Sir Rocco plans coup in former Soviet Union

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Sir Rocco Forte yesterday made good his promise to return to the leisure industry as he unveiled plans for a chain of up to 50 luxury hotels throughout the former Soviet Union.

The renowned former boss of Forte announced that his new hotel group, HF Hotels, had signed contracts with developers and investors to build a 150-bedroom hotel in Nizhny Novgorod, the first of a string of executive hotels in Russia and across Europe.

A spokeswoman for HF Hotels, which was formed last year, said Sir Rocco would like to build, refurbish or manage around 50 hotels in the former Soviet Union. However, she added that he would be expanding at a modest pace, and would "be happy" with 30 hotels across Europe and Russia in the next five years.

Sir Rocco, who was chairman and chief executive of Forte until Granada took it over last year, is aiming to establish a presence in cities such as St Petersburg and Moscow, and eventually hopes to extend his reach into the US and Asia. HF Hotels is currently constructing a five-star hotel in Cardiff Bay, which is to start business in summer 1998.

HF Hotels yesterday ruled out any future interest in Granada's Exclusive and Meridien hotel chains. Sir Rocco's pounds 1bn bid for the majority of the Meridien business and 15 of the 19 Exclusive hotels was rejected by Granada last year.

The hotel in Nizhny, Russia's third largest city, is due to open in 1998, and, like the Balmoral, will be decorated by Sir Rocco's sister, Olga Polizzi. It is owned by Spring Investments Limited, a joint venture between the Forte family, the American company, Commonwealth Property Investors, and the Milton Keynes-based, Sabre Development Group. HF Hotels said it was hopeful that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development would become involved as an equity investor, and added that discussions were at "an advanced stage".