De Vere, the hotel company that now manages the Belfry on a 25-year management contract after selling it for £186 million and passing £183 million to its shareholders in a special dividend, reported yesterday that the hotel had a disappointing Easter.
Easter fell ahead of the start of the golf season this year and poor weather made things worse. Looking ahead chief executive Carl Leaver warned: "A softer leisure market will require a softer approach to pricing."
This should be offset by stronger demand from business customers, which is enabling de Vere to increase its midweek prices. But overall, Mr Leaver expects like-for-like sales to grow more slowly in the second half to September.
In the half-year to March, like-for-like sales were two per cent higher at £134.5 million and operating profits rose 7.7 per cent to £19.7 million.
The interim dividend is raised by 7 per cent to 4.58p, but the shares finished 5p lower at 515p.
Mr Leaver is expanding de Vere's mid-market chain of "Village" hotels. There are now 14 across the country, including a new one opened in Walsall before Christmas. Another three are being built.
Village Hotels and Leisure Clubs increased their like-forlike sales by 3.6 per cent in the half-year and by six per cent in the four weeks after the end of March.
Pursuing a policy of low capital-intensive expansion he has signed a two-year contract to manage a new 150-bedroom hotel in Murcia, Spain complete with an 18-hole championship golf course and beach club.
"We have been seeing an emerging trend through the first six months of a less fizzy consumer, but alongside that we've been seeing a stronger corporate market," Mr Leaver said.
"The slightly weaker consumer is not a disaster for De Vere Group. These six months we have been able to show a significant outperformance of the market."
De Vere's up-market hotels boosted their like-for-like sales by three per cent in the half-year, but this fell to 1.2 per cent in the four weeks after March. Mr Leaver said de Vere is unlikely to try a repeat of the sale of The Belfry.
The Irish entrepreneur Sean Quinn, who bought it, had earlier failed to buy Wentworth golf course and was looking for a trophy asset.
"We don't foresee that kind of special situation for any of our other hotels," Mr Leaver said. "But if you know anyone who wants to pay a 47 per cent premium for any of our assets, then please give them my phone number."
Membership of de Vere's Greens health clubs bucked the sector difficulties, increasing by 5.9 per cent in the first four weeks of the second half.