 2015 were 174% up on the same period in 2014 with an average luxury apartment now achieving sale values from $1,800.00 / m2 in the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City.
As you’d expect, such economic progress and investment has been accompanied by an increase in demand for hotels across the country. Increased business demand means no longer must the hospitality industry rely on low-spend explorers looking for ‘authentic Vietnam’. According to Adam Bury, VP of Investment Sales at Jones Lang LaSalle Asia Pacific, occupancy rates in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are now considerably closer to more established economic hubs in the region as the world wakes up to the fact Vietnam offers a more affordable option for investment than other cities in the region such as Hong Kong or Singapore.
In the light of the growth of the Vietnamese economy and expansion to international investors and business, it’s little wonder our client does not want to create what is seen by outsiders as ‘an authentic Vietnamese’ experience. It’s as patronising to the progressive, international Vietnamese people as the concept of a ‘traditional Thai hotel’ in Bangkok or ‘authentic Malay hotel’ in Kuala Lumpur. That’s not to say authentic cultural experiences are no longer available in Vietnam, the rich culture of the country ensures there are still vast numbers of traditional hotels throughout the country to experience this. But to create such a hotel from the ground up in the centre of what is fast becoming one of the most important economies of the world would be a backwards step. Like the country itself, if the outlook of our client is wholeheartedly international, the one thing that can be considered authentically Vietnamese is the uncompromised level of service at the hotel. Some elements of cultural traditions should never be changed – it’s what makes travel so rewarding.