Vietnam travel agency's experience of serving super-rich tourists

By Tu Nguyen   March 25, 2024 | 07:30 pm PT
Vietnam travel agency's experience of serving super-rich tourists
A group of super-rich guests enjoy a private dinner at a resort in Ha Giang in northern Vietnam in 2022. Photo courtesy of All Asia Vacation
VIP tourists who come on private tours spend US$15,000 a day, demand unique experiences and prefer to see Vietnam's sidewalk culture rather than be cocooned, a travel operator says.

Nguyen Duc Hanh, CEO of All Asia Vacation, which recently arranged a tour for American tech billionaire Bill Gates in Vietnam in early March, says his company has provided services to many well-heeled tourists from around the world including Hollywood stars, tennis legends and CEOs of leading corporations in the last 20 years.

Most of them spend an average of $500 a day, though some spend up to $15,000, he says.

However, access to billionaires and other global celebrities is extremely difficult, and Hanh's company had to find a way to contact their personal managers to introduce its tour products.

Its most time-consuming campaign, one that lasted five years, was to enter the ecosystem of a high-end travel company in the U.S.

Its clients are global celebrities and billionaires.

Hanh had to pay an initial $150,000 and then annual fees.

He then waited for five years for his partner to arrange an appointment in the U.S., opening up opportunities to reach potential customers.

He says all tour packages for that company's clients have to be designed to meet individual preferences.

The most difficult tour program he ever did was in April 2017 for one of the four richest people in Canada.

Their group of 11 people wanted to unwind for a while in Da Nang before traveling to Quang Binh to visit Son Doong, the world's largest cave.

Hanh's company had to address two issues.

Firstly, the billionaire guests did not have the time to sit in a car for six hours to go from Da Nang to Quang Binh by road.

Secondly, bookings for Son Doong tours are limited and full all year, and so arranging a tour at short notice was next to impossible.

Hanh says most super-rich clients do not have the habit of booking tours early and only make last-minute travel decisions, but are willing to spend any amount of money to get the experiences they want.

After innumerable meetings, Hanh's company came up with the solution of flying by seaplane, an hour's journey.

At first the seaplane operators refused saying "there is no such route."

But with great effort a "new route" was launched to serve a group of just 11.

The aircraft flew at low altitude, enabling the billionaire from Canada, whose identity remains a secret, and his friends to see Vietnam's beautiful coastline.

Then Hanh’s company managed to arrange a private tour of Son Doong for the guests.

Hanh says: "Nothing is impossible. Saying no also means shutting the door to your customers."

Tourist destinations in Vietnam are no longer esoteric for international travelers, and so Hanh's company has found ways to offer new travel experiences.

For example, in Ha Long Bay, a well-off customer can easily book the most expensive yacht to stay overnight in the bay.

But billionaires want their experiences to be unique.

Ha Long Bay has many beautiful beaches but are not used for many reasons, including safety. When the tide rises, some beaches are submerged.

To create a unique experience, Hanh's company obtained permission from various government agencies to use one such beach during low tide. It then threw a party there and cleaned up after it was over.

The next morning, when the billionaire woke up in his yacht, he saw that the beach where the party had been held was underwater.

"Creativity is especially important in arranging tours for the super-rich," Hanh says.

Even though trips are carefully prepared in every detail, mistakes can still occur.

Hanh once arranged a tour for a VIP couple to learn cooking at a famous chef's house in Hoi An. The guests really liked it but said later the chef's space was too large, making them feel "out of place."

On another occasion, he organized a tour for some wealthy visitors by helicopter from Hanoi to Sa Pa and Sa Pa to Ha Giang.

A helicopter carries super-rich guests from the northern mountainous region in 2024. Photo courtesy of All Asia Vacation

A helicopter carries super-rich guests from Vietnam's northern mountainous region in 2024. Photo courtesy of All Asia Vacation

The Hanoi-Sa Pa trip went well, but when it was time for the second leg the weather was cloudy and the helicopter could not take off.

"You can't blame the weather," Hanh says, but adds that a trip for super-rich guests always has at least two backup plans.

In this case the tour operator told the guests to travel by car instead and added extra services as "compensation."

After many years of serving uber rich tourists, Hanh realizes that Vietnam has lots going for it, especially in terms of landscapes and culture and its people’s friendliness.

He says many billionaires prefer to experience the sidewalk culture rather than be reclusive.

"They come to Vietnam because they like the unique culture."

Nevertheless, Vietnam finds it difficult to attract VIP guests due to its lack of direct flights, unfriendly visa policies and complicated procedures for getting permissions for special services.

Super-rich people from North America who want to visit Vietnam mostly have to transit en route, a tedious task that puts many off, Hanh points out.

Gates, accompanied by his partner Paula Hurd, came on a four-day tour to the central coastal city of Da Nang from March 4.

All Asia Vacation arranged a private tour for them to learn about Vietnamese tea and meditation on Ban Co mountain peak along with tea artiste Hoang Anh Suong.

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