Chinese billionaire new Hilton owner

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Hilton Queenstown’s new owner is the Chinese billionaire behind the controversial Crafar Farms sale.

News reports in May said the hotel had been sold to Chinese interests but the identity of the new owner has not been made public until now.

Jiang Zhaobai, of Shanghai Pengxin Group, will fly to Queenstown from Auckland today with a 50-strong entourage known as the Shanghai Entrepreneurial Group.

He will be honoured at a cocktail function at the Hilton this evening, attended by various notables including Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden.

The group will stay in Queenstown for two days before flying to Auckland – which might coincide with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to New Zealand’s biggest city.

Hilton Queenstown’s purchase adds to a growing list of New Zealand holdings for the Chinese company.

Shanghai Pengxin was behind the high-profile purchases of the Crafar dairy farms in the central North Island and just before the election the company announced it had bought Lochinver Station.

The company is also the majority owner of Canterbury dairy farm-owning company Synlait Farms.

Hilton Queenstown general manager Chris Ehmann told the Otago Daily Times the hotel ownership changed hands on May 1.

Asked what the owner’s plans were, he says: “From Hilton’s perspective it’s really just a change of ownership.

“We’re obviously really excited to have that relationship now with them – it’s the first of the Hilton hotel brands that we’ve had working with them.

“We’re looking forward to developing that relationship further and if and when they take on more hotels we would, of course, be interested to continue our relationship and growing it with them.”

Ehmann is not aware of Jiang’s plans while in Queenstown.

The Kawarau Hotel – one of two hotels in the Hilton Queenstown complex, the other being Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa – last week rebranded as DoubleTree by Hilton Queenstown.

Hilton Worldwide said that would help drive further international awareness of Queenstown.

Ehmann says the rebranding required more investment: “It’s something we’ve always planned to do but it’s become possible now with the new owners.”

The Hilton Queenstown hotels at the Kawarau Falls Station site were the brainchild of Auckland developer Nigel McKenna.

Two of McKenna’s companies involved in the development collapsed in 2009 over loans from Bank of Scotland International of about $117 million.

A year later another of the former rich-lister’s companies involved at the Kawarau Falls site went under.

Hong Kong-based hedge fund Pacific Alliance Group took control of the hotels in 2011 but sold to Shanghai Pengxin in May for an undisclosed sum.

The ODT asked the Overseas Investment Office if the Queenstown Hilton sale needed its approval but spokesman Chas Te Runa said it could not provide an answer by publication deadline.

david.williams@odt.co.nz