Vietnam seaside tourism projects left to rust, locals have no sea access

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Hundreds of projects, mostly resorts, have been abandoned for  years along Vietnam’s central and southern coast, leaving locals jobless and cut off from the sea

Barriers such as this have been erected along tens of kilometers of coast in the southern province of Ba Ria - Vung Tau for tourism projects that have never been launched. Locals now have no access to the sea. / PHOTO: NGUYEN LONG

In 2000, authorities in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa licensed Rus-Invest-Tur Company to invest in a resort complex that would cover nearly 44 hectares (109 acres) of land along the coast near the popular resort town of Nha Trang.

The project, known as Rusalka ("Mermaid" in Russian), was planned to cost some US$15 million.

In 2005, Nguyen Duc Chi, then board chairman of the company, was arrested on charges of “fraud” and was later sentenced to five and half years in jail.

Local authorities then withdrew the project’s license, leaving the  construction site to rust for many years until Focus Travel Nha Trang Company was appointed as its new investor in 2012.

The project was renamed to Champarama Resort & Spa and planned with an investment of VND1.2 trillion ($56.5 million).

But the site has been inactive for the past two years.

Rusalka-Champarama is just one of many seaside projects that have been deserted for years after obtaining licenses.

The sites are not only ugly, but barriers they have erected have cut local people off from the sea, preventing many from earning sustainable livings fishing.

Abandoned resortland

Xuyen Moc District in the southern province of Ba Ria – Vung Tau boasts 31 kilometers of coastline along which many tourism projects have been licensed in the past few years.

A large part of the coast, however, now looks abandoned, as investors left their given lands deserted with very little or no construction work, except for metal and concrete barriers and rusted signboards.

In the central city of Da Nang, authorities have twice threatened to revoke licenses from the Ho Chi Minh City-based Hai Duy Joint-stock Company, the investor of the Bai But Resort in Son Tra District.

The resort, which was planned to cost many billions of dong to meet international standards, has made no progress since it was licensed nearly 10 years ago.

In July 2010, Da Nang authorities made a similar threat in order to force Saigon General Service Corporation to work on its Mercure Sontra Resort, a $20-million project also in Son Tra.

One month later the investor held a groundbreaking ceremony, but no actual work has been done so far.

Authorities in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan have also failed to get the investor of the Binh Tien Tourist Area in Thuan Bac District to finish its work.

The project was licensed in 2005 and was launched four years later, but it was soon suspended.

In 2011, the investor resumed work, pledging that the project would go into operation by the end of 2012.

However, an official with Ninh Thuan Department of Planning and Investment told Thanh Nien News that the investor is now still building basic infrastructure.

The official, who asked to stay unnamed, also said that provincial authorities have threatened to revoke the project's licenses many times, but the investor has always made excuses for the delays.

In the south-central province of Binh Thuan, 155 of 403 tourism projects with valid investment plans, mainly seaside projects, have never been launched, while 90 others are under construction.

Along the DT 730 road that connects Phan Thiet Town and Ham Thuan Nam District, for example, tens of projects have been abandoned for years.

In La Gi Commune, nearly 30 projects covering hundreds of hectares are also inactive. Most of them are located along Tan Binh and Tan Thien beaches, which are considered perfect for tourism businesses.

On tourism-haven Phu Quoc Island off the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang, only 13 of 94 licensed projects have gone into operation.

Another 16 projects are now under construction, while the rest are dormant, including a 1,009-hectare tourism and entertainment complex launched by the US-owned Rockingham Asset Management LLC, and a $1.64 billion-resort from the Hong Kong-owned Star Bay Holdings Ltd.

Both the projects were licensed in 2008.

'Nothing has changed'

Local people who have given up their farm lands to such projects are now complaining that the delays and stagnation are pushing them into poverty.

Dang Vinh Hai, 43, a resident of Vinh Hoa Ward in Nha Trang, said that although local authorities issued a decision to reclaim his family’s land for the Rusalka project more than 10 years ago, they did not move because the investor did not pay them compensation or give them a place for resettlement.

Living in the area already allocated for the project, his family is not allowed to repair their house, let alone sell it, Hai said.

Pham Thi Tu, 71, another local resident, also complained that her family could not sell even a slice of their 10,000-square-meter-plus land when they needed money.

“Local people only want the investor to launch the project soon, pay  compensation, and give them a new place for resettlement. We have waited for many years, but nothing has changed,” Tu said.

According to Tran Van Dong, chairman of Vinh Hoa Ward People’s Committee, the local government, more than 200 families are now in situations similar to those of Hai and Tu. 

He said ward agencies have many times sought help from higher authorities but were only told to wait.

Meanwhile, Duong Van Tuu, a resident of Ninh Thuan’s Binh Tien Village, said people have already received compensation after giving their lands to the Binh Tien Tourist Area project.

But they now cannot earn a living after losing their farming lands. He said they have been waiting for years for the project to be finished so they could apply for jobs there.

Nguyen Van Nhuong, chairman of Bai Thom Commune People’s Council -- the local legislature -- on Phu Quoc Island, said the delayed projects have caused both local people and authorities to “lose their trust.”

“At the beginning, investors said that they would open many services to create jobs for local people, but in fact it is unknown when their projects will be launched,” Nhuong said.

Whose beach is it?

Nguyen Huu Quy, former director of Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Binh Thuan Province, blamed local authorities’ poor management and lack of determination for letting investors delay their projects for many years.

This has caused a big waste on the province’s sea resources, he said.

However, according to Quy, the authorities’ “biggest mistake” in the zoning of sea tourism has been giving every part of the coast to projects, thus blocking the sea from everyone else, even locals who have lived off the land and sea there for generations.

Nguyen Van Dau, chairman of Phuoc Thuan Commune in Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province, located on the coastal route between Vung Tau Town and Binh Thuan, said the commune now has more than 20 tourism projects covering a total of over 40 hectares.

Since the coastal lands have been given to the projects, local people have no place to access the sea, he said.

For operational projects, people have to pay fees to access the sea, while at unfinished ones, they are blocked by barriers erected by investors, Dau explained.

Meanwhile, Le Van Trong, a resident in Ngu Hanh Son District of Da Nang, said the barricades have prevented many locals from earning a living fishing.

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