|By Cheryl Lim, The Straits Times,
Singapore / Asia News NetworkMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 10, 2011--SINGAPORE -- Hospitality chain Millennium & Copthorne Hotels (M&C) may be listed in London but its sights are firmly fixed on expansion plans in China, India and the Middle East.
Executives at M&C, Singapore property giant City Developments' hotel arm, are convinced demand for hotel rooms in these markets will boom.
Mr Lim Boon Kwee, senior vice-president of Asia for M&C International, the Singapore regional arm of M&C Hotels group, said the group has a clear strategy to expand its footprint in markets that it predicts will flourish in the next few years.
"Asia is growing and the ground is very fertile. It definitely is a region that is rich in opportunity."
About half a dozen deals in China are under negotiation, and the group is going full steam ahead with its 2008 target of setting up 30 hotels in India. Only two properties have been established so far in India, and are in development.
In the Middle East, at least another 20 management contracts are in the pipeline.
Mr Lim said while the disasters in Japan and New Zealand caused minor business disruptions, contributions from Singapore and Asia have been healthy enough to counteract those effects.
But the group is not limiting its growth plans to the Asian region.
"We're still looking at opportunistic acquisitions in gateway cities in Western countries... at expanding further into the European market and to add to our portfolio in the US and the United Kingdom."
Hotel rooms are expected to flood the market here over the next few years, but Mr Lim is confident demand will be strong enough to soak up this fresh supply, given that Singapore is fast becoming a destination of choice among Asian visitors.
The hotel group has always seen a good mix of guests from various regions, but Mr Lim pointed out that the number of Asian travellers staying at the group's Singapore properties has grown by more than 10 per cent over the last five years.
M&C operates five hotels here, including the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel and M Hotel.
The number of guests from China, Taiwan and India in particular has seen marked growth, he said, a fact he attributes to the expansion of flight routes between Singapore and the rest of Asia.
"Budget airlines are bringing more travellers to Singapore and while they may choose cheaper flights, these travellers don't necessarily stay in budget hotels."
The opening of the integrated resorts, coupled with the recovery from recession in 2009, has also encouraged tourists to visit Singapore, said Mr Lim.
He said the IRs "attract a wider audience and when more people come and talk about Singapore you appeal to more people and that gets more visitors coming our way".
Several of the group's hotels in Singapore are experiencing "close to double-digit" growth in occupancy and revenue per available room.
Recently opened Studio M hotel in Mohamed Sultan Road is the best performer for the group in terms of profit ratio.
Meanwhile, parent City Developments is working on two projects -- one in Robertson Quay and one in Beach Road -- comprising nearly 1,000 hotel rooms.
The hotel to be launched at the Robertson Quay site could potentially mirror Studio M's concept, revealed Mr Lim.
He said strong tourist arrivals and the limited number of rooms are expected to boost revenue per available room for the group's Singapore hotels.
Last week, M&C Hotels posted a 91.6 per cent rise in second-quarter net profit to 47.9 million pounds (US$78 million) from the same period a year ago. Revenue for the three months to June 30 rose 3.2 per cent to 196.1 million pounds.
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Copyright (c) 2011, The Straits Times, Singapore / Asia News Network
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