After publication of his acclaimed memoir, Over the Moat, Jim Sullivan traveled to Vietnam in early 2005 on assignment for the New York Times and National Geographic Traveler, reporting on the country’s emergence as one of the world’s hottest travel destinations. That two-month tour of the country led to a further assignment from National Geographic for a travel book, National Geographic Traveler: Vietnam.
Jim quit his job as editor-in-chief of a business newspaper in the United States, sold his family’s Subaru Forrester, rented their home in Maine and relocated to Vietnam with his wife and their two children. After the National Geographic book was done, he shifted gears and launched the business with the Apple Tree Group, Caravelle Hotel, Life Resorts and a cluster of hotels and golf courses owned by a U.S. company, Danao, that later sold its properties.
“Vietnam was ripe for the kind of business we were getting into in 2006,” says Jim. “It was no longer Good Morning, Vietnam, though that’s what all the newspaper headlines kept shouting. It was brunch at least, but Vietnam couldn’t shake its reputation as a destination for backpackers. We wanted to change that.”
Jim recruited a half-dozen golf courses for a marketing effort that came to be known as the Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail, and a media sensation was born. Media outlets from the world’s largest golf publication, GOLF, and the top newspaper in the U.S., the New York Times, covered the emergence of the Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail, and the business had found its new calling card.
In 2007, Scott Resch relocated from Park City, Utah to Saigon where he would serve as the company’s Bureau Chief. He’d come to Vietnam on a press trip the previous year, and he was blown away by the possibilities.
“It was a country on the make, and Balcony was a business on the make. It was easy to see the future,” says Scott.
Meanwhile, the business was growing. With a representative office license in Hue, the company found its geographic heart and a crew of some of Vietnam’s most impassioned PR professionals.
“People often wonder how we do PR out of Hue? Why not Ho Chi MInh City? Or Hanoi?” says Jim. “But Hue, in this age of technology, is as accessible as either of Vietnam’s major cities. It’s as easy for our people to get to either city, and like someone once said to me about the former imperial capital of Vietnam: ‘Everyone agrees about Hue.’”
Vietnam couldn’t contain the company’s ambitions for long. Its brand of media outreach sent tentacles into Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, and with GHM In 2011, beyond to Indonesia, Myanmar and Muscat. In 2012, the company is on the verge of its most expansive growth yet, with new offices opening in Mumbai, Singapore and Guangzhou.
“The sun never sets on our Balcony,” says Jim. “And there’s always another horizon to steer for.”