|Island tour is a special product of Phú Quốc. — VNS Photo Trương Vị|
by Hoàng Nguyên
KIÊN GIANG – Phú Quốc Island has become one of the hottest holiday spots in the country in recent years as the local and central governments have gone ahead with ambitious plans to develop it into an international hub for eco-tourism, resort tourism and amusement and a regional financial centre.
Phú Quốc, dubbed pearl island, is the biggest island in the country at around 600 square kilometres.
With white sandy beaches and balmy weather almost all year round — since two-thirds of the island is covered in forests — Phú Quốc is a holiday-goers’ paradise.
“What attracts tourists the most are the island’s wild beaches, its warm weather which allows tourists to bathe in the sea almost all year round, and its diverse landscapes from mountain to forest and sea,” Huỳnh Quang Hưng, deputy chairman of the Phú Quốc District People’s Committee, said.
|Night markets in Phú Quốc are a paradise for seafood lovers.—VNS Photo Thiên Lý|
Since the island was connected to the national electrical grid and a visa waiver policy which gives foreigners a 30-day visa-free stay was adopted in 2014, foreigners have been flocking to the island.
According to figures from the local administration, last year the island received 1.96 million visitors, a 35 per cent year-on-year increase.
It included more than 360,000 foreign visitors, up 72 per cent.
The island’s accommodation and food services sector earned more than VNĐ11.6 trillion (US$510 million), up 30 per cent.
In the first quarter of this year the number of visitors zoomed to 760,000, a 37 per cent rise over the same period last year. Foreign arrivals doubled to 286,000.
|Wild beaches are one of Phú Quốc Island’s biggest draws for visitors.—VNS Photo Thiên Lý|
Tourists from countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, China, and South Korea, but also from faraway places like Sweden, Russia, the UK, and Italy, travel here more often now thanks to direct flights from many countries to Phú Quốc International Airport.
Some 70-80 flights arrive and depart from the airport every day, including eight to 10 international flights.
During the high travel season such as summer and national holidays, the number can reach 100, according to Hưng.
Authorities are upgrading the airport to handle five million visitors a year by 2020 and seven million by 2030, including 40 per cent foreigners.
Soon domestic flights to Đà Nẵng, Vinh, and Lâm Đồng and international flights to Japan and European countries are expected to start.
|Phú Quốc International Airport is being upgraded to serve five million tourists by 2020 and seven million by 2030.—VNS Photo Thiên Lý|
Apart from its natural beauty, Phú Quốc Island also attracts visitors with its luxury resorts, golf courses, the animal safari, and casinos.
Under the master plan to develop Phú Quốc into a special administrative economic zone, many incentives have been offered to investors to help the island achieve its full potential.
“Phú Quốc has the best mechanisms and incentives in the whole country,” Hưng said.
Its corporate and personal income taxes are the lowest in the country; land rents are waived for the first four years and cut by 50 per cent for the next nine.
The island is seeking approval to offer 99-year land leases to investors.
These incentives have drawn big investments from local and international firms.
CEO Group, which is among the three biggest investors in the island, understood about Phú Quốc’s tourism potential and began investing at a very early stage.
“Back then Phú Quốc had all kinds of advantages — nice weather, beautiful and warm beaches [for tourism] — but lacked technical or tourism infrastructure,” Trần Đạo Đức, deputy general director of CEO group, said.
|The world’s longest cable car route over sea connecting An Thới town and Hòn Thơm Island in Phú Quốc Island was inaugurated in February. — Photo courtesy of Sun Group|
“We have met many foreigners who said they had wanted to know about Phú Quốc for quite a while, but did not know how to get there.
“It is fortunate the Government has paid close attention to investing in the island to build the international airport, bring electricity and upgrade roads.”
Đức said his company started work on the Sonasea Villa & Resort complex in 2013 immediately after the island set up technical infrastructure.
Covering nearly 80 hectares in the Bãi Trường area, the partly finished five-star complex serves the demands of high-class tourism and offers many other services such as eco-tourism and leisure and amusement activities.
Novotel Phú Quốc resort, part of the complex, has been popular with European tourists since 2015 and has an average occupancy rate of 70 per cent.
The Vinpearl Phú Quốc complex, developed by Vingroup in the north of the island and consisting of a five-star hotel and villas, a modern amusement area, a golf course, and the world’s second biggest wildlife safari, has also become popular with foreign and domestic tourists.
In the south, the Sun Group has built a resort and hotel complex of five- to six-star quality with over 1,000 rooms.
Last month Sun Group inaugurated the world’s longest cable car route over the sea connecting An Thới Town and Hòn Thơm Islet, cutting the time for travel, until then by speed boat, by half.
The cable car system is part of the Sun World Hòn Thơm Nature Park in the south of the island.
"These big local investors are the ones who are changing the face of the island," Hưng said.
Thanks to large projects like these, the island now has a large number of hotel rooms to meet the rising needs of visitors in future.
There are around 15,000 rooms rated three-star and above, including 6,000 rated five-star.
This large number means the human resource requirement in the service sector is also huge, but Phú Quốc faces a shortage of trained workers.
“Since the island’s tourism sector is booming, we have worked with vocational colleges and schools to provide short training courses to meet the rising demand for human resources,” Hưng said.
“Some resorts on the island have also partnered with vocational schools to offer apprenticeships and internships to students to give them hands-on experience.”
|Many projects are under development on Phú Quốc Island by local and international investors.—VNS Photo Thiên Lý|
Đức of CEO Group said it used to be very hard to hire employees in Phú Quốc a few years ago.
But now "more and more people from the mainland come to the island to seek opportunities," he said.
His company offers accommodation and regular training for staff as a way to retain employees.
Apart from the employment issue, Phú Quốc also has environmental concerns as a result of its rapid economic growth.
Waste treatment in residential areas is not ideal, which affects the appearance of the island.
“Waste and water treatment is one of our top priorities at the moment. We are seeking support from the provincial and central governments to solicit investment in waste treatment plants,” Hưng said.
Besides seeking investment, local authorities have also sought residents and businesses’ co-operation in protecting the environment and preserve the beautiful image of the island.
With a draft law on special administrative-economic zones expected to be passed by the National Assembly in May, Phú Quốc and Kiên Giang Province authorities are working to improve tourism services and eliminate problems like cheating and gouging of foreigners.
They closely monitored all tourism activities on the island to ensure food safety and hygiene at traditional markets and prevent cheating of tourists, Hưng said.
He advised foreigners not to ride motorbikes on the island but instead rent a taxi or motorbike taxi for their own safety, saying there had been cases of foreigners not obeying traffic rules and getting into accidents as a result.
He said to assist tourists the island was planning to set up booths at tourists sites. — VNS