De Vere to sell venues arm for up to £300m

Kasmira Jefford
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BRITAIN’S largest conference centre chain was yesterday put up for sale by its owners and is expected to fetch up to £300m.

De Vere Group, the hotel and health club operator part-controlled by Lloyds Banking Group said it has hired investment bank Lazards to sell De Vere Venues, after receiving “a number of unsolicited approaches”.

De Vere Venues has 30 centres with around 3,000 bedrooms in the UK, mainly in the home counties, London and along the M25 corridor and is valued at around £280m.

The company has been trading well and is expected to generate around £28m earnings this year, helped by long-term contracts with blue-chip clients such as BMW.

The sale will help cut the £1.1bn of debt that De Vere owes Lloyds. The tax-payer-backed bank is also the biggest shareholder in the group after taking control via a £650m debt-for-equity swap in 2010. Lloyds has several other hotels on its books it is looking to divest as the bank unloads billions of pounds of loans it inherited from its takeover of HBOS in 2009.

Principal Hayley, a rival hotel and conference business also backed by Lloyds was sold to Starwood Capital last month for around £360m.

The sale also signals a revival in the UK’s hotel and leisure market, which saw just £300m of deals in the second half of 2012, a sharp slowdown on the £2.5bn in the same period of 2011.

This year has so far been dominated by distressed hotel sales, with Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund buying 42 Marriott hotels held by Royal Bank of Scotland in a deal thought to have been worth around £640m.

Research by Jones Lang LaSalle last month showed 2013 has been the most active year for administrations or receiverships, with a total of £1.62bn UK hotels sold as a result of administrations and receiverships over the last three years.