In an interview with Vietnam Investment Review, Jonathan Mills, managing director of RCI Asia-Pacific and DAE Global, a hospitality veteran with 25 years of experience in the industry, told VIR’s Trong Hieu about the opportunities in Vietnam as a tourism destination that simply cannot be overlooked, and that RCI will continue to work closely with affiliates like ALMA to promote tourism and vacation ownership in Vietnam.
As an experienced manager in hospitality, what weaknesses do you see in Vietnamese tourism?
When I first came to Vietnam 11 years ago, it was a destination that people, for whatever reasons, did not travel to. Over the next few years when I opened a number of hotels in the country, I had the opportunity to experience local hospitality, the food, and the beaches. It then became apparent to me that Vietnam is indeed an appealing destination.
In recent years, visitor arrivals to Vietnam grew by 30 per cent year-on-year. The opportunities here are absolutely incredible. I do not see any weakness in the Vietnamese tourism market. In all honesty, with the current improvements in infrastructure (23 airports by 2020) and flexible visa regulations, the Vietnamese government is doing a great job. I believe the tourism industry will continue to thrive in the future.
RCI has been in Vietnam for five years and established a partnership with ALMA two years ago. Who are the other partners of RCI in Vietnam?
RCI acts as an ambassador for the shared vacation ownership industry, and the partnership between ALMA and RCI is a huge opportunity for Vietnamese owners to travel all over the world and vacation in other timeshare resorts. Another opportunity is that RCI sends vacation guests from all over the world to Vietnam. This way, we take on the role of an ambassador for the vacation ownership industry and for Vietnam. To date, we have a total of six affiliated partners in Vietnam, including ALMA.
You must have been in Vietnam long enough to understand that vacation ownership is a relatively new idea here. What is this concept about?
Vacation ownership allows people to own a vacation week in a resort. For those who are not able to buy a real-estate for vacation, this is a really good opportunity to stay at a “second home.” These days, Vietnamese people show increasing demand for travel. When they own a vacation week at a unit in an RCI-affiliated resort, they can exchange their week to stay at a different resort within the RCI network.
When you make an exchange, you put a week in RCI’s inventory pool, and people from other parts of the world will take that week. For example, if you are an ALMA owner, you put a week in and exchange it for a week of stay in Las Vegas. An RCI member from another country will then take your week and stay in Vietnam. In this respect, RCI plays an integral role in the development of the tourism industry in Vietnam.
All in all, there are 5,400 timeshare resorts in 121 countries in the world, generating more than 18 million room nights in 2015. Last year, the global shared vacation ownership industry achieved nearly $20 billion in vacation ownership sales.
Asia experienced the biggest increase in sales volume between 2013 and 2015, with a compound annual growth rate of 9.3 per cent. As you can see, vacation ownership enjoys great popularity internationally.
ALMA is quite new to the Vietnamese tourism industry. Why did you decide to establish a partnership with this firm?
Our partner selection is a very stringent process. Once we affiliate ourselves with a new resort, we will support and assist them with our tools, experience, and expertise to develop and grow. This is, of course, under the condition that the affiliate operates ethically and complies with the laws of the host country.
RCI has had a great partnership with ALMA over the past two years. We are always here to support and assist ALMA in operational strategies. I believe that now is a good season for ALMA as we have seen timeshare gaining popularity in Vietnam and the volume of members coming through is tremendous.
Regarding our shared future and development directions, I suppose it is all about the customer. I would make sure that the existing or potential owners understand the product that ALMA is selling. I would encourage ALMA to make sure that the units and the amenities in the resort and the customer service are fantastic.
Vietnamese people are always interested in products with added benefits. Do you think vacation ownership should be extended with other investment benefits?
I have seen this in various markets across Asia, where a typical membership includes a medical health check. I have also seen other companies try to add in other components to the product package.
If you add value to the product, like a medical health check or an insurance policy, as long as it fits with the lifestyle experience, I think there is an opportunity.
However, vacation ownership should only be understood as a vacation or a lifestyle product, and anything rather than a condo hotel must be used as a lifestyle product, not as an investment. You need to be careful when adding value to the product.
This article was first published on Vietnam Investment Review, "Wide open horizons ahead of vacation ownership", 26 November 2018.