Miss World up in the air

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Fate of Miss World 2010 uncertain amid complications by the dozen

The official organizer has withdrawn from the event. The host province has backed out. Will Vietnam be able to host Miss World 2010 as planned?

That's the question people started asking when Hoang Kieu, President of the US-based Rare Antibody Antigen Supply (RAAS) group, said on January 28 that his company had backed out of organizing the global beauty contest, claiming it did not want to "hurt the relationship between Khanh Hoa and Tien Giang provinces."

The withdrawal announcement came several days after the Vietnamese government confirmed its decision to keep the central coastal province of Khanh Hoa as the official venue for the pageant.

In September 2008, the government had authorized Khanh Hoa and RAAS to organize the contest. But in November, Kieu unilaterally announced that RASS would move the event to the town of My Tho in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang. Kieu said he moved the show because businesses in Khanh Hoa had been uncooperative.

However, rumors quickly circulated that the real reason for the move was because RASS had been criticized for plans to build a 1,500-hectare resort as the event venue in Khanh Hoa. Critics said the project would destroy Nha Trang Bay's environment. Other rumors said Kieu had moved it to Tien Giang, where Kieu is the primary stockholder in the province's major tourism firm, because of his personal connections in the area.

Kieu declined to provide further clarifications on the withdrawal when asked to do so by Thanh Nien Weekly earlier this week.

Khanh Hoa says no way

After declining to pay the pageant's US$10 million license fee, the Khanh Hoa Province People's Committee said it did not want to host the event and sent a dispatch to the government on February 3 asking that it not be assigned the role of pageant host. The province asked to host Miss Earth 2010 in Nha Trang instead.

A representative from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said the government would not allocate state budget for Miss World as it was a "social event."

Meanwhile, Phan Van Ha, deputy head of Tien Giang Province People's Committee, said Tien Giang would ask for permission to host the Miss World pageant in 2011 or 2012, Tuoi Tre reported Thursday.

Ha said Hoang Kieu would ask the government to authorize Tien Giang as the host venue for the events in 2011 or 2012.

He added that Kieu had suggested that the Miss World organization transfer the US$4 million he had already paid the organization into an account that he could use to host the event later.

Behind the times

As of Thursday, the Miss World website still said the 2010 pageant would be held in Vietnam.

The website quoted Julia Morley, Chairman of Miss World, as saying "[...] the wish of Mr. Hoang Kieu to bring the Miss World pageant to Vietnam positively influenced my decision to bring the festival to Vietnam."

Thanh Nien Weekly has asked for further comments from the Miss World Organization on RAAS' recent moves but has so far received no reply.

A Khanh Hoa official who wished to remain anonymous said there was unofficial news that Hoang Kieu would move the Miss World 2010 pageant to China's island of Hainan if Khanh Hoa confirmed it would not host the event, Lao Dong reported.

Land prices down

Meanwhile, in Tien Giang Province's Thoi Son Commune, where RAAS had planned to move the pageant, the prices of land have dropped dramatically since the withdrawal was announced, Tuoi Tre reported.

When RAAS announced it wanted to move the pageant from Khanh Hoa to Tien Giang in mid-2009, the company and the Tien Giang Tourism Joint-Stock

Company, in which Kieu holds most of the stock, began buying land from local people for a 20- hectare project to construct a hind ecotourism resort as the event venue.

Previously, a hectare of land in Thoi Son cost around VND4-5 billion (US$217,000-271,000), but after RAAS publicized the venue move, prices increased three and four-fold. However, the price has now fallen to around VND3-5 billion following RAAS's withdrawal from the event.

When asked by Thanh Nien Weekly if RAAS's investment in the Thoi Son ecotourism resort, originally planned as the Miss World venue, would continue despite the withdrawal, Kieu refused to answer.

Tran Thanh Tien, director of Tien Giang Tourism Joint-Stock Company, said construction on the VND500 billion (around $27.1 million) project was ongoing and would be completed by the end of this year, Tuoi Tre reported.

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