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Thai billionaire expands hotel empire to tap Chinese boom

William Heinecke's Minor Int'l eyes between 800-1,000 hotels in next five years even without further acquisitions

Bangkok

BILLIONAIRE William Heinecke is on the lookout for further takeovers after more than tripling the number of hotels his Minor International controls through the acquisition of Spain's NH Hotel Group.

Mr Heinecke, a US-born Thai citizen, says it's all about size when it comes to fighting off competition and capturing the surge in Chinese tourists.

"What allows you to fight and be competitive today is scale," the chief executive officer of Minor said in an interview in Bangkok. "If you're not growing and you're not large, it's very hard."

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The number of Chinese outbound tourists climbed 6 per cent to 135 million in 2016, and they spent US$261 billion, or a fifth of the world market, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

That amount is set to continue surging, with the number of Chinese with a passport expected to double in the next two years to 240 million.

"I've watched travel for all my life and I've never seen it decline," Mr Heinecke said. "I think it's going to get on a more rapid path and the Chinese are just fuelling that."

Minor's brands include the luxury Anantara resorts and upmarket AVANI hotels, mostly located in Thailand. A JW Marriott in Phuket and some domestic Four Seasons hotels are also part of its portfolio. Through acquisitions it has added the Elewana Collection in Africa, Oaks Hotels & Resorts across Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, and four-to-five star Tivoli hotels and resorts in Portugal. The mid-market NH Hotel Group will give Minor 385 more hotels.

Once Minor and NH Hotel are consolidated, the group will have more than 80,000 rooms, making it the world's 14th largest hotel operator, according to Bloomberg data.

Minor's stake in NH Hotel is on course to exceed 50 per cent, and the firm aims to take it up to as much as 55 per cent, while leaving the company listed on the Madrid Stock Exchange.

Mr Heinecke isn't looking to stop there. Minor has signed at least two hotel management contracts in Japan, and is looking for acquisitions because Japan is the top destination for Thai travellers. He says he is "opportunistic" if the right US deal comes along.

Minor aims to have between 800 to 1,000 hotels in the next five years even without further acquisitions, and "much more" if deals are reached, Mr Heinecke said.

"The hotel industry is still very fragmented and even with Minor's aggressive plans to expand, it will still be difficult to grow to the size of its peers," said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Margaret Huang. Minor will have to focus on its loyalty programmes and technology in order to compete with the big global brands, she added. BLOOMBERG