Shiny future for Ho Tram Strip

08:00 | 25/09/2017
Philip Falcone, founder and principal of Harbinger Capital, which is the principal investor in the $4.2 billion resort The Grand Ho Tram Strip, talks to VIR’s Hoang Anh about the latest development of the complex and his plan for further investment to make it a world class entertainment destination.

Why did you decide to build The Grand Ho Tram in Vietnam?

When I first started looking at Vietnam in the mid-2000s, I was impressed with the country’s potential and the opportunities for investment. The growing economy, stable political system, and a young and entrepreneurial population, made for a very appealing environment. Although I had some initial hesitations, my arrival in Ho Chi Minh City made a lasting, positive impact. Driving out towards Ba Ria-Vung Tau – the eventual home of The Grand Ho Tram Strip – I was moved by the beauty of the countryside, and once I arrived, I was immediately taken by the pristine beachfront. At that point, I felt like I had truly found a unique opportunity, and together with ongoing support from the province and the Vietnamese government, we believed we could create something special here in Ho Tram.

What trends have you noticed in Vietnam’s tourism sector since you made your initial investment?

Since I began investing in Vietnam, nearly a decade ago, I’ve seen the country grow and evolve considerably. I was impressed with how Vietnam weathered the economic slowdown during the global economic crisis, and even more with how it has thrived since. When I began investing, there was relatively little in the way of major luxury developments – and nothing on the scale of what I had conceived of for The Grand. Now, I think the country’s tourism market is evolving and expanding to support the directives laid out by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and the Vietnamese government. It was surprising to me at the time when I first arrived, how little was being written about Vietnam as a top tourism destination. It’s one of the most beautiful, diverse, and unique places I’ve ever visited, and there is genuinely something for everyone here. Since then, Vietnam has developed a reputation as a leading global destination, and it’s still growing in popularity.

Part of this growth parallels the overall development of the country, but I also think that PM Phuc’s focus on expanding Vietnam’s tourism industry has played a major role in the increase in visitors. He has proactively driven attention to the sector as a key growth area for the country, and I think his continued leadership will pay dividends over time.

How do you think Vietnam’s new casino gaming rules will benefit the country? 

Vietnam’s liberalisation of gaming has huge potential to generate tax and other income sources for the government, which will help it achieve its expansionary vision for the country. Meanwhile, incentivising further foreign investment in integrated resorts throughout the country is important to ensure a strong and stable casino industry in Vietnam for decades to come.

I think the government has made a very forward-looking decision in choosing to carefully and selectively allow participation by eligible Vietnamese nationals in specially-vetted gaming facilities. At The Grand, we have been working for years to ensure that every aspect of our operations meets or exceeds the highest international standards.  As an example, The Grand is the only casino in Vietnam to launch its own responsible gaming programme for its patrons.  This is one of many examples which illustrate our ongoing commitment to the highest standards and our position in leading the way in how casinos can operate in Vietnam.

You have been a leading proponent for US investment in Vietnam. What do you believe is the outlook for US-based FDI into Vietnam in the coming years?

The last several years have seen remarkable growth in US-Vietnam relations, and I think that has encouraged US investors considering moving into the market. In May, I hosted the Vietnam Investment Forum in New York in honour of PM Phuc’s visit, and there was substantial interest from the business community. In the room, you had leading investors and representatives from some of the largest companies in the US, talking face-to-face with the prime minister and a number of his key cabinet members about steps that both sides can take to increase US investment in Vietnam.

As the government continues to implement necessary reforms, and takes further steps to ensure a level-playing field for foreign companies, I have no doubt that US investment will continue to grow.

What are your future plans for investment in Vietnam?

We have an expansive slate of investments lined up. We are accelerating the construction of our next hotel, the 20-storey “The Beach Club”, and will include 560 five-star hotel rooms and host various new restaurants and amenities.  We’ve recently broken ground on our 2,000 seat amphitheatre which will open in 2018 and host live entertainment, while launching the first phase of our next resort offering in Ho Tram.  We’ve also signed agreements of understanding, including a large-scale waterpark and partnerships with global hotel partners and sports teams to further expand the future of Ho Tram. While we are looking to expand accommodation and entertainment options for our guests, we’re also aware of the need for improved transportation infrastructure to the region and the resort. We’re working with the government on the approval of an international FBO airport just 15 minutes away from the resort that would accept chartered flights and be capable of handling passenger jets like the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. This will support transportation into the region and help grow international tourism into the area and support Vietnam’s tourism goals. 

We’re also working with PetroVietnam to install a clean, natural gas-fueled power plant to provide electricity to the project well into the future, relieving pressure on the power grid and providing the first of its kind green energy solution to a development of our size in Vietnam.  These developments show our ongoing and long-term commitments to the Ho Tram Strip investment and Vietnam.

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