Consortium invests US$50m in Pod Inns
A consortium led by global asset manager Fidelity has invested US$50 million in Pod Inns, a mainland budget hotel chain.
The move reflects global funds' renewed interest in China's slowing hospitality sector.
Hangzhou-based Pod Inns will use the funds and millions of yuan in banking loans to expand nationwide.
The firm aims to expand to 300 outlets at the end of the year from 200 currently.
China's hotel market has been showing signs of slowing following the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.
According to hotel research firm Meadin, 39 star-rated hotels began operations in the first quarter of this year, down from 56 in the previous quarter.
A drop in occupancy rate bodes ill for the sector's outlook, but analysts say investors remain bullish on the long-term outlook for budget hotels.
That's because they expect middle-income earners to select inexpensive accommodation as they step up their domestic travel.
Zhu Hui, chief executive of Pod Inns, said travellers could enjoy better cost savings, as its hotels have bunk beds for more people to share a room.
China's budget hotel sector has been growing fast, with several brands - including Nasdaq-listed Home Inns & Hotels Management, the nation's largest budget hotel operator - vying for a bigger share of the market.
However, Home Inns posted a net loss of 103.2 million yuan (HK$125.6 million) in the first quarter of this year, compared with net earnings of 32.5 million yuan a year earlier.
The firm attributed the result to acquisition-related charges, and weaker margins due to the opening of new hotels in the last quarter of last year.
To be sure, China's tourism sector has grown rapidly in the past decade, driven by the rising affluence of mainlanders.
Last year, the sector raked in revenues of 1.93 trillion yuan from domestic travellers, up 23.6 per cent from 2010.
'Quality budget hotels remain in short supply amid the rising demand for middle- and low-income travellers,' said Tripod Capital investment manager Cao Hua.
'The huge potential of the mainland tourism market could continue to attract more investors.'
Earlier this year, Fidelity said it planned to launch its biggest China venture capital fund of at least US$250 million. It has fully deployed funds of US$450 million in its current three China funds.
The consortium includes Morgan Creek, KTB Ventures and Jianxin (Beijing) Investment Management.
The Hilton Worldwide hotel chain plans to expand to more than this number of hotels in China by 2015 from its current 28