BHA: A tale of 23 cities

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Vietnam’s Best Hotel alliance claims it is not just an alliance, but is an influential factor in tourism development in Vietnam. Helen Castell talks to Paul Stoll, the brain child of BHA, to find out how BHA is delivering on its mission.

7 September 2001

“Five brands are much better than one brand.” Sounds familiar?

No, this is not another story about the new Asian Hotel Alliance (AHA), recently launched by five of Asia’s homegrown hotel groups, although on the surface, the concept sounds similar.

Best Hotels Alliance, launched in Vietnam in 1998, may be no match for its younger cousin in size, but its roots go much deeper, according to its president, Paul Stoll.

The concept behind BHA – which started as a strategic marketing alliance between just five hotels in Vietnam but now embraces 23 across Vietnam, Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, China and Singapore – came to Stoll, as he sat in his Hong Kong office in 1996 preparing his move to Vietnam.

He was set to become general manager of Furama Resort Hotel, then still under construction in Da Nang, a city at that time better known for its proximity to historical towns Hue and Hoi An than as a tourist destination in its own right.

“I was just opening this hotel. I was alone in this market and felt a little lonely. I wanted to make the hotel successful, so I set up a support network for marketing and communication,” Stoll says.

The association’s objectives quickly developed much further though as he recognised its wider potential.

By speaking with one united voice, hotels across not just Vietnam but Indochina could better communicate with regional governments and lobby to support sustainable tourism to the benefit of everyone, he says.

So, while BHA, like AHA, was essentially formed as a marketing alliance, it quickly evolved into quite a different animal.

Structurally, Vietnam remains BHA’s key product, with the rest of Indochina forming a kind of extended product, Stoll explains. Other Asian cities like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore act as feeder hubs.

Stoll now sees potential for expanding internationally, for example by recruiting a hotel in for example London or New York, as many international travellers may have to stay in such cities for one night before flying to Indochina or Vietnam.

Vietnam is still the central hub though with BHA’s central tenet remaining that only hotels in cities which are linked by flights with Vietnam can join the alliance.

BHA has avoided many of the setbacks that alliances like AHA could suffer from, Stoll argues. It does not fall victim to a conflict of interest as only one hotel per city is ever accepted into the alliance, he says.

And because Indochina tourism is at a different developmental phase from say Tokyo or Hong Kong, BHA can enjoy much more influence over the future of the destinations it sells, and therefore the destiny of hotel members, he says.

Engaging governments is key here, he argues. Having built a strong relationship from the outset with the Vietnam government, BHA has its full trust and support and can act as a bridge between it and the industry as a whole, Stoll says.

BHA successfully pushed for more hotels to be built in Da Nang with two new international standard resorts in the planning stages.

New resorts in Da Nang will complement the Furama rather than compete with it, Stoll argues, as extra room capacity will encourage airlines to increase flight capacity to the city.

It will also allow Furama to better position itself as the city’s top tier hotel rather than the only upper tier hotel, he said.

BHA is also currently working with the government to set up the first international tourism school in Da Nang. Situated at a three-hectare site near the Furama, the school should be set up by the end of next year and will offer tourism diplomas, Stoll says.

BHA is planning by December to set up a common website and by next year, plans to launch its own licensed promotional company in Vietnam, called Gateway Travel International.

Its first product will be Indochina Dreams, a campaign to be launched by the middle of next year. Indochina Dreams will be a vehicle for promoting BHA’s hotels, destinations and eventually a retail collection of souvenirs such as clothes, food and spices.

Although guests will deal directly with tour operators, BHA will receive an overriding commission of about five percent, he said.

An Indochina society, to be called the Asian Society, is also in the pipeline. This will be a dialogue forum for travellers, hotel managers and owners, similar to a fraternity, Stoll says. Part of its purpose will be to collect information to contribute to the BHA.

BHA then is much more than just a marketing alliance, Stoll says, “It is influencing tourism development in Vietnam by just existing and just making contributions.”

While AHA is purely a marketing tool to benefit member hotels, BHA was set up to benefit the development of tourism as a whole across Vietnam and Indochina, he argues.

“They might be cross-selling but we go further. We are the Hong Kong Tourism Board and the Hong Kong Hotels Association in one go.”

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