InterContinental expands in China

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The Independent Online

InterContinental Hotels is focusing its global expansion efforts on China, where it plans to more than double its number of properties before the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

The company, which operates 54 hotels in the country already, is aiming to have 125 hotels in China by 2008. Analysts expect China to account for up to half of the 60,000 new rooms that InterContinental has said it intends to open over the next two years.

Flush with cash from selling off its properties in all but a handful of landmark cities, InterContinental is accelerating its expansion plans.

Edmond Ip, the group's chief operating officer for north Asia, believes that the rapid increase in domestic and foreign tourists in China means that the hotel market is ripe for exploitation.

InterContinental, which also operates the Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn brands, opened its first hotel in China in 1984. Its main impediment to growing in the country will be finding local partners.

At a recent investment conference in Hong Kong, Richard Solomons, the group's finance director, said: "It's been a slow game about building up relationships over time."

The World Tourism Organisation has predicted that China will become the world's biggest tourism destination by 2020, with 180 million inbound tourists each year.