Frasers Hospitality in talks with Ping An on serviced-units tie-up
Global serviced apartment operator Frasers Hospitality is in talks with mainland insurer Ping An for a future tie-up that would reinforce an aggressive expansion in China, its key growth market in the next two years.
Chief executive Choe Peng Sum said discussions with the mainland's second-largest life insurer were in a preliminary stage, but prospects were positive since Chinese insurance firms were striving to secure long-term, stable returns.
'The long-term nature of their investments makes them very good partners,' Choe said. 'The next phase is to talk with more insurers.'
Frasers Hospitality, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Singapore-listed food, beverage, and property group Fraser and Neave, plans to double its portfolio to 10,600 serviced apartments in 2012, with China being its major source of growth, Choe said.
In August, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission said the nation's 130 insurers with total assets of 4.3 trillion yuan (HK$5.01 trillion) could earmark as much as 10 per cent of their assets for real estate investment. The new regulation could pump about 200 billion yuan of fresh capital into property, since insurers are estimated to have already invested 5 per cent of their assets in real estate by now.
Frasers is the second-largest serviced apartment operator in China, trailing Ascott, the serviced residence arm of Singapore-listed CapitaLand.
It currently operates 5,000 units worldwide, of which more than 3,000 are in China across nine cities including Hong Kong and has expanded its presence through sole acquisitions, co-investments and third-party management agreements.
Frasers opened its second property under the Modena brand in Shanghai last week, following the first opening in Tianjin in March, hoping to tap the mainland's short-stay service residence market. It will also launch Modena properties in second-tier cities such as Suzhou, Dalian, Nanjing and Chengdu.
'Second-tier cities are very important to us in China,' Choe said, pointing out that they would be key beneficiaries of the rapid building of high-speed railways and expand more than first-tier cities.
Choe played down concerns about a glut in the hospitality sector after the World Expo in Shanghai. Major international hotel brands added nearly 5,300 rooms in the city last year and the number is expected to double in 2010.
'My view is that within a year Shanghai will catch up,' he said. 'Business will continue to be sustained in the long term.'
Choe said booming domestic tourism would be the driving force for China's hospitality sector.
The rising affluence of mainlanders has been a huge spur to inland tourism in the past decade. According to Jones Lang LaSalle, visitor arrivals on the mainland grew 10 per cent last year to reach 2.03 billion though the country witnessed a negative growth of overseas tourists.
A total 126 million foreigners travelled to China in 2009, down 2.7 per cent from the previous year.