By Cai Xiao
BEIJING, Sept. 20 (Xinhuanet) -- Carlyle Group has developed a taste for the Chinese hotel industry and its investment pace in the sector this year is expected to remain solid. The latest move by Carlyle — one of the world's largest private equity firms — was to complete a deal to take 7 Days Group Holdings Ltd private. The company, which was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, runs the 7 Days Inn budget hotel chain in China. In March, 7 Days Group said that Carlyle, Keystone Lodging Co Ltd and Sequoia Capital planned to acquire the company for $4.60 per ordinary share, or $13.80 per American Depositary Share.
In July, 7 Days Group, Carlyle and Sequoia Capital announced the establishment of the Plateno Hotels Group and said that the 7 Days Inn chain would become part of it. The Plateno Hotels Group will develop another four high-end and mid-tier hotel brands based on the 7 Days Inn's concept.
"With the acceleration of the country's urbanization drive and an improvement in Chinese people's disposable income, customers will have more specific requirements and the coverage of high-end and economic hotels will have a bigger market space," Eric Zhang, a managing director at Carlyle, told China Daily.
Zhang said that the hotel sector has a close relationship with the country's economy. And as the Chinese economy remains on a healthy track, investing in the Chinese hotel industry has great potential.
"The business risk pattern of the hotel sector is low, and brands, sites and resources are key factors of the sector and it's hard for competitors to copy them," he said.
Zhang added that the relatively high valuation of the hotel sector is another reason behind Carlyle's confidence in the industry.
"Although lots of budget hotels emerged and competition among them was fierce, the market is far from being saturated," said Zhang, adding that budget hotels are able to compete with guesthouses and two- and three-star hotels.
Industry insiders said that Carlyle is taking part in the 7 Days Inn deal not because the valuation of the company was lower than its real value, but because Carlyle is confident on the company's growth prospects and sustainable profitability.
Carlyle also took a controlling 49 percent stake in China's Mandarin Hotel Holdings Ltd in July last year, in a bid to tap into the country's emerging mid-tier hotel market.
The value of the investment was not revealed, but a typical deal by the fund through which the investment was made — Carlyle Asia Partners III LP, which totals $2.55 billion — is usually worth more than $75 million.
"The mid-tier market in China is very fragmented and of great potential, and Mandarin Hotel Holdings is a leader in this market with its product design and marketing strategies," said Zhang. "So we feel confident (the deal will) help the company to perfect its business and brand to win in the market."
The total number of rooms of Chinese mid-tier hotel chains only accounts for 12 percent of the whole mid-tier hotel industry, according to Carlyle data.
Founded in 2006, Mandarin Hotel Holdings, which is not related to the Mandarin Oriental chain, operates 25 hotels in six major Chinese cities, 14 of them in Beijing. It operates hotels under the Crystal Orange and Orange brands.
"The Chinese high-end and budget hotels have developed very well, while even the largest 10 mid-tier hotels account for no more than 5 percent of the mid-tier hotel market," said Wu Hai, founder and chief executive officer of Mandarin Hotel Holdings and a former vice-president at Ctrip, a major online travel agency in China.
Carlyle's third hotel deal in China was in 2008 when it invested $100 million in New Century Hotels & Resorts.