Indian Hotels Said to Seek Bigger Stake in Orient-Express

Indian Hotels Co., the country’s biggest hotel operator, has restarted efforts to boost its stake in Orient-Express Hotels Ltd., two people with knowledge of the matter said.

The Mumbai-based company has approached Orient-Express about a deal, though discussions are at an early stage and may fail to lead to an agreement, the people said, declining to be identified as deliberations are private. Indian Hotels owns 6.9 percent of Hamilton, Bermuda-based Orient-Express, whose market value has jumped 32 percent this year to $1.2 billion.

Indian Hotels, owner of the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, initially paid $211.3 million for a 10 percent stake in Orient-Express in 2007. Two years later, Indian Hotels said it would be “happy” to boost its investment, though the company is opposed to “hostile moves.” Orient-Express had in September 2007 rejected an approach to pursue strategic discussions from Indian Hotels.

Orient-Express shares rose 5.9 percent to $10.45 by 4:03 p.m. in New York trading. They have gained 40 percent this year.

Indian Hotels’ stake in Orient-Express was diluted since the 2007 investment, as the New York-listed company completed four stock sales, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It wasn’t clear how much of Orient-Express Indian Hotels is seeking.

Paul White, the former Orient-Express chief executive officer who rejected Indian Hotels’ approach, resigned from the company’s board in July. Orient-Express owns New York’s 21 Club restaurant and the Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Italy.

Hotel Purchases

Indian Hotels in an e-mailed statement declined to comment “on market speculation.” Victoria Legg, a spokeswoman for Orient-Express in London, declined to comment.

Indian Hotels, controlled by the Tata Group, bought the Ritz-Carlton in Boston in 2007 for $170 million from Millennium Partners and renamed it Taj Boston. In 2005, the company re-entered the New York market after six years with the rights to manage the 201-room Pierre.

The company has 112 hotels and plans to open 12 new resorts this year, according to a December investor presentation. Sahara Group, the Indian owner of assets ranging from TV channels to real estate, bought the Grosvenor House in London’s Mayfair district for 470 million pounds ($744 million) in December 2010, in its first overseas hotel acquisition.