By Dominique Vidalon and Pascale Denis
PARIS (Reuters) - Chinese billionaire Guo Guangchang on Monday sweetened his bid for Club Mediterranee (CMIP.PA) at the last minute, outbidding Italian tycoon Andrea Bonomi's offer in France's longest-running takeover battle.
The 23.50 euros per share offer is 0.50 euro higher than Bonomi's and values the all-inclusive holiday pioneer at 897 million euros ($1.12 billion). It came just hours before a 1700 GMT deadline in a takeover saga that began in May 2013.
Bonomi has until 1700 GMT on Dec. 17 to make a counter-offer and a spokesman for Global Resorts, Bonomi's investment vehicle, said they were "examining the situation".
Guo and Bonomi have been playing takeover leapfrog for months, with both men seeing turnaround potential in a business damaged by the weak economy in its core market of Europe, and by a stalled attempt to move upmarket.
Both also hope to develop the brand in faster-growing China.
Guo has described Club Med as an ideal investment to tap booming Chinese demand for the kind of leisure it offers for China’s harried and increasingly affluent city dwellers to relax.
Indeed, the French company aims to make China its second-largest market by customer numbers by end-2015 and recently opened a third village in the country on Dong'ao Island, in the South China Sea.
"23.5 euros per share is a very high price but Fosun and its co-investors’ long-term strategy and investment horizon make it possible," Jiannong Qian, managing director of Fosun Group told Reuters, adding it was "no ego-driven decision".
The new offer was made by Gaillon Invest II, majority controlled by Guo's Fosun conglomerate <0656.HK>, and includes French private equity partner Ardian, with a 6.2 percent stake, the management of Club Med with a 3.1 percent stake and Chinese travel agency U-Tour with a 9.4 percent stake, according to a statement by Gaillon Invest.
Brazilian investor Nelson Tanure, active in the tourism industry, has confirmed his interest in investing in Gaillon II and would own up to a 20 percent interest, the same statement said.
Club Med shares dipped 0.4 percent to 23.80 euros by 1516 GMT, but are still up more than 70 percent since the start of the bid battle in May last year.
"It's very expensive in view of the situation of the sector and of the company. There is no economic logic to paying such a price unless you have a very long-term view," said Oddo Securities analyst Fehmi Ben Naamane.
Club Med's fortunes have not improved since Guo first bid. In November it said weaker demand in Europe, unrest in the Middle East and Ebola fears in Africa hit bookings and helped push it to an annual loss.
Bonomi has built an 18.9 percent Club Med stake, inspired by minority shareholder resistance to the first Fosun offer of 17 euros. Monday was the last day Guo, China's richest man, could come back with a higher offer, according to rules set by the French regulator AMF. He has 18.3 percent.
Shanghai-based Fosun is an industrial, financial services and real estate conglomerate. Over the past four years it has done more than $6 billion in deals.
(Editing by Andrew Callus, Kevin Liffey, David Clarke and Susan Thomas)