ATF 2019: How to mix business with leisure?

HANOI, 23 November 2018:The unwieldy term ‘bleisure’ could apply to business travellers heading for Halong Bay in January 2019 for the annual ASEAN Tourism Forum.

Around 1,500 business travellers will spend almost a week at Vietnam’s most popular sightseeing destination, an iconic bay with impressive seascapes that placed Vietnam on the UNESCO World Heritage list of treasures.

Their primary objective will be to secure business for their travel firm bosses back home, but how many of the delegates will go beyond the exhibition centre and explore the wonders of Halong Bay? Will they turn a business trip into leisure?

First they have to clear their busy appointment schedule at the annual trade show that draws close to 400 international buyers for three days of meetings with around 500 travel content sellers from ASEAN’s 10 member countries.

When delegates, government officials from the 10 nations and 100 hosted-media are included attendance tops 1,500 over a packed week of travel mart appointments and conferences on the sidelines.

The 38th ASEAN Tourism Forum will be hosted by Halong City, 14 to 18 January 2019 in the city’s brand new QNEPEC convention centre.

From the high-rise city hotels delegates will catch glimpses of spectacular bay vistas dotted with limestone karst outcrops, while numerous invitations to board cruise boats to explore the bay will pack the ATF delegate kits.

ATF during its 38-year career has done the rounds of capital cities in ASEAN on an alphabetical rotational basis leaving host countries keen to recruit secondary destinations to host the region’s showcase event.  Last year, Thailand hosted the show in Chiang Mai offering a slew of pre and post-tours to entice international buyers to explore beyond the northern Thailand city.

In January, Vietnam rolls out the red carpet for ATF delegates to explore Quang Ninh province and Halong Bay arguably the most popular destination for international tourists.

Officials attending high-flying ministerial meetings of the group of 10 will be keen to stress the ATF theme “Power of One” alluding to strength in unity, while the three-day Travex trade component will reflect sentiments of keen competition rather than the joy of cooperation.

At the end of the week, the fancy displays will implode and be carted out unceremoniously  by exhibition hall cleaners, leaving the delegates to, either dash off to the next trade show, or take timeout to explore the host country.

There’s very little data on the pick-up rate for post tour offers from delegate even when the trips are complimentary.  ATF at Halong Bay will offer distinctive tour packages linked cruises on the World Heritage bay and give delegates an opportunity to assess if overtourism really looms as a threat. If firsthand knowledge counts then all the 400 buyers will be heading for the cruise boats, but often the Bleisure concept becomes the victim of a time-starved lifestyle.

Fortunately, it is considerably more convenient to transfer to Halong Bay than it was a year ago on account of a new highway and the soon to be opened Van Don airport.

By the time the ATF show opens, Halong Bay’s Van Don airport will be operational for at least some domestic flights.

Initially, it will be served by nine routes and will have the capacity to serve 7,000 passengers daily, rising to an annual capacity of 2.5 million passengers by 2020 and 5 million by 2030.

Located on Van Don Island, the privately owned airport is close to a glitzy casino and hotels. Despite being the closest airport to Halong Bay, passengers will still face a 50 km overland bus transfer to the centre of Halong Bay.

Presently, the nearest operational airport is at Haiphong around 85 km from Halong Bay with a bus transfer time of two hours and 20 minutes.

The road distance from Hanoi to Halong Bay has now been cut from 180 to 130 km. This will enable ATF delegates to transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay in around two hours and 45 minutes via the Hanoi-Haiphong six-lane expressway that opened in 2015 and the latest addition, a new 24.6km Haiphong-Halong expressway that opened in September. Previously it took four hours to transfer from the Vietnamese capital to Halong bay.

That leaves the choice of flights to get to Halong Bay. Most delegates will fly to Hanoi and transfer by bus to Halong Bay as there is very little difference in the overland transfer times from either Hanoi or Haiphong airports.

From Bangkok the cheapest fares to Hanoi start at USD 113 on Thai AirAsia for a one-hour and 45-minute flight.

There are no nonstop flights to Haiphong from Bangkok. The cheapest roundtrip fare costs USD113 on Vietjet with a change of plane in Ho Chi Minh City and a travelling time of five hours and 30 minutes.

Vietnam Airlines offers the cheapest roundtrip fare to Hanoi at USD181 with a flight time of three hours and 15 minutes.

The best offer to Haiphong is a one-stop service on Vietjet with a change of plane in Ho Chi Minh City. The roundtrip fare is USD331. Travelling time is seven hours and 45 minutes.

Kuala Lumpur
From the Malaysian capital AirAsia offers the lowest fare to Hanoi with a flight time of three hours and 10 minutes. The roundtrip fare costs USD101.

To Haiphong Vietnam Airlines has the lowest fare at USD261, but you will be travelling for 12 hours with a change of plane in Ho Chi Min City.

You can cut the travelling time to 7 hours and 45 minutes on Viejet with a change of plane in Ho Chi Minh City. Roundtrip fare: USD418.

Malindo Air offers the lowest fare at USD162 for a flight to Hanoi with a change of plane in Kuala Lumpur. Travel time end-to-end is six hours and 30 minutes.

The best offer to Haiphong is on Vietnam Airlines for a seven-hour and 20-minute trip with a change of plane in Ho Chi Minh City. The roundtrip fare costs USD354.