All photos courtesy Balcon Media Group.
No matter the destination, travel can often leave lasting impressions on visitors who want to experience new things. For those inclined to travel coast-to-coast, Trails of Indochina has become one of the most pioneering boutique tour operators in Southeast and East Asian countries. Having just marked its 20th anniversary, the firm continues to stay true to founder John Tue Nguyen’s approach to tourism by highlighting immersive experiences for a high-end audience.
Hang En cave, Quang Binh province.
When Nguyen was a young boy growing up in Hue, Southeast Asia barely had a tourism industry. These days, the region ranks among the world’s most sought-after vacation destinations with travellers flocking from all corners of the globe to sample its diverse array of experiences: a compendium of offerings spanning everything from culinary-themed discoveries and rip-roaring adventure to idyllic honeymoons at bucket-list resorts.
“Since the start we’ve been focused on delivering unique tailored tours in Asia,” Nguyen says. “What sets us apart from other tour operators is that we really believe in developing exclusive products and aim to deliver those to our customers in the most personalized way possible.”
Nguyen has been widely credited for popularising unique trips and selecting endeavors that are unforgettable, from watching a master artisan weave kimonos in Kyoto and private lessons in Shodo, an ancient Japanese calligraphy style exemplifying his innovative approach.
Experiences — many of which are exclusive to Trails of Indochina — might include a master class on Hue’s imperial gastronomy with a recognized authority on the cuisine. Or an audience in Hanoi’s backstreets with one of the few remaining practitioners of Hang Trong, a traditional genre of Vietnamese woodblock printing.
Trails is the anchor to an organization that also includes Heritage Line (river cruises on Mekong, Ayeyarwady and Chindwin Rivers), Indotrek (adventure travel) and Ancient Hue (a collection of beautifully realised traditional-style garden homes in Vietnam’s imperial capital Hue).
Heritage Line cruise to Myanmar.
Over the course of the past two decades, Trails of Indochina has notched several prestigious industry accolades at awards events such as the World Travel Awards and the Luxury Lifestyle Awards, and has expanded its destination portfolio to cover most of Asia.
“Today, travellers are more willing to explore and they have certain expectations. That’s why it’s just as important for us today as it was in the beginning to really learn, understand and to innovate with the ultimate goal of delivering unforgettable experiences to our travellers,” Nguyen says.
Spanish-born Manuel Ferriol, the general manager of the new five-star Meliá Ho Tram Beach Resort, talks with us about what attracted him to Vietnam, why he’s been with Meliá Hotels International for 15 years, what’s so special about the only Spanish five-star beachfront resort in Vietnam’s south and why Vietnam has so much promise.
1) With substantial hospitality experience in Europe, what brought you to Vietnam and how has your time here treated you?
I always wanted to live and work abroad and a career in hospitality is the ticket to not only see the world but truly immerse yourself in it. After developing my hospitality career in Spain and becoming a resident manager, Meliá Hotels International offered me a number of options to take my career to the next level, including a terrific opportunity as director of operations at Meliá Hanoi, the Spanish group’s flagship hotel in Vietnam and recognized as one of the most luxurious MICE and events hotels in Asia. When I arrived in Vietnam in 2014, I immediately felt I had made the right decision and have never looked back.
After two years at Meliá Hanoi, I then became Meliá Danang’s general manager. My success in establishing the then-newly opened Meliá Danang, combined with my experience managing leisure and business hotels in Vietnam, resulted in my appointment as the new Meliá Ho Tram Beach Resort’s general manager. Vietnam is the land of opportunity on so many fronts, particularly the luxury hospitality industry. It’s so rewarding to be here during Vietnam’s phenomenal rise as the Asia-Pacific’s fastest growing country in terms of tourism.
The best thing about Vietnam is its people. The Vietnamese are welcoming and hardworking, and have been integral to the success of our operations and service due to their diligence and innate, genuine warmth.
2) You have been with Meliá Hotel Group for 15 years, an impressive track record. What is so special about working with the Spanish company and why have you worked with them for so long?
Meliá Hotels International is a significant part of me after so long. When I first started out in hospitality, I worked with another international company for one year before deciding to move to Meliá Hotels International; not only due to it being the number one Spanish hotel company but also because it’s family-grown and family-run, and offered me exciting career and development opportunities right from the start.
As Meliá Hotels International has a total of seven brands that speak to difference audience segments, career opportunities are boundless. The group rewards talent and dedication with excellent opportunities to grow and surge into the future, professionally and personally. I joined Meliá’s internal management program and I’ve given my absolute best to Meliá. In return the group has definitely given its best back to me, helping me to learn, to develop, challenge and improve myself and has guided me during each and every step of my 15-year career with the group hitherto. I have a strong sense of belonging to a family and this is reinforced every day by my interactions with my fellow colleagues and Meliá Hotels International’s management.
I know many hospitality groups speak about a passion for service but Meliá Hotels International really delivers on this with Spanish warmth and hospitality that none of our competitors can match in a more modern, younger and fresher image. The group is also far-sighted when it comes to corporate social responsibility and its sustainable development goals related to areas such as removing all single-use plastics, and reducing water use and carbon dioxide emissions. So much so we have been ranked as the third most sustainable hotel company worldwide for 2018 by RobecoSAM, a sustainable investment agency responsible for evaluating companies for the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.
3) Can you tell us more about Meliá Ho Tram Beach Resort? Why should we head to Ho Tram and stay at your resort?
