US$4 billion integrated resort Hoiana combines authentic Vietnamese cultural experiences with some of the finest luxury leisure and entertainment facilities in Asia.
Located on a massive 945 hectares of land, with 3km of beach frontage and just a short hop across the river to the culturally rich heritage town of Hoi An, the US$4 billion Hoiana integrated resort is a game changer in every sense of the word.
For Vietnam and more specifically the surrounding Quang Nam Province bordering Da Nang to the north, Hoiana adds luxury accommodation and a diversity of entertainment options to complement the cultural allure of Hoi An and the tropical white sand beaches along its coastal margin.
But for the property’s owners – Hong Kong-listed Suncity Group, hospitality investor VMS Investment Group and Vietnam’s leading investment firm VinaCapital – it represents their most significant foray yet into casino and IR operations.
“In terms of Suncity Group Holdings Limited, the listed platform of Suncity Group, it aims to expand its investment in integrated resorts as well as casinos within the Asia region,” Suncity says of its involvement. The company also holds a 69.66% stake in Summit Ascent Holdings, which owns a majority stake in Russian casino resort Tigre de Cristal, and a 51% stake in a Philippines entity set to develop a US$700 million hotel and casino in Manila’s Entertainment City precinct.
“Through equity investments, we aim to increase our footprint in Asia, especially in integrated resorts with a casino.
“Being the first IR we have developed, we have high expectations for Hoiana which is totally different from hotels in Macau in terms of the target market and operation strategy. The market positioning of Hoiana is a resort destination and the revenue will not only come back from the [gaming] tables, but from other facilities as well.
“It is therefore a step forward for Suncity Group to diversify its business from a junket to a resort and casino operator, and to become an international integrated entertainment company.”
Breaking ground in 2016, the full US$4 billion glory of Hoiana will be gradually unveiled across seven phases over 13 years, with a target completion date of 2030. Once the last brick has been laid, it will showcase a multitude of hotels and residences, two 18-hole golf courses, MICE facilities, commercial space, and high-end and outdoor retail among various other leisure and hospitality attractions.
Phase 1 comes in at just over US$1 billion and include four hotel brands operated by Hong Kong’s Rosewood Hotel Group, Hoiana Residences, a championship golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones II, authentic Asian restaurants and Hoiana Suncity Casino.
Work is also getting underway on Phase II, providing a more family-oriented feel with 4-star accommodations, residential apartments and villa development, lakeside retail and public recreational areas.
According to Steve Wolstenholme, CEO of Hoiana’s joint venture operating entity, Hoi An South Development Ltd, such diversity of attractions will give the property global appeal but with a particular focus on key regional bases.
“Looking at our international market, it is really quite traditional – mainland China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan are of particular interest to us,” Wolstenholme explains, listing Vietnam’s four largest source markets in 2019. China, with 5.8 million arrivals, topped that list, followed closely by South Korea with 4.3 million, then Japan with 952,000 and Taiwan with 927,000 (the United States ranked fifth with 746,000).
“The Korean market has always been strong in Vietnam but particularly in central Vietnam, predominantly because there are a lot of Korean owned businesses,” he continues. “Those markets are significant to us but also with Rosewood being involved, they have a global reach.
“Then as a member of the Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board we focus on Europe and the US as well, and while those demographics are not as good from a gaming standpoint, they are certainly ones that appeal to us to attract, not just for Hoiana but for Vietnam tourism as a whole.”
While the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic looks likely to stall any meaningful resumption of international travel until at least the second half of 2021, Wolstenholme notes that a number of facilities at Hoiana are already up and running, including Hoiana Shores Golf Club, Hoiana Hotel & Suites (the first of its hotels), some F&B, and Hoiana Suncity Casino, which welcomed its first guests in late June.
Locals gaming remains off limits in Vietnam outside of one property, Corona Casino on Phu Quoc Island, which is part of a three-year trial by the Vietnamese government, so the decision to open some Hoiana attractions this year was primarily seen as “a great opportunity to ensure we are polished when it comes to training,” Wolstenholme says.
Yet business at Hoiana Suncity – currently operating 140 gaming tables and 346 machines but with capacity for 1,000 machines – has been surprisingly strong, boosted by an expansive expat community.
“Due to the pandemic, we have focused on domestic market and the expat community residing in Vietnam,” he continues.
“Local aren’t permitted to game here unless they are dual citizens. But there are many expats living and working here, and the Koreans, Chinese and Japanese expats are our current predominant market.
“We’ve got a great property, we’ve got the ground floor open and we’ve got business coming through the door every day.
