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Whitbread to add 1.000 hotel room in London

Horeca

THE LEISURE group Whitbread is opening 1,000 new hotel rooms in London this year, despite the worst travel downturn to hit the capital since the Gulf War. The group, which also owns the David Lloyd Leisure fitness clubs and Costa Coffee chain, will open a 216-room Marriott hotel in Kensington in June, as well as two new Travel Inns – its budget brand.

Alan Parker, the managing director of the group’s hotel division, admitted: “It’s a bit counter cyclical.” But he said the projects were too far advanced to defer them when the hotel market collapsed after 11 September.

Both the Travel Inns will be located near airports. A 590-room Travel Inn at Heathrow and a 202-room Travel Inn near London City Airport are both scheduled to open in June. Other projects, including one to convert Whitbread’s former head office in Chiswell Street, on the edge of the City of London, into executive apartments are still on hold, Mr Parker said.

While the threat of war with Iraq meant booking patterns remained unclear, Mr Parker said the current trend for Marriott had been “quite positive” over the past couple of months, and would “continue the figures we saw at the half year”. Like-for-like sales across the Marriott estate fell 1.7 per cent in the six months to the end of August.

Mr Parker said Whitbread had “contingencies in place” to cope with the inevitable travel slump that would follow the outbreak of a new war in the Gulf.

Meanwhile, Thistle Hotels, London’s largest hotelier, painted a bleaker picture, warning that it remained cautious about when hotel trading conditions would recover. In a trading update, the group, which runs 18 hotels in London, said the second half of 2002 had seen turnover return to growth, rising by 1.9 per cent, after a 13.6 per cent fall in the first half. The group said turnover for the full year from its 18 London hotels fell 6.8 per cent to pounds 151.1m, in line with earlier guidance.

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