London hotels suffer worst April

The London hotel market, which has never recovered from the aftermath of 11 September, had its worst April for more than two decades, according to figures published yesterday.

A lack of American and Japanese visitors - scared away by the prospect of flying with war still raging in Iraq - left four in 10 rooms empty in the capital last month.

Monthly figures from PKF, the accountants, show that occupancy dropped to less than 60 per cent for the first time since it began collating records 26 years ago. There were 15 per cent more hotel rooms empty last month than in April 2002.

Melvin Gold, PKF's managing director, warned that even these "disappointing figures" might not mark the lowest point for the market. "With continued uncertainty in economic and political situations around the world, we can only say that it is certainly a low point, but whether it is the low point must remain unanswered at this point," Mr Gold said.

PKF's figures have been mirrored by recent comments from hoteliers. Richard North, the chief executive of InterContinental Hotels, admitted April had been "horrible, for us and the industry". Hilton and Millennium & Copthorne have also reported steep falls in visitor numbers in the past week. And Le Méridien has had to beg its bankers to forget about some of its £1bn debt pile.

Average room rates continued to plummet across London's hotels, dropping to £87.42 from £97.74 in April 2002, with room yields down by nearly a quarter against a year earlier at £52.30. PKF said the percentage fall in the number of tourists from the US and Japan was "well into double digits". As well as the Iraq war, the outbreak of Sars and the Easter weekend - traditionally quiet for the capital - also contributed to the poor figures, PKF added.

With hoteliers and analysts reluctant to predict when business might start to pick up, Mr Gold said the industry might have to look further ahead for signs of improvement. "The one glimmer of hope is the news that London will bid to host the 2012 Olympics," he said.

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