Mini-breaks help De Vere to ride out economic slowdown

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The increasing popularity of Bridget Jones-style "mini-breaks" helped De Vere to report strong sales figures yesterday, further demonstrating the resilience of regional hotel operators in times of an economic slowdown.

Paul Dermody, De Vere's chief executive, said the group had benefited from its ability to switch its emphasis from the corporate to the leisure market. "Being able to move between those two businesses gives us flexibility and strength," he said.

The group, which owns upmarket De Vere hotels, mid-market Village hotels and Greens health and fitness clubs, said demand for larger conference events was still soft but enthusiasm for leisure breaks had increased.

Mr Dermody said his 21 hotels attracted leisure visitors either "because of the facilities associated with the hotels or the location". The group's Slaley Hall hotel in Northumberland is located in 1,000 acres, has two golf courses and a spa, while the Grand, in Brighton, has "an attractive leisure-based destination" on its doorstep, Mr Dermody said.

De Vere said sales from October to January had risen by 10.7 per cent. Its De Vere hotels achieved 3.1 per cent growth in revenue per room – a key measure of profitability in the sector – while the same figure rose 1.1 per cent at its Village hotels.

The strength of trading at De Vere contrasted with weaker figures from larger leisure groups such as Six Continents. Analysts said this reflected the high quality of the De Vere estate as well as its mainly provincial portfolio. The company has just one property in London, which, like the other gateway cities, has borne the brunt of the shortfall in tourists.

Mr Dermody said the company had taken advantage of the slowdown in the London market to accelerate the refurbishment of its De Vere Cavendish property. "[The hotel] will be back on stream again by the end of September, when I'm convinced that the London market will come back," he said.

De Vere also said it would host the rescheduled Ryder Cup golf tournament at The Belfry, the Warwickshire-based hotel and golf course complex. The event was due to be held a couple of weeks after 11 September and was cancelled when a string of golf stars, including Tiger Woods, refused to travel to Britain. The group is seeking compensation for lost income.