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A Saigon Icon Plans Dramatic Makeover


HO CHI MINH CITY (28 April 2008) — Ten years after its debut as Vietnam’s most dramatically refurbished hospitality icon, the Caravelle Hotel is greeting its landmark anniversary with plans for a top-to-bottom overhaul of guest rooms and suites, a slate of environmentally friendly green initiatives and the production of a lengthy book that celebrates the history of the hotel.


“What’s in place now has served us remarkably well over the past decade,” said Martyn Davies, Director-General of Chains Caravelle Hotel Joint Venture Company Limited. “But styles change. People’s sense of what’s cool and fresh evolves, and we’ve got to evolve with those expectations. So, we’re taking it right back to the concrete shell and starting over.”


The Caravelle has also identified 2008 as a year for progressive new measures on environmentally friendly policy initiatives. In the works is the appointment of an environmental engineer who’ll both monitor and audit the hotels’ consumption in all sectors. New policies for the reduction of paper consumption are on the way. And the hotel is examining the ways and means of its energy consumption.


“It’s not enough for any of us in the hotel industry to simply consume resources with abandon anymore, even if we can afford them,” said Caravelle John Gardner, the hotel’s general manager. “In a nation as taxed for space and resources as Vietnam, and in a world where we can see the sun setting on resources we’ve always assumed would be around forever, it’s our feeling – no, our responsibility — to get out in front on this issue and do what we can to preserve what we’ve got.”


Opened in 1959, the Caravelle won enduring fame during the American War (known as the Vietnam War in the West) when correspondents watched the conflict erupt on the fringes of the city from the hotel’s rooftop terrace and filed stories from bureaus located within and around the hotel. In 1975, the hotel fell under state control and into a gradual state of disrepair as Vietnam muddled through economic degradation brought on by a U.S.-led trade embargo and  fiscal policies that were relieved by government-sponsored changes in 1986.


In March of 1992, the hotel’s then owner, Saigon Tourist, teamed with Chains International Hotels Management Singapore Pte. Ltd as a joint investment partner in a new company called Chains Caravelle Hotel Joint Venture Company Limited that sought to revive the 86-room landmark property, then known as the Doc Lap (Independence) Hotel. After two years of construction and refurbishment, including the addition of a 24-storey tower, the hotel reopened in May of 1998.


U.S. President Bill Clinton checked into the refurbished 335-room hotel. So did the Lord Mayor of London. And the cast of The Quiet American (Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser), which was filmed here in 2002.


In the past two years, the hotel has completely revamped its ground-floor dining venue as Nineteen, which ranks today as one of the city’s most chic and elaborate buffets. The signature restaurant was recast as Reflections, and the rooftop terrace won renown as one of the premier rooftop bars anywhere.


Given the hotel’s placement in the heart of Saigon, across from one of Vietnam’s three exquisite, colonial-era Opera Houses, and its history as one of the most storied hotels in all Southeast Asia, the Caravelle has commissioned a book on the hotel’s history.


In the early days of the war, the New York Times located its bureau in the Caravelle. Life magazine based its operations here for a time, as did two of the major U.S. networks — ABC and CBS. When media luminaries came calling, from the Nobel prize-winning author John Steinbeck to Oscar-winning film director John Ford, they stayed at the Caravelle.


Walter Cronkite, the legendary American TV news anchor, stayed at the Caravelle during his 1968 tour of the country. It was here, at the tables of this hotel, in its rooms and at its bar, that Cronkite considered America’s problem in Vietnam. Later, he made a now famous report to the American people, declaring that the United States was locked in hopeless stalemate in Vietnam. Cronkite’s assessment of the war factored prominently into Lyndon Johnson’s decision to withdraw from the presidential race in 1968. The rest, as they say, is history.


“Few hotels have stood at the center of so much,” said Pham Thanh Ha, deputy general manager of the Caravelle. “From its very conception in the late 1950s, it’s attracted no small amount of attention from journalists, ambassadors, presidents, Nobel laureates and so many other illustrious personages. A story of a hotel is, collectively, the story of its guests and what happened within its walls. We have a great story, and we can’t wait to tell it.”


For more information, contact Ms. Ngo Thi Thuy Vy in marketing at (84-8) 823 4999 or, or visit


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