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Travelodge to build hotels in empty offices

Budget chain Travelodge wants to turn empty office space in London left unlet due to the credit crunch into hotel accommodation.

The group has begun an aggressive expansion plan which will see it look to treble in size to 70,000 rooms in fewer than a dozen years.

Travelodge’s head of property and developer Paul Harvey said the firm has now begun a hunt for space it can easily turn into hotels as part of its growth strategy.

Mr Harvey said the growing amount of unlet space - a report by property consultant Drivers Jonas said last week the figure would increase significantly in the next few years - was an ideal opportunity to take up some of the slack caused by oversupply.

He added: “This is very good news for us and an opportunity that has never been there for us before.

“We will work with all types of building and location. One of the biggest challenges is to find that good locality, so office conversions are an obvious option for us.”

More evidence of the impact of the credit crunch came this week when property developer British Land said it made a pre-tax loss of £1.6 billion in the year to March. Its chief executive Stephen Hester admitted: “We remain in a stressed market environment.”

Mr Harvey said the amount of time it would take to convert office space to a hotel chain would change from borough to borough. He said: “It really will vary from site to site and depend on the councils in each area.”

Travelodge, which was snapped up by investment firm Dubai International Capital back in 2006, is also looking at picking up the assets of stricken rivals forced out of business, which Mr Harvey said would then be rebranded.

The moves are part of a strategy which will see it open 45 new hotels a year for at least the next decade under company plans to take a 10 per cent UK hotel market share by 2020.

Travelodge has 205 sites in the pipeline and is in the early stages of discussion for the purchase of about 300 more.

It is also looking at upping the number of modular hotels it builds in the capital ahead of the 2012 London Olympics.

Its first hotel using this method of construction opens in Uxbridge, north-west London, later this year and Mr Harvey said temporary hotels could be ordered and put up in just six months.

Hotel chain’s 10-year plan

Travelodge wants to add up to 45 hotels – equivalent to 4,000 rooms – every year for the next decade.

It hopes to have about 1,000 hotels (70,000 rooms) by 2020, up from its current level of 330.

An average size Travelodge hotel is about 80 rooms but the property team wants bigger hotels in the future to reach an average of 100 rooms.

Late last year the company announced a £25 million bounty to the public to help search for new hotels across the country.

It offered up to £150,000 to any individual who found a new location or existing building in the UK that resulted in a Travelodge hotel opening.

The size of the bounty depends on the number of bedrooms a hotel could fit.

Analysis: Will planners back Travelodge move?

By David Rogers

Travelodge is clearly a company in a hurry. Not every firm says that it is prepared to call on the help of the public - and offer to pay a princely sum in the process - for their help in making a private company grow.

Just how many people would have considered turning all this spare capacity in the office market into bedrooms and breakfast bars is a moot point.

But the big question for Travelodge is how easy will it be to turn what was previously marked for traders into room 27?

Theoretically, if it’s open plan then it shouldn’t be too hard. The tricky bit is convincing planners that have given the OK for one thing to now give permission to turn it into something else instead.

Perhaps one way for Travelodge to overcome any setbacks is to promote the sustainability of all this. After all, it’s recycling of a kind.