Now the Savoy is sold to America

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AS EFFORTS to rebrand Britain "Cool Britannia" rumble on, some of the country's most famous and historic hotels have been sold to an American investment group.

After weeks of protracted negotiations, an agreement was reached yesterday to sell The Savoy Hotel Group in London, as part of a deal worth pounds 520m. In addition to the Savoy, famous for its hushed tones, tail-coated doormen and American Bar cocktail lounge, the deal will include Claridge's, The Berkeley and The Connaught. It will also include The Savoy Theatre, The Lygon Arms in the Cotswolds and Simpson's-in-the-Strand restaurant.

None very cool perhaps, but very historic.

The deal will see the group and the famous hotel - opened in 1889 and the first public building to be lit completely by electricity - being taken over by Blackstone Hotel Acquisitions Company, backed by US investment companies Blackstone Group and Colony Capital.

Chairman Sir Ewen Fergusson said: "The Savoy's hotels are some of the most distinguished in the world and are a credit to Ramon Pajares and all the employees of the group. By drawing on the skills of the existing management team and employees, the Blackstone offer will provide a platform to build on the unique character and history of the Savoy and allow it to grow abroad whilst maintaining the quality and characteristic of the Savoy's hotels."

Thomas Barrack, chairman and chief executive of Colony Capital, added: "The hotels that constitute the Savoy Group are unlike any in the world and enjoy an international reputation for quality and service."

Not everyone will be delighted. Julian Wontner, son of former Savoy chairman Sir Hugh Wontner and a beneficiary of the trusts that held 58 per cent of the Savoy's controlling B shares, has recently spoken out against what he sees as moves to change forever the exclusive image of the chain's hotels.

Mr Wontner, who admittedly prefers the Savoy of old said he believed the hotel was being turned into a place where staff incapable of good service wait on guests who would not appreciate it anyway.

"The sort of people who stay at the Savoy now would ring down and ask the hall porter to order a pizza from the outside," he said. "Are those the sort of people you want to have at the Savoy?"

However, while the Savoy's charms may be slightly fading, there is no doubting the financial attraction of the group. In the year to December 31, the Savoy Group made a pre-tax profit of pounds 22.2 million, against a loss for the same period in the previous year of pounds 24.3 million.

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