Festive spending cheers leisure industry

The leisure industry appears to have enjoyed a happy Christmas. Jarvis Hotels, the mid-market hotel operator, yesterday revealed that turnover had risen 23 per cent, and like-for-like sales were up more than a fifth, in the run up to Christmas and new year.

John Jarvis, chairman and chief executive of Jarvis Hotels, said: "Unlike some of the apparent high street retail experience, our customers seemed to determined to enjoy the holiday season."

The group has enjoyed bumper bookings due to the trend for firms which have had to cap wage rises instead rewarding employees with Christmas parties. There is also evidence of strong growth in the short break market, with more people going away for the festive period, especially between Boxing Day and the New Year.

Themed breaks such as walking holidays and murder mystery weekends are proving extremely popular as more Britons eschew a traditional family Christmas.

Jarvis is also close to making its first big acquisition after announcing it had a pounds 100m war chest at its disposal on unveiling its interim results in November.

"A deal is imminent. We are close to buying a major hotel with health and fitness centre in a big city. It will be the first of many acquisitions," said Mr Jarvis.

The good news is not confined to the hotel sector. Old English Pub Company, the pub and coaching inn operator, added to the good news, revealing that trading was buoyant in December, with like-for-like sales rising by 8.1 per cent thanks to a sharp rise in food sales. It had planned to sell 5,000 Christmas Day lunches but ended up selling more than a thousand extra.

Freeport Leisure, which runs factory outlets and leisure villages, also had a storming Christmas. "It has been an excellent Christmas, with all our sites performing strongly," said Sean Collidge, the group's chief executive.

Analysts believe that further evidence of Christmas strong trading in the pub and hotel industries should emerge later this week with Whitbread announcing a trading statement on Wednesday. The market will also be watching closely for comments from Thistle, the troubled hotel group which recently lost long-standing chief executive Robert Peel and is in need of a decent set of trading figures to calm investors' nerves. Diageo, the Grand Metropolitan and Guinness combine, could also give an update on sales and how the Far East financial turmoil has hit profits.

- Andrew Yates

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