In 2019, Phoenix Voyages celebrates its 20th year anniversary, an opportunity for Edouard George, its founder, to look back at some of his best memories and share a few unpublished anecdotes. Discover below, the anecdote of the month: The Rise of Tourism in Asia.
How did Phoenix Voyages adventure begin? What were its first steps?
At the time, Le Tuan Linh (Co-Founder) and I were leaving the Accor Hotels, we didn't have much except an address book and knowledge of the business.So we started small, we applied for a license and moved into my kitchen in Saigon, which was our first office. We worked 18 hours a day, alternating between production, customer research, contracting and public relations, to get people to talk about us. At that time in Vietnam, there was still very little technology in the offices, our daily lives revolved around pencils and notebooks to scribble the production and hand-made brochures to present our trips. It is in this universe that we began to imagine the shapes of Phoenix Voyages as we know today.
Why did you decide to set up a travel agency and what was your initial idea?
Tourism was then barely existing in Vietnam but promising a bright future. However, there were still some major gaps in the map of tourism offers: there was no interest in a "European vision" and targeting a European clientele, and there was no option similar to luxury. With my experience with Accor, I was captivated in this sector and sensed that there was something to create in Vietnam. It was, therefore, necessary to train and adapt the local structures to the standards of European customers. We were in a way pioneers in the sector, with only few competitors.
Who was Phoenix Voyages' first customer?
We were very lucky with our first customer who was only Philippe PEERE, JetAir's Asia Director in Belgium...who is still our customer today. This is one of Phoenix Voyages' founding values: loyalty! We have many customers present since the company was founded and we are grateful to them for this.
Can you tell us how you evolved in the early years?
As I told you last month, we started very modestly. Our first employee was Miss Hoai, our general cashier who is still with us today. We got a little bigger until we were a dozen in my house in District 1 (Saigon Center NDLR). As we were getting more and more cramped, we decided to take a desk in another matchbox... nickname given to these narrow and tall houses so typical of Vietnam. It was in the heart of the tourist district on Thai Street Văn Lung. The fax machine was running at full capacity at that time!
Then you saw further than Vietnam...
From the beginning, we offered coupled offers with Cambodia and Laos for some of our clients, the first of which I mentioned, thanks to local knowledge. Confident by our first professional tourism license in Vietnam, we opened our first Phoenix Travel decentralized office with these partners in Cambodia in 2002 and then in Laos the following year. We knew that these neighbouring countries, which formed the former Indochina, also had treasures to share with us, always with our primary goal: to offer an authentic local experience with a service and expertise that met the expectations of European customers.
If you are asked for your best memory, which one comes to mind instantly?
It is the trip of 1,250 people in 2012 to Cambodia and Vietnam with 4 privatized aircrafts from Spain and 7 aircrafts between Siem Reap and Northern Vietnam! The entire trip was tailor-made and the participants were pampered with a unique service. The organizing agents asked us to produce a 90-minute show for their gala dinner. The show and setting were fabricated from scratch mixing traditional folklore with Vietnamese rap, local divas, etc.... all these have created an ecstatic sound and magical atmosphere.
...and one of your bad memories?
During the outbreak of the SARS epidemic in early 2003, when we lost the equivalent of 3 years of business in less than a week. It took us more than a year to recover.
You have experienced the development of the countries in Southeast Asia, what is your impression on the development of its tourism?
Indeed, in 25 years, the evolution has been spectacular! Vietnam, for example, has gone from level 0 to 1,000 with a lot of advantages and disadvantages relating to all the rapid developments of the country, such as tourism that has boosted the economic development of the nation, the creation of thousands of jobs, the opening of the destinations, the technological development of the isolated regions; on the other hand, however, there was an increase in pollution, the destruction of its heritage and all the inherent excesses from the lack of control to the lure of immediate profit... It is now necessary for us, the tourism professionals, to be active in the preservation of these many treasures because our customers are increasingly in demand for "responsible" tourism and that make sense !