Diversified conglomerate ITC, which inaugurated its first hotel outside India in Colombo on Thursday, is open to exploring opportunities across international markets to launch more hotels, mostly under management contracts.

The Kolkata-based conglomerate will focus on “proximal markets” for its hospitality business expansion globally. In India, it plans to launch around 70 hotels in the next five years.

“We will be open to exploring opportunities across that come about. Because I think we have strong credentials in hospitality and that we can take outside India now,” said ITC Ltd Chairman and Managing Director Sanjiv Puri.

Puri talked to media persons after the inauguration of “ITC Ratnadipa”, the conglomerate’s maiden overseas venture for the hotels business. Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe inaugurated the hotel. The company invested around USD 500 million in the new property.

ITC Ltd’s wholly-owned subsidiary WelcomHotels Lanka launched the property with 352 guest rooms, suites and service apartments. The hotel aims to attract the MICE segment and inbound tourism in Sri Lanka. The project, situated on 5.86 acres of prime sea-facing land in Colombo, also has a residential apartment complex. The company will be looking to expand in more destinations in Sri Lanka.

On launching more hotels overseas, Puri said, “We will be more focussed on the proximal markets. Yes, we are open to it, if there are some interesting opportunities beyond it. We will certainly be interested to pursue that.”

Currently, the company is “exploring” the opportunity to enter the hospitality segment in Nepal through its subsidiary, Surya Nepal. The company is also open to launching hotels in the Middle East.

ITC Hotels currently has more than 130 properties in over 80 destinations in India. In the last two years, it opened 22 hotels, largely under management contracts.

“Few years back we moved from an asset-heavy to an asset-right strategy, which means we not only have our own hotels, but are also managing properties. We will remain open to both. It is quite natural that management contracts in the future will be much larger than our own properties,” the MD said.

“We have a healthy pipeline of around 70 hotels in five years,” he informed, adding most of these will be upper-scale properties and under management contracts.

The company generally invests between ₹700 crore and ₹1000 crore in renovation and new properties annually. It plans to launch its own property in Puri under the ‘Welcomhotel’ brand.

The conglomerate’s hotels business operates under six brands-- ‘ITC Hotel’ and ‘Mementos’ in the Luxury space; brand ‘Storii’ in the premium segment; ‘Welcomhotel’ in the upper to upper upscale segment, ‘Fortune’ in the midscale segment and ‘WelcomHeritage’ in the heritage leisure space.

On the progress of the proposed demerger of the hotel business, Puri said it is expected to be completed before the second half or the end of this year.

A meeting of shareholders will be convened on June 6 to approve the proposed scheme of arrangement amongst ITC Ltd and ITC Hotels Ltd and their respective shareholders and creditors for the proposed demerger.