By Cathy Cooper
London hoteliers are, for the first time in years, expressing concern about the future amid a drop in occupancy rates.
The top hotels appear to be suffering most. David Wilkinson, general manager of the Dorchester, said: "Occupancy has not been as strong as the past two or three years. There's been some softening, particularly in January and June."
Olivia Hetherington, manager of the four-star, 212-room Bailey's hotel in Kensington, said: "It's a little bit tougher than last year. We're doing more deals now and giving more rooms at a lower rate than we would normally do."
Managers attribute the decline to a strong pound, the Asian economic crisis and a consequent drop in business custom, the proliferation of hotels in the capital and a perception that London hotels are overpriced.
Wilkinson said it was too early to tell if the downturn was permanent. But he warned: "If you hear people consistently saying, as I have done when I've gone abroad, that London is too expensive, then that is something we collectively need to worry about."
However, while the 405-room Holiday Inn hotel in King's Cross has seen a drop in tourist business it has had an increase in corporate bookings. General manager Firoz Kassam said: "Last year the weekdays were quieter and the weekends fuller. Now it's turned around completely." He added: "Most of our corporate income is from UK businessmen, so it's not affected by the strong pound."
Ken Milton, general manager of the two-star, 193-bedroom Clarendon hotel in south-east London, said: "We have had a drop in the past two weeks and this week, but otherwise we've had a 12% increase on last year. Last year people were just out of the recession, this year there's been more confidence. We've had a lot more tours this year."