Hue to Go – VietnamBanyan Tree takes bigger step into Vietnam with its first Angsana resort investment

About midway up the Vietnamese coast sits Lang Co Bay, which come mid-2012 will be the newest addition to the country’s burgeoning resort tourism trade. The location of what Banyan Tree hopes will be a flagship property for Angsana Hotels & Resorts is an elegantly rugged coastal spot — and it’s blessed with an equally memorable drive from Hue. Word on the street there’s a new highway on the way for Vietnam, but in the meantime the existing drive is an event unto itself. Watch for wandering cows and the occasional mad moped driver.

This is de rigueur for anyone familiar with Vietnam’s singular charms and one of the reasons Banyan Tree pegged Lang Co for its latest US$200 million development. Lang Co is in Thua Thien Hue Province, and for travellers it’s one of the most historically and culturally rich regions of the country. Well within two hours of the site in any direction are the Hindu temple ruins at My Son, the ancient trading port at Hoi An, the now-bustling beach town of Da Nang, the former Demilitarized Zone and of course the old imperial capital at Hue. The area is served by Da Nang International Airport, the recipient of major expansion and renovations in 2011, and Phu Bai International Airport near Hue.

The infrastructure work bodes well for the future in Managing Director of Laguna Resorts & Hotels Michael Ayling’s eyes. “When you look at the two main resort destinations in Southeast Asia, Bali and Phuket, they’ve grown significantly because of their natural beauty and the culture. Those [elements] and great beaches create a great holiday destination. We believe you have all of those ingredients, and more, in central Vietnam. And the UNESCO sites add another dimension to the holiday experience.”

The Angsana Lang Co is the first step in a larger development at Lang Co that will eventually include a Banyan Tree resort, its villas, and Laguna residences. Part of the initial Angsana phase includes a golf course designed by Nick Faldo and, naturally, a spa — perhaps what Angsana is best known for outside Vietnam. Every unit in the hotel is also an investment property, now on sale.

Angsana Properties is offering 113 leasehold units, ranging in size from approximately 860 to 3,300 square feet in one- to three-bedroom configurations. Every unit has some form of outdoor space as well as pool; depending on location units will be fitted with gardens or roof decks. And with prices starting at around US$325,000 (HK$2.5million), Angsana is a good choice for investors newly wading into resort property. “I do actually think it’s a good start,” agrees David Walton, director of sales and marketing for Angsana Properties. “You have to look at the competition in terms of what’s available and make comparisons based on that. At that price point, compared to anything else, and given the quality, it’s very reasonable indeed.” Upon completion, the complex there will be alone at Lang Co and a more tranquil alternative to crowded Da Nang. “It’s all about surety in the end.”

That surety comes from the strength of the Banyan Tree and Angsana brands — at least for overseas investors. While Ayling admits to actively courting the growing domestic second-home market in Vietnam, he also admits to a degree of education: these are new players in Vietnam, the concept of leasehold property is alien to Vietnamese, as is the idea of managed hotel stock. But education often equates with cutting through the property investment noise, which is bordering on deafening in the region — as overseas investors well know. Not surprisingly, it will come down to brand recognition. “The Banyan Tree hotel brand has grown successfully over the last 15 years… We needed another brand that was still five-star but not quite Banyan Tree level. Angsana is a younger brand for Banyan Tree, but important strategically for the group,” Ayling explains. For foreign buyers, the reputation of both Banyan Tree and the 40-plus existing Angsana spas will cut through that so-called noise. “And it’s a spectacular site,” he adds.

The benefits of ownership are in line with other resort developments in the region. Purchasers are enrolled in the Owners Club, which entitles owners to booking at resorts around the world including Banyan Tree locations if all 60 complimentary days each year aren’t used, a 6 percent fixed return for 6 years or a share of room revenue. Also included in the purchase price is membership in the golf course at Lang Co, which will feature some distinctive holes that golf aficionados should love. The terrain on the secluded coast was one of the selling points for Faldo when he agreed to work with Angsana. “We’ll always look for new drivers because they’re what makes a golf course memorable. That’s important,” he states.

Different properties are set for sale down the road but for now Banyan Tree is concentrating on getting its message out to the Vietnamese market. But the group is confident savvy, experienced buyers will take one look at all the parts and get excited about the whole. As Ayling sums up succinctly, “People who buy get three major benefits: they get real estate, they get a great investment, and they get a great lifestyle.” Time to get that motorbike license.