Outlook bright as confidence returns

Lenders, hotel-management companies and investors in the Asian hotel industry are generally confident about prospects for the next year, according to a survey.

In a poll of 94 players in the Asian hotel industry by Sonnenblick-Goldman, the respondents overall rated the outlook for next year to be 'somewhat positive' compared with this year.

The respondents felt Singapore would have the best outlook in terms of operating performance next year, followed by Bangkok, Seoul, Tokyo and Phuket.

Singapore was also thought to have the best market outlook in the medium term from 2001 to 2003, followed by Japan and Hong Kong.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, the company behind the Sheraton and Westin hotel chains, recently announced hopes to invest in a five-star hotel above airport railway's Hong Kong station, indicating its confidence in the SAR market.

Starwood is also planning to open 10 hotels, mostly on a franchise basis, in the next six to 12 months in the Asia-Pacific region Republic Hotels and Resorts' recent acquisition of the five-star Seoul Hilton for US$213.5 million from Daewoo Development is another sign of confidence returning to the sector.

Republic Hotels, part of Singapore's Hong Leong group, had to beat 19 other bidders for the 673-room Seoul Hilton.

Robert Stiles, Sonnenblick-Goldman's managing director for the Asia-Pacific region, said the survey showed that Japan offered the biggest opportunities in the near future.

Speaking at the Asia hotel investment conference yesterday, Mr Stiles said Australia offered the next best opportunities in the short term due to next year's Sydney Olympics.

The hotel management companies surveyed found Phuket and Seoul the most desirable places for hotel development.

Investors voted for Bali and Phuket, followed by Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong, as the most desirable for hotel development.

Both groups of respondents found Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Surabaya and Shanghai to be the least desirable for hotel development.

The lenders surveyed found Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul the most desirable cities to lend to hotel ventures. Jakarta, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur were voted least desirable.

Mr Stiles said that as the region recovered, Asian buyers would slowly emerge and begin focusing on long-term, low-yield investments, which would put pressure on capital sources for the industry.