LAO Cai is the unlikely location of Swiss-Belhotel International’s latest property, which the group hopes to nurture as Vietnam’s newest MICE destination.
Set to open in July, Swiss-Belhotel Lao Cai is situated in Lao Cai, bordering China and best known as the gateway to popular tourist destination Sapa. However, the city rarely sees international visitors spend the night, receives almost no MICE business and has no international standard hotels.
Anna S Kong, Swiss-Belhotel’s vice president global sales, said that opening in Lao Cai was an “easy” decision, as the hotel would provide a MICE venue for those looking for a new space in the city, and competition was close to zero.
Swiss-Belhotel will target the local MICE market, with a secondary focus on Chinese business, and wants to attract a high volume of incentive business by marketing the attractions of the surrounding area. “Imagine having lunch on the mountain top among the paddy fields and local hill tribes, or a treasure hunt using four-wheel drives on dirt roads though the tribal markets,” said Kong.
Swiss-Belhotel Lao Cai, Vietnam offers 186 guestrooms and facilities including a fitness centre, business centre, lobby lounge, bar and top-of-the-line restaurants. An entire floor has been dedicated to MICE. “The configuration, with conference rooms, breakout spaces and the large ballroom all on one floor means it is easy to move from room to room if need be,” Kong explained.
Some in the trade remain unconvinced. Chien Le, deputy secretary general, Vietnam Society of Travel Agents, called the move “unwise”: “I cannot see the potential for Lao Cai as a MICE venue.”
Ed Pettitt, head of international business at Buffalo Tours, agrees, citing the long overnight train journey from Hanoi and the lack of a nearby airport as stumbling blocks: “MICE business relies on good transport links and Lao Cai simply does not have them,” he said.
However, Khiem Vu, director, Indochina Travelland, opined: “A new highway linking Hanoi and Lao Cai will be completed soon, making the property more accessible to local businesses looking to hold conferences or incentive trips, so in my view there is lots of potential for a quality property there.”
By David Lloyd Buglar