InterContinental Hotels Group said on Friday that it has repaid a £600 million UK government loan as the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza owner reported a bounce-back in bookings fuelled by resurgent demand in America and China.
The FTSE 100 firm, which plunged to a $280 million pre-tax loss in 2020 after its "toughest" year ever, said 96% of its estate had reopened by April, with group occupancy at 40% in the first quarter.
IHG highlighted its available liquidity of $2.1 billion as of March 31, and chief executive Keith Barr said the company is continuing with global expansion plans.
The group has said it plans to reduce costs by $75 million this fiscal year while continuing to invest in growth. It opened 56 hotels and made 92 signings worldwide in the quarter.
In an upbeat statement, Barr predicted that “as the rollout of vaccines becomes more established, travel restrictions lift, and economic activity rebuilds, traveller demand will continue to grow and generate further momentum in an industry recovery over the course of the year”.
The group’s largest market is the US, where around 4,500 of its 5,900 hotels are based. IHG said 99% of its Americas hotels have reopened, and that it saw “notable pick-up in demand in March” with a boost from US Spring Break travellers.
US revpar or revenue per available room - a key industry metric many banks look at when making in lending agreements - was down 43% on the first quarter of 2019, and 28% on Q1 2020.
But UK revpar was still down 75% on 2019 levels, the company said. Around 14% of IHG hotels in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia remained closed at the end of March.
Barr said: “Trading continued to improve during the first quarter of 2021.
"There was a notable pick-up in demand in March, particularly in the US and China, which continued into April. While the risk of volatility remains for the balance of the year, there is clear evidence from forward bookings data of further improvement as we look to the months ahead.
"We’re confident that IHG is well positioned for sustained growth.”
Keith Bowman, equity analyst at interactive investor, said the trading update shows “signs of recovery are emerging”.
Shares were up 0.3% in early trading on Friday.