(Reuters) - Europe's biggest hotelier Accor plans to sell 80 mid-range hotels in France and Belgium in 2006 as it speeds up a longstanding policy of selling its properties but leasing them back to manage them, it said.
"It is a sharp acceleration of our policy where, like other hotel groups, we sell the properties to concentrate on operating them, which is our main business," an Accor spokeswoman said on Tuesday. "The properties are mid-range hotels exclusively in France and Belgium."
Accor renewed its property divestment plans in March, when it announced a 1 billion euro ($1.19 billion) deal with real estate consortium Fonciere des Murs that covered leases on 128 hotels in France.
In November, its 29 percent subsidiary Club Mediterrannee sold four of its mountain villages to property company Gecina in a 225 million euro deal that pushed it back into a full-year profit for the first time in four years.
French companies in other sectors too have been using a tax break encouraging them to sell real estate assets to listed French property firms.
In addition to its current plans Accor, which operates the Ibis, Mercure, Novotel and Red Roof inns, is in the process of selling 10 hotels out of its 180-strong Sofitel chain.
It said in March that it hoped 75 percent of its upscale Sofitel units would be under management contract by 2006, compared with 62 percent at the time.
French retailers have also been taking advantage of the tax breaks. Casino spun off its real estate assets into a new company, Mercialys, and launched it onto the Paris bourse in September, while Carrefour has ceded some of its property assets to real estate firm Klepierre