PHU QUOC - A VISA FREE ISLAND AND A TRAVEL DESTINATION

Lying 62 miles off Vietnam’s southern coast and known for pristine beaches and verdant forests is the island of Phu Quoc. Now seeing a major increase in attention from both tourists and hospitality investors alike, this increasingly attractive destination, however, still faces obstacles as it looks to develop.

Talked about as an up-and-coming tourist destination for the past decade, very little development had actually materialised until the last couple of years. After significant government investment in local infrastructure, including a new airport, and a strong promotion campaign, tourist numbers have since exploded, and with them, serious private investment in resort facilities has followed.

Over the past 24 months, a safari, theme park, hospital and golf course opened and an international standard casino is under planning”, explains Peter Ryder, CEO of Indochina Capital, a leading Vietnam-based real estate developer and advisor. He adds that, “During the early stages of a resort destination’s development, infrastructure growth is critical and the Phu Quoc authorities are demonstrating an ability to progress rapidly.” He explains that these early achievements from the government have instilled confidence in developers and international hotel brands — such as JW Marriot, InterContinental, AccorHotels, Sheraton and Ritz Carlton — to move forward with new projects.

While attracting only 25,000 visitors back in the year 2000, the number of tourists coming to Phu Quoc jumped to over 1.5 million in 2015, with local Vietnamese visitors doubling between 2014 and 2015 to reach 1.35 million. 2016 is expected to be another impressive year for Phu Quoc as Kien Giang Province, where Phu Quoc is located, is the major focus of the Vietnamese government’s Visit Vietnam Year 2016 tourism promotion campaign. By 2020, the government hopes on attracting three million visitors per year.

Despite this, foreign tourists currently constitute only a relatively small percentage of overall tourist numbers, with just 164,000 foreign tourists visiting Phu Quoc last year out of a total of 1.5 million. Tourists from Russia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are those currently showing the most interest in travelling to Phu Quoc — although the destination is increasingly welcoming tourists from Europe.

Ryder informs us that the government plans to increase the percentage of international travelers to 40% of total arrivals by 2020, explaining that, “Along with the rapid infrastructure development and expected completion of 5-star resorts, I expect the biggest change will be the increase of foreign travelers, specifically from within Asia as access improves regionally.

Flights from foreign countries directly to Phu Quoc Airport have been on the increase lately. Swedish airline TUI Nordic says it expects to run weekly flights to Phu Quoc by the end of 2016 and China Southern Airlines started direct flights to Phu Quoc from Guangzhou in January this year. Direct flights by Vietnam Airlines are run from both Singapore and Cambodia.

Recent visa liberalisation for many nationalities has further encouraged arrivals to Vietnam by foreign tourists. In addition to this, as Phu Quoc is considered a special economic zone, the government has allowed visa-free travel to Phu Quoc for up to 30 days for all nationalities.

(Edited and posted by VIETLAND HOLIDAYS on 7 May 2017).