The resort is already deemed one of the most prestigious of the Meliá Hotels and Resorts portfolio globally and we aim to establish it as the top resort in Vietnam’s south as well as one of renown in Vietnam and the Asia Pacific. Our 17-hectare resort celebrated its grand opening on April 20 this year, cutting the ribbon on a host of world-class facilities such as three restaurants including a beach club, three swimming pools, a swim-up bar, a coffee shop, a 10-treatment room spa, an executive lounge, a ballroom and conference facilities, a kid’s club, gymnasium, gift shop and more.
All of our 152 rooms and suites face the ocean and afford panoramic views of Ho Tram beach. The 62 villas are mind blowing, ranging in size from 220sqm to 465sqm with no expense spared. The villas have their own private pools, BBQ areas, outdoor showers and gardens, living areas and separate dining areas. Four distinct food and beverage outlets – Breeza Beach Club, Muoi, Sasa and Elyxr café – and a swim-up bar make for a diverse culinary landscape luring casual and fine diners alike. Destined to be “the place to be” in Ho Tram and referencing the beach clubs of Ibiza and Bali, Breeza is situated right on the beach and will host live music, DJ sets, themed parties, and fire and dancing shows.
Ho Tram is fast developing a reputation as Ho Chi Minh City’s answer to New York’s Hamptons, Rome’s Sorrento and Sydney’s Blue Mountains; a go-to retreat where the well-heeled flock for a getaway that’s close by, upscale and restorative. With 500m of ocean frontage, this tropical setting is all the more spectacular as the sun rises to the left and goes down to the right in an incredible arc over the East Sea each day. We can’t wait to welcome you to our sublime piece of paradise.
4) Meliá Hotels International is significantly investing in Vietnam and the Asia Pacific. Why has the group set its sights on Vietnam?
Meliá Ho Tram Beach Resort heralds a new era for Meliá Hotels International as the first property to open in southern Vietnam under the Meliá Hotels and Resorts brand and the fourth for Vietnam. Meliá Ho TramBeach Resort joins Meliá Hanoi, Meliá Danang and Meliá Ba Vi Mountain Retreat as part of the group’s burgeoning portfolio. Plans call for Meliá Cam Ranh Bay, Meliá Ninh Binh and Meliá Saigon Central to open in 2020.
Meliá has grown particularly quickly in Vietnam, where it already had 13 hotels either open or in the pipeline, making it one of the leading international hotel companies in the country. In response to the “bleisure” (business and leisure) travel trend, Meliá Hotels International is particularly focused on the Asia Pacific’s emerging economic zones and key MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, events) destinations, with 75% of our hotels catering to the bleisure market in this region.Meliá Ho Tram Beach Resort is situated in a coastal enclave only a two-hour drive from Vietnam’s economic capital Ho Chi Minh City, offering MICE planners and delegates a reinvigorating ocean-side location with ample space and cutting-edge technology.
Upstairs, above our lobby and foyer, the 420sqm ballroom hosts up to 400 people for a cocktail reception and 270 for a banquet with lively themes ranging from Mediterranean and Spanish to Indochine. An adjacent sprawling terrace with a panoramic vista of the resort and the beach provides a picturesque spot for gala dinners. The ballroom can also be divided into three smaller meeting and function rooms.
Meanwhile, domestic tourists are increasingly traveling to the host of beautiful destinations on their home turf. The numbers of international tourists flocking to Vietnam increase year after year. According to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT), for 2018, the country welcomed 15.5 million visitors, a 20 percent spike on 2017.
The fact that so much is happening in Vietnam is all the more impressive in light of just how quickly things have progressed here. Vietnam has enjoyed the world’s second-fastest growth rate in GDP per person since 1990, and no doubt tourism has played a role in this positive trajectory. Despite its skyrocketing growth, we believe Vietnam is not an oversaturated market whose most exciting days are yet to come.
Photos courtesy of Meliá Ho Tram Beach Resort
Opening summer 2018, AYANA Komodo Resort will offer the only five-star accommodations in the region
AYANA is launching a brand-new resort on the little-known and undeveloped eastern Indonesian island of Flores, set to open in summer 2018. A one-hour flight east from Bali, AYANA Komodo Resort, Waecicu Beach will be the first and only five-star hotel in the region, putting both the town of Labuan Bajo and the island of Flores on the map as one of the hottest up-and-coming destinations. The AYANA properties in Bali and Jakarta are famed for world-class hospitality, exceptional design, superior cuisine and unparalleled service.
AYANA Komodo Resort, Waecicu Beach will offer visitors 12 suites and 189 premium guest rooms, each offering an ocean view with the distinctive Kukusan Island in the distance. The unconventional design will have guests check in on the 11th floor lobby and reach their room by descending toward the beach. The town of Labuan Bajo is considered the premier launching point for trips to the home of the famous Komodo Dragon. The resort will be actively raising funds to support Komodo National Park in developing facilities and enhancing the safety and training of Komodo Rangers.
The new resort will feature a rooftop wedding and function suite, a rooftop bar, lobby bar, HonZEN Japanese restaurant, Kisik Seafood BBQ, an all-day dining venue serving relaxed Asian cuisine and international food, a private beach, two main swimming pools, a children’s pool, a spa, gym and kid’s club. The resort will also offer day trips on the property’s catamaran and power boat.
AYANA Komodo Resort will also debut a 177-foot-long and 36-foot-wide, 9-bedroom traditional phinisi ship, named AYANA Lako’dia (meaning “safe journey” in the local language), that will take guests (either by full charter or bookable by bedroom) around the island for 2- or 3-night trips.