“Then when the international market comes back, and it will, I believe it will come back particularly strong in Vietnam because of the way the government has handled the pandemic. The price point of Vietnam is very reasonable and the location is very appealing too.”
Longer term, Wolstenholme sees Hoiana benefiting from its unique ownership mix, with each company bringing its own area of expertise to the table.
“One of those is VMS which is a well-established Hong Kong entity that has a related party in Rosewood, which is the hotelier,” he says.
“We also have our local partner VinaCapital, which has a great understanding of how to do business in Vietnam, then Suncity is the established junket operator but also very keen to be involved on the casino operations side and operating some of the amenities, like F&B and retail. So we’ve got this match made in heaven.”
Rosewood’s presence is significant. Roundly regarded among Asia’s leading lights in the ultra-luxury hotel space, the Hong Kong-based group will oversee all four hotels in Phase 1 with each designed to appeal to a different visitor demographic.
Hoiana Hotel & Suites, opened in July, is an all-suite hotel described as “stylish and luxurious” in its design and featuring personalized butler service plus an outdoor infinity pool on the 16th floor with vistas of the adjacent beachfront and nearby Cham islands.
New World Hoiana Hotel, opening in the first quarter of 2021, is an “upper-upscale gateway to central Vietnam,” according to Complex Managing Director for Hoiana Hotels, Benoit Amado, designed with contemporary flair for maximum comfort and convenience.
Opening in 2021 will be KHOS Hoiana, offering sustainably designed guestrooms and suites complemented by KHOS Play – an imaginative indoor/outdoor playground for families – and a collection of harmonious experiences devoted to deep relaxation, including luxury spa Renew. The brand takes its name from the Mongolian word for “pair,” highlighting the fusion of vibrant Asian culture with modern hospitality. We’re told the hotel will offer reimagined dining, meeting and relaxation concepts for a “new generation of travelers.”
Finally, Rosewood Hoi An, the last piece of Hoiana’s Phase 1 jigsaw due to open by late 2022, will accommodate guests in luxury villas while providing the brand’s Asaya integrated wellness concept via dedicated spa treatment rooms.
Common to all four brands, explains Amado, will be Rosewood’s dedication to a service philosophy it calls “Relationship Hospitality.”
“We believe in creating lasting and rewarding connections with our guests, business partners and our community,” he says. “Relationship Hospitality is a pillar of our culture and it enables us to provide service, enhanced by the genuine warmth and charm of Vietnamese culture, that comes from the heart. We have carefully selected only people who are natural hosts to join our team.
“We also respect and celebrate our destination in all that we do. In Hoiana Hotel & Suites, for example, we worked with an art gallery in Ho Chi Minh City to source the art pieces that adorn the hotel, creating an authentic sense of place that connects our guests to Vietnam and Hoi An in particular.”
It is this connection to the surrounding area that lies at the heart of the Hoiana concept, with its very name reflecting the township it neighbors.
“A lot of people think of an integrated resort as something that is a bit closed, but we look at it differently,” says Wolstenholme.
“People that come here have the opportunity to stay within the resort and have the full experience, but also we encourage them to go outside the resort and experience the beautiful beaches and places like Hoi An, because that contributes to the memorable experience for our guests.”
“The location was chosen because it is near to the most popular tourist destination in Vietnam, Hoi An Township,” adds Stephen Evans, Chief Development Officer at Hoi An South Development Ltd.
“We are fortunate with Hoiana’s location. Our site, which is about 945 hectares, has more than 3km of beach frontage and 5km of coastal highway frontage. The development site was sparsely populated and although zoned as agricultural, very little of the land was used as farmland.
“So we see this as a unique opportunity. IR is a new form of business in Vietnam, and Hoiana is cooperating very closely with local and national regulators to bring planning and business regulations to accommodate this new form of development.”
After all, explains Evans, Hoiana isn’t just envisioned to be a destination resort. It is also seen as a showcase of the very best central Vietnam has to offer, from its world-famous food culture to the authentic smiles of the locals.
“For this initial phase, our focus is to build one of the greatest hubs of hospitality and experiences in the region, so the design revolves around hospitality experiences, including our hotels and villas, a great golf course and the state-of-the-art gaming and entertainment facilities,” he says.
“We want to create an appealing product to put this relatively new area onto Vietnam’s tourism map.
“But our ultimate goal for the overall multi-phased project is to develop an urban township.
“We have planned now for that future expansion of utilities and services. A lot of care has been taken to ensure that Hoiana is fully integrated into the local districts – Hoiana is a part of the wider provincial community.
“So the development of Hoiana over the next 10 to 15 years will serve as a generator for the development of Quang Nam Province, bringing people and services and long-term employment.”