Phu quoc airport off the radar

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PHU QUOC, 18 March 2014: Very few airlines are prepared to launch services to Vietnam’s Phu Quoc International Airport one year after it was opened for international traffic.

The Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam reported Monday that the airport had attracted some charters, but no international airlines had shown any interest in scheduled flights.

CAAV made the comments shortly after the Prime Minister confirmed visa exemption for some foreign nationalities and Vietnamese nationals holding foreign passports for a stay of up to 30 days on the island.

The new policy is expected to boost tourism to the country’s biggest island.

The airport is offering price incentives to airlines on landing fees and other service charges, but so far the campaign has failed to gain traction.

Critics say the island needs more international-standard hotels and other supporting infrastructure. It could take another three to five years to bring in the right hotel investors and open new properties.

The international airport was identified as an important component to lift Phu Quoc’s tourism. It opened in December 2012 at a cost of US$142 million.

It has a 3,000 metre-long runway capable of handling most wide-bodied aircraft models. Its terminal can accommodate up to 2.65 million passengers a year by 2020 and 7 million passengers after 2030.

Currently, Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Pacific and VietJetAir offer daily domestic flights to and from the island either from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Even airlines based in Vietnam are reluctant to offer nonstop services from tourist source markets in Asia to the island. Without that show of support it is very unlikely that foreign airlines would want to be first as their operating costs would be considerably higher.

Last year, Phu Quoc welcomed more than 500,000 travellers and the annual target is 2 to 3 million visitors to the island in the coming 10 years.

More than 3.8 million people visited Kien Giang last year. The provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism estimated this Mekong Delta province would attract more than 4 million travellers this year, including 185,000 international visitors. The South China Sea Island is very close to the southern tip of Cambodia and about as far southwest as a traveller can go before reaching the border with Cambodia.

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