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Europe’s hotel pipeline appears to be at its peak lately, with some chains looking to establish brands there for the first time. However, the continent suffers from a credit crunch similar to the one in North America, which could slow down progress in room completions over the next few years.

Lodging Econometrics of Portsmouth, NH, a global hotel real estate tracking firm, has recorded 1,031 projects totaling 172,815 rooms through this year’s first quarter in all hotel classifications throughout Europe. Peak occupancy rates and room revenue in many markets has propelled the pipeline, along with a surge in ongoing global development of popular, yet smaller, contemporary brands, says Patrick Ford, Lodging Econometrics president.

(Read the full report here.)

While Europe’s lodging industry remains a very attractive investment sector, financing is a challenge lately, especially for mixed-use projects and larger freestanding hotels, Ford says. He notes that 55% of hotel projects in Europe’s pipeline are now under construction, with 582 projects totaling 94,742 rooms, while the number scheduled to start in the coming year has decreased to 206 projects totaling 36,682 rooms.

“If you have financing, you’re working like crazy to get out of the ground,” Ford tells GlobeSt.com. He notes that Europe’s hotel pipeline is essentially front-loaded, with the United Kingdom and Russia being exceptions.

European hotels in the early planning stages total 243 projects with 41,391 rooms, with developers awaiting more clarity to the financing situation, according to Ford. “They’re thinking the credit crisis will right itself,” he says, particularly in the UK where hoteliers are building ahead of London’s 2012 Olympics.

Among the hotel chains currently expanding within the UK is InterContinental Hotels Group, which last month introduced its Staybridge Suites extended-stay brand in Liverpool. The 132-suite hotel is the first Staybridge to open outside North America, and is geared toward guests staying longer than five nights.

“Our research indicates there’s a growing type of traveler who is away from home for many days or even weeks at a time, and would prefer their hotel to feel more like home compared to a regular hotel,” IHG CEO Andrew Cosslett said in remarks during the Liverpool Staybridge opening. He added that IHG is confident that Staybridge will succeed across the Atlantic because of low building costs, plus stable revenues that can be expected from the extended-stay market.

Independent and upscale hotels make up the largest segments of the European hotel pipeline, with at least 22% each, Lodging Econometrics figures show. Midscale hotels offering food and beverage account for the next-largest segment, at nearly 17%.

The UK itself has the largest total pipeline with 321 projects totaling 46,531 rooms, including 75 projects and 14,010 rooms in London alone. Key industrial centers in the UK such as Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham, which are expected to benefit from Olympic travel, have a combined 83 projects with 13,271 rooms, says Ford.

Emerging markets in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States are also the site of new hotel projects announced to open in the next few years. Pipelines are just starting to form in the CIS countries as well as Russia, which Ford points out has more self-contained financing and is not as dependent on global sources as other parts of Europe. Russia has the region’s fourth-largest hotel pipeline, with 60 projects and 14,261 rooms, he says.

Among other European countries, Spain has the second-largest hotel pipeline with 179 projects and 27,701 rooms, while Germany has 76 projects with 14,274 rooms and France has 56 projects with 6,347 rooms, Lodging Econometrics says.

As for major hoteliers, IHG leads the region in development with 137 projects, including 34 Holiday Inn flags and 68 Holiday Inn Express projects. Marriott has 33 projects in the pipeline, focusing on its Courtyard brand, while Hilton Hotels has 31 on the way and seeks to expand its Doubletree, Garden Inn and Hampton brands overseas, Ford says.

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