The bidding war for Granada Compass's Forte hotel division is hotting up, with potential buyers required to make their offers by 22 January.
The Le Méridien, Posthouse, Heritage and Signature hotels are expected to fetch between £3b and £4b at auction, with the successful bidder to be announced at the end of March.
A spokesman for Granada Compass said competition was intense. "Everyone had assumed that Le Méridien was the main prize, but there's been lots of interest in the other groups as well," he said.
"This is an important auction because it should give the rest of the industry an idea of how valuable the market is at the moment."
Granada Compass has said it would prefer to keep the division intact, but will sell the groups separately if necessary.
One of the early contenders was Hilton Group, which made an unsuccessful bid for Le Méridien. There has since been speculation that Hilton has joined forces with US-based Strategic Hotel Capital and Spanish hotel group Sol Meliá to make a joint bid for the entire division.
A Hilton spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the group was submitting a joint bid, but said it was following the auction process with interest.
A spokeswoman for Sol Meliá said the company had not made an offer but was watching the situation closely.
A spokeswoman for Bass, which was originally thought to be interested in Le Méridien, declined to comment on rumours that it might put in a bid for Posthouse.
By Linley Boniface
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 11-17 January 2000