Central Vietnam tourism hard hit

DANANG, 9 April 2020: Danang City and the surrounding provinces in central Vietnam are suffering a massive first-quarter decline in business at the hands of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the first quarter, nearly 1,000 businesses were either dissolved or stopped operation due to difficulties related to virus outbreak according to a report in Vietnam News earlier this week. There are an estimated 30,000 enterprises in Danang of which the vast majority are small to medium-sized businesses.

Tourism losses for Danang and its surrounding areas, including its luxury golf courses and coastal resorts, have surpassed USD870 million and officials estimated more than 35,000 jobs lost so far.

In the first quarter, the city hosted only 1.3 million tourists, of which 700,000 were foreigners, a 31.2% decrease compared with the previous quarter. The cuts in tourist arrivals will continue as resorts go into lockdown, and the impact of the suspension of flights kicks in April.

No stranger to disaster, Laguna Golf Land Co’s director, Adam Calver, looks at the present crisis and recounts the massive repair job that awaited him when he joined the golf resort’s management in 2017. He was tasked with the challenge of turning around the fortunes of a course in serious decline.

“Turning a golf course around once it has declined can take years,” he points out. “And we had a lot of pre-existing problems to contend with.”

When Laguna Golf Lang Co was inaugurated back in 2013, it immediately captured the imagination of the wider golfing public.

It could also claim to be one of Asia’s most beautiful course weaving its way between trees, rice paddies and streams close to a beach backdrop.

But a range of challenges contributed to a steep decline in playing conditions that, by the time of Calver arrived, had left the club’s reputation badly tarnished.

Several oversights and maintenance shortcomings took their toll over the years. Fairways had become rutted and damaged by heavy cart traffic.

A combination of insufficient drainage, poor sunlight exposure, and restricted airflow, meanwhile, resulted in the course becoming unplayable during and after heavy rain.

Matters came to a head in early 2017 following a particularly harsh winter that resulted in the severe loss of turfgrass on 12 of the greens.

“The product was no longer worth the fees,” recalls Calver. “The course was losing its reputation and cancellations were mounting. It was decision time for the owners. Carry on and manage a decline or recalibrate?”

Faced with a crisis, the owners ordered an urgent remake of the golf resort

Laguna Lang Co is part of an expansive integrated resort that also encompasses resorts Banyan Tree Lang Co and Angsana Lang Co, Laguna Park Town Homes as well as exclusive Banyan Tree-branded residences.

In early March 2017, the restoration involved replanting 12 damaged greens. Limiting afternoon play, the maintenance team hand-planted the surfaces.

 By late June of the same year following an aggressive grow-in programme the greens returned to tournament condition.

“Not only is the course playing much better, but it also looks a million dollars,” said Calver who ordered the trimming of trees at the 9th hole, to give golfers a grandstand view of the beach and ocean.

Other innovations, meanwhile, include the introduction of a family of water buffalo to supply “bio-mowing” and east weeds on 10 hectares of rice fields located right in the middle of the course.

Recruiting water buffalo as greenkeepers is part of a wider push by Laguna Golf Lang Co to be a more sustainable course than it was in the past.

It has also eradicated the use of single-use plastics: scrapping items made of plastic such as garbage bags, locker room accessories, plastic cups and straws and replacing them with ones made from materials such as bamboo, paper, steel or natural grass.

Today the club is also one of only three golf courses in the world to achieve Earth Check Gold certification, a status it earned at the end of 2019.

“Vietnam is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and we are fortunate enough to have one of its most visually stunning sites,” adds Calver. “We have a responsibility to take a role in protecting the environment.”

Now Calver and his team face an even bigger crisis in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic, but at least they know they are in a much better position now to weather the storm.