Marriott International plans to open 18 new hotels on the mainland by 2012, making China the United States hotelier's third-largest market worldwide by property volume. The hotels, which predominantly fall into the luxury and executive brackets, reflect confidence among global hotel chains that the market for quality accommodation on the mainland has spread beyond first-tier cities. '[This shows] our commitment and the high degree of interest we have in China. China is an important part of Marriot's growth,' Ed Fuller, president and managing director of Marriott's international business, said yesterday. In addition to nine hotels already being built, nine properties will open in Nanjing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Huizhou, Suzhou and Beijing, taking Marriott's portfolio in China to 59 hotels, ranking third behind the US and Britain. Although markets such as Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai remain dominated by international business travellers, Mr Fuller said the majority of customers nationwide were now local. 'In just 11 short years, we have been able to significantly grow our presence in mainland China in primary urban centres and now we are expanding our reach into secondary markets.' Although budget hotel chains such as Home Inn and US-based Super 8 Hotels have carved out a niche in secondary cities, greater wealth and growing numbers of domestic business travellers are creating a market for luxury hotels. 'The real story now for the five-star brands is not the major cities but the penetration into smaller markets,' said Mitchell Presnick, chief executive of Super Hotels in China. 'Most foreigners won't have heard of these places, but the big hotel chains are now able to open properties there and sustain a profit.' He added that international events such as this summer's Olympics and the World Exposition in Shanghai in 2010 helped boost sentiment across the industry. Contrary to reports that many hotels in Beijing have so far seen disappointing bookings for August, when the Games will be held, 90 per cent of the rooms at Marriott's five Beijing hotels have already been reserved. 'Domestic travel is growing nearly twice the GDP's [growth rate], and the hotel sector is growing even faster. [As] economies grow and people have more disposable income to travel, hotel chains will be the main beneficiaries,' Mr Presnick said.