Exclusive: Swiss-Belhotel International to boost global portfolio through China tourism deal

by Ruth Hogan

Swiss-Belhotel International has signed a deal with state-owned Chinese tourism giant, China Travel Group (CTG), which will see the hotel management company re-enter the China market, 35 years after the launch of its very first hotel in Hong Kong.

The signing of a memorandum of understanding with CTG Hotel – which has over 200 owned or managed properties in China and the UK – will support Swiss-Belhotel to grow rapidly in China as well as other countries internationally.

“We currently have 125 hotels and projects and I want to have over 500 by 2030 – that’s my goal,” Swiss-Belhotel International Chairman and President, Gavin M. Faull, told Wayfarer in an exclusive interview.

The hotels chief said returning to China and building the hotel portfolio globally will help the business remain competitive against the industry’s big global players.

“We started Swiss-Belhotel International in China [in 1987] with a hugely successful property, and we had between 10 and 15 hotels all over the country,” he said.

“Now, China is becoming global again and very keen to invest internationally. All the big hotel companies are back in, and I want to get back there.

“China is really going to be a huge growth area for us. CTG is very ambitious – they are going to be pushing us to expand.”

The deal – which has been in the works for almost two years – will see the businesses partner on dual branded hotels and diversified business development.

Faull said the strength and credibility of the of Swiss-Belhotel International brand greatly appealed to CTG.

“They will help us get into hotel operations in China – mainly 4-star hotels,” he said.

“They have a brand called Metro Park which we will use in combination with our brand.”

CTG Hotel’s parent company China Travel Group is the largest tourism enterprise in China and has previously collaborated with other major international hotel groups such as IHG, Marriott, Hilton, and Wyndham.

At the end of 2019, CTG had 43,000 employees, US$16.9 billion worth of assets and provided services for over 60 million tourists annually, including through its hotels, a cruise line, as well a travel agency business.

CTG’s vast resources, knowledge and reputation within China and internationally will be invaluable to business growth and will allow Swiss-Belhotel International to gain a deeper understanding of the Chinese traveller.

“The Chinese have a huge appetite for travel – there are around 150 million [outbound] tourists each year,” Faull said.

By working together, Faull is hopeful that the partnership can help drive more Chinese tourist to areas like Vietnam and Indonesia, where Swiss-Belhotel International already has a presence.

“We’re looking at some very big hotels – 650-700 rooms – in Vietnam and Bali, where the Chinese have occupied 25%-30% of the market,” he said.

While the MOU is focused on the hotels business, Faull also hasn’t ruled out aligning with CTG’s cruise ship business in future.

“We’ll think about that,” he said.

Australian expansion

Australia remains an important market for Swiss-Belhotel International and the business has plans for add more hotels over the coming years – particularly in the major cities.

“I’m looking at all the main centres,” Faull said, pointing to opportunities in Brisbane, Gold Coast, Perth and Adelaide.

“And I’d love to get another bigger one in Sydney.”

Faull said the business is thinking outside the box for future growth.

“[Expansion] will involve buying small management companies; we’re looking at modular hotels, and we will consider investing in property – which is not normal for a hotel management company, but I have to keep up with the big players,” he said.