InterContinental Hotels Group, the world's second largest hotelier by rooms, plans to expand aggressively in the mainland and Hong Kong over the next four years. The group plans to nearly double its properties in the mainland to 75 from 41, within four years. It will also bring its four-star Crowne Plaza brand to Hong Kong. InterContinental Hotels owns the InterContinental, Crown Plaza and Holiday Inn brands. It has more than 3,300 hotels in nearly 100 countries. 'We have more opportunities since the Sars outbreak because many independent hotels have suffered,' said Patrick Imbardelli, managing director Asia-Pacific. Independent hotels, those without a sales team in North America, needed a hotel management company to enhance competitiveness in a tough business environment, he said. 'Our market share in the mainland has grown at the expense of non-brand hotels,' he said. The group enjoyed a competitive advantage, having operated in the mainland for more than 20 years with Holiday Inn the best known brand, Mr Imbardelli said. 'Our strategy in China will continue to be the fastest growing.' The group is also keen to secure a management contract on Hong Kong Island. It owns and operates the five-star 514-room InterContinental Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, formerly the Regent Hong Kong, which it bought from New World Development for HK$2.7 billion in 2001. The group also manages the 600-room Holiday Inn Golden Mile and the 579-room Grand Standford InterContinental in Tsim Sha Tsui. Mr Imbardelli is optimistic that Hong Kong's long-haul travel market can pick up from November, saying the city's tourism would become stronger than the pre-Sars period once it had recovered. In 2001, the group laid off 100 staff as a result of a decline in the occupancy rate following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Mr Imbardelli said about 70 per cent of its customers came from the United States and Europe, while 30 per cent arrived from China, Singapore, South Korea and Australia. Occupancy at three of its hotels climbed to more than 20 per cent this month from a single digit during the Sars outbreak, he said.