Tourism facelift for prison island

July 26, 2004 | 17:42
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Con Dao Island, the once notorious home to acres of French prisons, is to undergo a major face-lift as developers hope to turn it into the next tourist hotspot.

Developers want to cash-in on the natural beauty of the once infamous island
Indochina Capital Corporation, an American-run regional merchant bank, has teamed up with a French private company to build a $4.5 million resort on the island, 230 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City.
The resort is to be located near the former prison system built by the French in 1861 that incarcerated thousands of Vietnamese revolutionary prisoners. It is now a historical vestige where fighters for the national independence were held and tortured.
Indochina Capital director Nguyen Quang Ninh said the company would build a 60-room, four-star resort on a 12-hectare site with 400 metres of ocean frontage, tropical foliage and cliff views at Dat Doc Beach.
Ninh said a topographical and geological survey was underway and a compensation plan was being prepared to apply for the land use right certificate. The resort is slated to break ground in November and start operations in June 2006.
“Con Dao has the necessary qualities to become a tourist destination as popular as Phan Thiet or Nha Trang,” he said. “It is one of the few places in Vietnam that has a clean and intact natural environment with smooth sand beaches, blue sea and rare dugong, turtles, dolphins and orchids found nowhere else in the country.”
He said that visitors to Con Dao would also enjoy the island’s national park, with its thousands of wild fauna and flora species, forests, mangroves and coral reefs.
Nguyen Trong Tinh, director of the Ba Ria-Vung Tau tourism department, said he was upbeat about the first foreign project slated for Con Dao, saying it would be a catalyst for tourism development and encourage more investment.
The recently launched flights from Ho Chi Minh City to the island and the new resort project would make Con Dao better known to tourists, he said.
Tinh said the small one or two-star resorts operated by Ho Chi Minh City-based companies at present were not attractive enough and the difficult access to Con Dao, mainly by boat, had hindered efforts to draw tourists to the island over the last few years.
But now the island is getting a helping hand from Ba Ria-Vung Tau provincial authorities, who have planned 21 projects to upgrade Con Dao’s infrastructure.
Vasco, Vietnam’s third national airline, has also announced it will increase its service between Ho Chi Minh City and Can Dao from seven to 11 flights a week.
Joining the development push is Saigontourist Holding Company, the country’s largest tour and hotel operator, who plans to invest $3.2 million in 100 three-star rooms in its resort on the island. The expansion of its 26-room Saigon Con Dao Resort is due to start next month (August or September? please specify.)
Con Dao Resort is one of the latest ventures by Indochina Capital, which has successfully developed and advised a number of properties in Vietnam, including the $40-million Furama Resort in Danang and $75 million Saigon Centre in Ho Chi Minh City.
The company is also the financial sponsor and developer of the Nam Hai, a $30-million beach resort and residential complex near Hoi An in the central Quang Nam province. It is expected to open in early 2006, operated by the General Hotel Management Group.

By Ngoc Son

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