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Spanish hotel operator Barceló has offered to buy local rival NH Hotel Group in a multibillion-euro merger that would create the country’s largest hotel group.

Family-owned Barceló said in a statement on Monday that it was “expressing an interest” in combining with NH Hotel, potentially offering €7.08 a share, which is a 27 per cent premium to its three-month average stock price.

The non-binding potential takeover offer, which Barceló said was “preliminary”, would value NH Hotel, which operates nearly 400 hotels mainly in Europe and Latin America, at about €2.2bn.

The proposal comes as Spain’s tourism sector is booming, with a record 36m foreign visitors in the first six months of the year, a rise of more than 11 per cent on last year. This is the fourth consecutive year of record numbers of tourists.

Spain has benefited as security concerns and political uncertainty in previously popular Mediterranean holiday destinations such as Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey have deterred tourists. Millions of holidaymakers have opted to visit Spain instead.

Barceló on Monday said it would expect to control 60 per cent of the combined group. The group would own about 600 hotels mainly in Europe and South America, with annual revenues of about €3.7bn.

Barceló said it intended to maintain NH Hotel’s market listing. It said its proposal was not a formal takeover offer, was non-binding and was subject to due diligence.

NH Hotel acknowledged the interest from Barceló. It said it had recently approved an independent three-year strategic plan that was still in place. It added that any decision to change that would be announced to the stock exchange.

NH Hotel’s biggest shareholder is China’s acquisitive private conglomerate HNA, which is under increasing pressure from domestic regulators amid concerns that extensive overseas investment could present a systemic risk.

HNA has a number of stakes in tourism companies in Europe. Last year it acquired Carlson Hotels, owner of the Radisson hotel chain, where it appointed the former chief executive of NH Hotel, Federico González Tejera, as chief executive.

Last year HNA bought a 25 per cent stake in Hilton from Blackstone for $6.5bn.

HNA has been seeking exposure to revenue streams from Chinese tourists overseas, who are forecast to make 200m outbound trips a year by 2020, according to research by CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets.

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