Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, which opened China's first international-branded hotel 26 years ago, is prepared to consider a listing in the country, where its top executives have been based for the past month.
"If tomorrow, listing here is an easy thing to do, would we consider it? Yes," president and chief executive officer Frits van Paasschen said in an interview in Shanghai. "I wouldn't rule it out."
Van Paasschen, 50, and his top executives moved the company's headquarters to Shanghai from White Plains, New York between June 8 and July 11 to ‘better understand' its second-largest market.
This is with the view China may eventually pass the US as a hotel market, Van Paasschen said, where 90 hotels, or 30 per cent of Starwood's pipeline of 300 properties, are under construction in cities including Nanhai and Foshan. Global companies ranging from Coca-Cola to HSBC Holdings have said they are interested in listing in China's stock market, the world's third-biggest by market value.
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China is ‘coming closer' to starting a board for the listing of overseas companies in Shanghai, Shang Fulin, chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, said on May 20. "If the likes of Starwood is listed in China, local investors will like the shares," said Larry Wan, Beijing-based head of investment at Union Life, which manages the equivalent of $2.2 billion (Dh8 billion).
"Looking at domestically listed companies, we don't have any big-name company related to consumer brands," he added. The company now has more than 70 hotels in China carrying eight of its nine brands that also include Le Meridien and Sheraton. It opened the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel in Beijing in 1985 as the first global operator to enter the market, it said. The new hotels will include all of its nine brands, the first country after the US to offer its full line-up of properties.
Starwood is also entering China's less affluent or so-called second-and third-tier cities, which van Paasschen said offer growth potential. These include the southern Nanhai and Foshan cities and the eastern coastal city of Qingdao.
"In ten years or 15 years, if GDP is approaching that of the US, the hotel market should be as large," said van Paasschen, adding that his one-month stay made him: "No less confident about the growth in China than before."
Van Paasschen said he isn't too concerned about potential asset bubbles in the world's second-biggest economy because there is less leverage in China than in other countries and primary demand for real estate remains strong.
Starwood shares have declined 6.9 per cent this year in New York trading, compared with a 4.9 per cent gain for the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.
The Shanghai Composite Index has dropped 0.2 pe rcent. In Asia, Starwood has a ‘strong presence' in Thailand and has plans for smaller markets including Vietnam and Bangladesh, van Paasschen said.
India may also become another key market in Asia in the future, he said.
"Without a doubt China today is the biggest and most rapidly developing market," he said. "That said, India is seven or eight years behind and admittedly on a different trajectory, but there will be a time when India will be of the same magnitude. I am quite confident of that."