Tnooz, Matin Cowen - Pierre & Vacances Centre-Parcs Group (P&V) is the latest European travel firm to confirm a strategic co-operation and equity investment deal with a tourism business from China.
It has linked up with HNA Tourism, which is part of the HNA Group, a global business based in China with 2014 total group revenues across its portfolio of $25.6 billion.
The tourism unit is currently the sixth biggest in China and has a turnover of €5 billion ($5.4 billion).
P&V has a portfolio of brands across Europe including Pierre & Vacances, Center Parcs and Sunparks which hosts 7.5 million guests a year.
HNA’s deal with P&V has two elements – the investment piece sees HNA Tourism take a 10% stake in the French-listed business. HNA Tourism is also the majority stakeholder in Spanish hotel chain NH Hotels.
Closer to home, this September it backed a $78 million funding round for one of China’s Airbnb-type businesses Zhubaijia.
The strategic co-operation sees the formation of a new business – 60% owned by HNA Tourism, 40% by P&V – which will develop a portfolio of destinations for the Chinese market, “inspired by” the Centre Parcs and Pierre & Vacances concepts .
Ski-based destinations will be an important part of the JV, with the pair hoping to capitalise on the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and the resulting interest in winter sports.
The announcement is focussed on plans to find suitable sites and build the villages. The distribution part of the piece will come into play once the properties are up-and-running, and this is where the scale and reach of HNA Group could come into its own.
The tourism unit owns Caissa Touristic, a travel agency chain which is being lined up to sell P&V’s European properties to the Chinese outbound market as part of the co-operation. Hainan Airlines is part of HNA Group aviation business unit and could provide airlift to the new resorts from across China.
Hainan is also building up its international network which could, in turn, bring Chinese travellers to P&V’s current European properties in an old-school tour operator-style set-up.
HNA Group announced earlier this year that is launching a new Chinese online travel agency in partnership with internet services business NetEase. This would be an obvious distribution channel for the new JV.
The move by HNA to bring in European expertise to launch a brand for Chinese domestic travellers is similar to a recent move by Fosun, another massive Chinese conglomerate with a portfolio of business interests of which tourism is but one part.
Fosun took control of Club Med earlier this year and signed a familiar-sounding strategic co-operation and equity investment deal with Thomas Cook, including plans to introduce the Thomas Cook brand to the Chinese domestic market.
The HNA deal with P&V will play out in the online space once the brand is established. But it shows that China plc is interested in buying stakes and linking up with European travel firms. How long will it be before one of the big Chinese OTAs makes a similar move?
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