NH Hoteles, the stock-market listed Spanish chain, is close to finalising a deal to buy German group Astron Hotels & Resorts.
The move is the latest in what analysts believe will be a bumper year for mergers in the hotel industry.
There had been speculation about a deal in the Spanish press since before Christmas but now Astron has confirmed that talks are underway. Astron spokeswoman Ursula Schelle said the talks were set for completion within weeks.
Other reports have also quoted unnamed NH sources stating that price is now the final hurdle for the deal.
The acquisition would see NH add 53 hotels and more than 8,000 bedrooms to its current total of almost 200 hotels and nearly 27,000 bedrooms.
In 2000, Astron's hotels had consolidated sales of €164m. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation were €15m.
On completion, NH would be a major European hotelier with a network covering all the main Western European countries except France and the UK.
With Astron it gains a strong presence in the upmarket end of German-speaking Europe, complementing its Spanish operation and the Benelux interests gained when it bought Krasnapolsky in the summer of 2000.
NH also has strong ties to 45-strong Italian chain Jolly Hotels in which it has a stake of more than 20%.
The acquisition of Astron will bring with it a burgeoning budget brand, Motel One, as well as the upmarket properties.
The potential for budget brands in Germany, Europe's largest economy, has attracted much interest in recent years and hoteliers such as Whitbread have been trying to do deals to enter the market.
The current trading downturn in the hotel business, combined with the impact of 11 September, will make 2002 a fertile year for deals in the hotel sector, predict market experts.
Last week Accor announced it was buying 15 Rema hotels in Germany.
by Andrew Sangster