A short while ago, the prospects for a gradual return to international tourism seemed clear for Vietnam.
However, a recent wave of the Delta variant has thrown the picture somewhat out of focus. Needless to say, the situation remains fluid but that has not deterred the plans of hotels or DMCs throughout the country catering to the MICE market.
DMCs remain cautiously optimistic
Linh Le, founder of Saigon-based DMC Luxperia Collective, imparted “We have successfully adapted to domestic tourism including the delivery of MICE events and retreats for locally based corporates across Vietnam.”
Linh added, “Like others, we too saw a heart-breaking amount of business reduced since March 2020. We knew our service and knowledge could be re-imagined and repurposed for domestic corporates. For 15 months now, we staged events and have formed wonderful new relationships that continue to grow and prosper and carry over when travel again picks up”.
Nick Wade, managing director of Khiri Travel and John Tue Nguyen, founder/CEO of Trails of Indochina, both with extensive MICE experience, sounded more cautionary notes.
Wade intoned, “crystal ball-gazing is not a great planning method, but for now, it’s all we have. If you’d asked me six to nine months ago, I would have whole-heartedly said that the first travel allowed back into Vietnam would be small MICE group travel from safe bubbles set up within the Southeast Asian region.
"That does also mean that Vietnam is likely to be far more cautious in opening up, however it may lend itself to MICE groups, which are easier to control as they generally stay short term and go straight to the venue and remain there. Compare that to 50 couples arriving into Hanoi and then dispersing across the country in all directions.”
John Nguyen looked beyond the immediate region to North America and Europe, where most of the company’s MICE groups originate. In principle, he agreed with Wade’s group philosophy of control. But from a pragmatic
standpoint, pointed out that “companies draw their incentive people from across a country, not just one city. Thus, uniform guidelines and precautions will have to be taken to ensure the group’s safety. However, with longer planning times, I do see this segment rebounding faster than others.”
Quyhn Nguyen, CEO of Hanoi-based VietnamNow Travel, with both international and domestic MICE clientele, points out that “while domestic groups will initially drive the recovery, prices should be very competitive for all clients as companies look to entice clients to our shores. Another advantage is that Vietnam has diverse locations, supporting hotels, good infrastructure and unique activities to establish it as the MICE centre for Southeast Asia.”
Hotels prepare creative MICE offers
A number of major hotel companies have continued development projects during the pandemic or taken the time to formulate new MICE programmes.
Kate Jones, area director of public relations, Vietnam, for **Minor Hotels **said: “From a meetings perspective, Vietnam has good regulations in place overall and will be ready to welcome international MICE travel back. We have handled domestic MICE business over the past 12 months, so we are still focused on this aspect of travel.”
She added: “While we may see some different dynamics in terms of requirements from regional and international business travellers, we are well placed to adapt to changing needs and preferences in all our Anantara and Avani hotels and resorts throughout the country.”
The group’s unique addition is the luxury train carriage, **The Vietage**, which has only 12 seats. “Running between Hoi An and Quy Nhon, we can do exclusive buyouts for the carriage, so this can be perfect for smaller groups or private parties,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, **Fusion Hotel Group**, which focuses on health and wellness, also caters for events, Fusion Suites Vung Tau has conference facilities with capacity for up to 240 guests, with two meeting rooms and a reception foyer. There’s also a dedicated event planner on board to assist.
According to Accor Vietnam’s vice president of operations, Xavier Cappelut, corporate clients are showing great interest in new destinations within the country that offer immersive cultural experiences. “This allows their guests to engage in meaningful leisure activities, complimented by the world-class hospitality services that Accor properties offer,” he said.
“Our hotels under development will offer state-of- the-art meeting facilities, such as **Novotel Dong Nai, Pullman Hai Phong or MGallery Nghe An**, with capacities allowing for events as large as 1,000 guests.”
Additionally, **MGallery Hotel des Artists Saigon** has a rooftop bar that accommodates events of up to 150 people with panoramic views over the city. Meeting rooms are also equipped with the latest technologies.
Cappelut added: “Beside corporate events and meetings, we also see an increasing number of social activities such as marathons or boat races in emerging destinations that offer breath-taking natural beauty. Our hotels are leveraging this rising trend to partner with event organisers and offer attractive packages for events attendees.”
Chris Hallett, director of sales & marketing at **InterContinental Saigon**, also believes there is plenty of reason for optimism about the future of MICE in Vietnam. “We expect to see ‘trust’ — in your brand, in your product, in your people — to be a key theme through the coming post-pandemic years,” he said.
“Also, flexibility around bookings is going to be crucial as travel patterns may continue to be disrupted; InterContinental Saigon is part of the global IHG ‘Meet with Confidence’ programme which gives reassurance and confidence to our partners that we can provide this flexibility.
“Whilst there will certainly be the ability to run ‘hybrid’ events with a blend of remote and in-person delegates, we do also believe the current pandemic will reinforce, and indeed strengthen the desire to connect in-person again.”