US mega-tourism project underscores US relations

08:00 | 08/07/2019
This year marks a quarter of a century since US president Bill Clinton lifted the country’s trade embargo on Vietnam. The US has since become Vietnam’s leading trade partner, making trade promotion activities an ongoing point of interest for the business community. To celebrate this special year of the relationship, Michael Kelly, executive chairman of the Grand Ho Tram Strip, the largest Vietnamese tourism venture that the US has ever invested in, talked to VIR’s Hoang Anh about this.
us mega tourism project underscores us relations
Michael Kelly

It has been 25 years since the US lifted its embargo on Vietnam, leading to a major improvement in the trade ­relationship between the two nations. What is your ­perspective of Vietnam’s current investment climate?

I was previously the National chair of the American Chamber of Commerce and I am currently a governor on the board of both the Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City chapters today. Through this, with my interactions with countless US businesses operating in Vietnam, I saw first-hand the impact of the removal of the trade embargo by President Clinton in 1994. That move, really more than any other up until the entry to the World Trade Organization, proclaimed Vietnam as open for business to the world. Everything from the waves of investment that ­followed – the prevalence of American brands in ­everything from fast-moving consumer goods and ­automobiles to high-end ­resorts – can all be traced back to that one move. It was a monumental step in ­Vietnam’s socio-economic development.

As for us at Ho Tram, even though we opened our doors in 2013, we have been investing in Vietnam since 2007. We have seen the ­nation go from strength to strength over that time, with improvements in terms of bureaucracy, transparency, and infrastructure all ­impressing us throughout. While there is still much work to be done in all these areas to ensure a level ­playing field for overseas ­investors like those from the United States, we are ­confident the nation is on the right track.

The Grand Ho Tram Strip has become a strong choice for both local and international tourists, and the ­development is now under expansion. What are the key elements that make the strip an icon of American investment in the Vietnamese tourism industry?

From the very inception of our project, people have been calling us “Vegas in Vietnam”. It is not a title we typically broadcast, but it does highlight the way in which we have become an icon of this Las Vegas-like model of integrated resorts including everything from entertainment and casinos to water fountains, to bring a product that entire families love and return to.

We are expanding at present with our second resort, as well as a third development, a condo tower, our ongoing Gallery Villas, and enhancements around our golf course are all underway to ensure that our iconic project continues to be Vietnam’s top entertainment destination.

More American investors are ­increasing investment in Vietnam. What should ­Vietnam do to leverage such investment from the US?

What I will say is that many foreign-invested companies over all the world need a stable supply chain, and because of ongoing trade issues are looking to potentially ­expand their supply and ­manufacturing capabilities. Vietnam, due to its physical location, educated workforce, and stable government are poised to be the recipient of some of this diversification.

The Grand Ho Tram Strip has committed and deployed over $1 billion in Vietnam already. What have been your achievements in the country thus far?

I actually live on the property and so, while every day I walk by cabinets full of trophies and awards that remind us that we are Vietnam’s top entertainment getaway, it is not these awards which make me the most proud. It is the employees that work here and what we have created in Ho Tram.

There are many achievements but what I most enjoy comes simply from the looks on people’s faces as they walk around and marvel at what we have built here. Kids on waterslides, golfers in the clubhouse, pop stars performing on a regular basis in our venue, and players at our tables. Everyone has these huge smiles on their faces, and that to me is the true mark of success for a project like ours.

How can you make the ­venture even more popular to tourists in Vietnam?

Our second resort now in construction is our top priority. It will more than double our room inventory, see us approximately double our headcount, add all new food and beverage concepts, and will be very different to The Grand. This then broadens our base of potential customers and spearheads a period on investment that will include a 2,000-plus-person amphitheatre, hosting top acts from here and abroad, a full waterpark, and then our Ramada condo tower.

Each of these expands on our product offering, and offers guests more reasons to visit and even more reasons to return to The Grand Ho Tram Strip.

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