by Michael J. Shapiro | April 28, 2016

Carlson is selling its hotel business to Beijing-based HNA Tourism Group, whose parent company has global operations in aviation, tourism, hospitality, finance and online services. The group currently operates about 500 hotels with nearly 90,000 rooms in China and other parts of the world.

Carlson Hotels, which owns the Radisson, Radisson Blu, Radisson RED, Quorvus Collection, Park Plaza, Park Inn and Country Inns & Suites brands, as well as the Club Carlson rewards program, is part of the privately owned Carlson, which has been a family business for nearly 80 years. Although analysts had previously reported that Carlson was shopping around its hotel business, the sale nonetheless marks a major milestone for the iconic travel-industry company, which also owns Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

"Since my grandfather, Curt Carlson, founded our company in 1938, our family has run businesses that create opportunity for people and positive change in the world," said Diana Nelson, Carlson board chair. "Hospitality is in our hearts, which made this a difficult decision. We strongly believe that selling our hotel business to HNA Tourism Group, a company that fully recognizes its value and heritage, is the best way for us to position it for success and to be true to my grandfather's legacy in the long term."

Carlson Hotels' headquarters will remain in Minnetonka, Minn. The deal is expected to close in the second half of 2016, subject to regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions. 

"Carlson Hotels own a powerful set of global brands, and this historic agreement provides tremendous opportunities for growth," said David P. Berg, CEO of the Carlson Hospitality Group, who will retain his position. "We look forward to working within HNA Tourism Group, a greatly respected global enterprise, in what will be an exciting new chapter in the history of Carlson Hotels. As part of HNA Tourism Group, Carlson Hotels will have an opportunity to advance our commitment to providing guests with hospitality worldwide."

The purchase allows HNA Hospitality Group to establish its presence in the U.S. market and expand its international footprint. "We look forward to working together with their management team, employees, franchisee partners, suppliers and customers to accelerate growth by investing substantially in the business," said HNA Hospitality Group chairman and CEO Haibo Bai. 

What remains unclear is what will become of the Rezidor Hotel Group, which is publicly traded on Sweden's Stockholm Stock Exchange. Carlson and Rezidor joined forces in 2012 as the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, but maintained separate leadership; Carlson's 51.3 percent majority stake in the company, however, is included in the sale to HNA. Brussels, Belgium-based Rezidor is considered Carlson's master licensee, with hotels in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Based on Swedish takeover laws, HNA will need to make a publicly tendered offer for Rezidor within four weeks of closing. 

"Rezidor has no further information regarding the transaction or HNA's intentions with its holding in Rezidor following completion of the transaction or a possible offer to Rezidor's other shareholders," reads a message on Rezidor's website. "Rezidor assumes that this will be clarified in the near future and welcomes HNA as the new majority shareholder."