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Whitbread to shed Marriott portfolio

22 November 2004
Whitbread to shed Marriott portfolio

Leisure group Whitbread looks set to "do an InterContinental" and sell off its £1.1b Marriott hotel portfolio.

The group is expected to announce plans to raise £250m through a "sale and manage back" of a quarter of its Marriott estate today (28 October), having last month hoisted a for-sale sign above 11 Courtyard properties.

A spokesman hinted that a more comprehensive sell-off was on the cards, but would take time.

"If we were going to do that we couldn't move from a fully owner-operated model to an operator model overnight," he said.

However, he added that last year the group's financial director David Richardson had said that having £1.1b tied up in Marriott returning at 6% "was not all that clever".

Robert Chess, head of the hotels division of chartered surveyor Fleurets, said he wouldn't be surprised if Whitbread sold its entire Marriott estate and managed it back.

Dominic Mayes of Knight Frank's hotels division agreed. "It seems everyone is going down that route," he said.

Leisure and hotels analyst David Liston, of stockbroker Gerard, said releasing capital through a review of Whitbread's property portfolio "looks like the right thing for them to do".

However, he pointed out that Whitbread's Marriott hotels were smaller, had lower quality ratings and were more regional than InterContinental's properties, which made it hard to ascertain how much enthusiasm there would be if the group were to put its whole estate on the market.

Once the Marriott disposal gets under way, the group looks set to dispose of other elements of its £2.4b property portfolio, with analysts tipping restaurant chain TGI Friday's with its 41 leasehold and freehold sites as a favourite.

However, while the Whitbread spokesman said the group would continue to churn the TGI estate alongside those of its pub-restaurant chains, he said it still had growth potential.

The group is also widely tipped to offload its 23.75% stake in the soft drinks business Britvic next year, raising a further £200m.

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