HUNAN, CHINA-Aiming to capture cross-border tourism and a growing taste for leisure activities within China, Sino Express Travel Ltd. has secured 50 acres of prime development land on which it plans to create a multi-faceted resort community. The cost of the land and the initial phase of the resort is estimated at $15 million.

Sino Express officials say the firm plans to build out the new resort through the end of the decade, during which time public infrastructure connecting the site to a nearby commercial district will be enhanced by the local government. Among the perceived lures of the property is its proximity near the popular Lake Dongting vacation enclave. Villas will be constructed as part of the first of three phases of development, with the second stage focused on addition of a sports complex and recreational facilities. A hotel and residential tower are to be the key elements of the final phase. Sino Express has not branded the resort or estimated the room count for the villas and hotel, but officials say a final design will be unveiled over the near term.

China-based Sino Express is among several hospitality focused companies and tourism development groups that anticipate the leisure sector will continue to expand in the country. Dozens of multinational hotel operators are joining homegrown entities such as Sino Express and committing to ambitious room expansion programs and investment in leisure destinations. The Chinese middle class is a key driver behind the anticipated demand as that constituency seeks to place a surge of disposable income. One recent report estimates domestic Chinese tourism-related trips will exceed 1.5 billion by the end of the decade, up from 1.2 billion in 2005, while China is forecast to become the most visited country in the world by 2017. The 2008 Beijing Olympics are expected to be a catalyst for increased acceptance of the country as a travel destination, followed by the Shanghai Expo in 2010.

Cultural, historic and scenic spots are among the locations that Sino Express is setting its sights on, with company officials indicating they plan to buy and develop their way into becoming a leader in leisure in the country. The company has aligned itself with a hotel brand, Square Inn, to handle development and management of the resort hotel elements, and recently partnered with an on-line reservations system.

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