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Marriott Says to Quadruple Hotels in China

Hotel operator Marriott International said it planned to quadruple its hotels in China to 100 in the next five to six years to tap growing demand for tourism and business.

The U.S.-based company aims to expand to 48 hotels in China by 2010 from 25 now, chairman J.W. Marriott told reporters in Shanghai on Thursday. In addition, 32 hotels are under development.

"In five to six years, we plan to have over 100 hotels in China," he said.

Demand for hotels is very strong because of inbound tourism and increasing travel by China's middle class, said Geoff Garside, vice president in charge of the Asia-Pacific region.

Marriott is expanding from China's biggest cities such as Beijing and Shanghai to smaller, second-tier cities such as Wuxi and Wuhan to meet rising demand there, Garside said.

China is a focus for international players such as InterContinental Hotels, Hilton Hotels, Shangri-La and Accor.

They are competing for travellers in a market that is expected to become the world's second biggest in 10 years, from the sixth biggest at present, according to estimates by the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Last week Accor, Europe's largest hotelier, said it had raised its hotel expansion plans for China, aiming to open or start developing more than 180 hotels by 2010.

Accor currently owns 50 hotels in China, including high-end Sofitel and Novotel hotels as well as its Ibis budget chain.

Shangri-La, Asia's biggest listed hotel chain controlled by billionaire Robert Kuok, said in July it planned to raise at least HK$5.17 billion ($662 million) via a rights issue to fund expansion in China, where it runs 19 hotels.

Chairman Marriott, who helped develop the company from a family business to a listed hotelier with 3,000 properties worldwide, said he was not worried about the risk of oversupply in China.

"The economy in China continues to grow and people all over the world travel to China," said Marriott, who was in Shanghai to announce the opening of a Renaissance-branded hotel.

Apart from the Renaissance brand, Marriott runs six other brands in China, including the high-end Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts, as well as Courtyard by Marriott for mid-income travellers.

To help accommodate an estimated 2 million visitors during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Marriott plans to double its number of hotels in the Chinese capital to 11 next year from five now, Marriott said.

The company aims to boost its number of hotels in the Asia-Pacific region to 125 by 2010 from 78 now, and to triple its hotel portfolio in India by that time.

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