Hand Picked looks to expand despite £99m of debt

Hand Picked looks to expand despite £99m of debt

Hand Picked Hotels boss Julia Hands is determined to expand the group's portfolio, despite the business being £99m in the red.

Along with her husband, private equity boss Guy Hands, she has risked millions of pounds to shore up the business after the company's debt reached £126m.

The pair replaced nearly £27m of bank debt with their own cash in a move that reduced the hotel group's debt burden to £99m, which is provided by Lloyds Banking Group.

Despite the losses, Julia Hands was relaxed about the group's future. "We were looking to buy more hotels but we didn't find any to fit the portfolio, so we took the opportunity last November to reduce the bank debt by over £20m to a level which we now feel very, very comfortable with," she said.

"Bank debt is down to £99m and we're happy with that."

The chief executive said that there were no plans to sell any of the properties within the portfolio and that she is looking to expand the group to a maximum of 20 hotels should the right opportunities present themselves.

However the main priority is to protect the brand, which the company had spent 10 years building up.

"It would be a crying shame to destroy it by giving people a cut-price product or service. We've tried very hard to maintain our standards across the group and we shall continue to do that in 2010," she added.

Hand Picked owes Guy and Julia £11.1m and £11.9 respectively in unsecured loans and Guy another £3.9m in a secured loan.

The group, which owns 17 boutique hotels, including Rookery Hall (pictured) in Cheshire, posted pre-tax losses of £8.2m for the year to November 2009, up from losses of £3.1m the year before.

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By Janie Stamford

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