A number of rival media outlets are reporting today (Friday 27 November) that the latest tier two and three tolling of the Covid bells could spell the end of pubs as we know them in the UK. We reported from the NTI newsroom yesterday that both Mitchells & Butlers and Fullers announced heavy redundancies across the hospitality sector, and many believe that only being allowed to drink alcohol if accompanied by a substantial meal (which should be eaten responsibly) could completely kill off a mortally wounded pub trade.
Of course it is churlish to think that pubs, whether owned by current landlords or the next in line, will be closed for good, as Brits will be thirsty, newly employed, wearing shorts in March and hammering on the doors of inns once they are vaccinated, but the point is that if you are an Insolvency Practitioner with a small chain of five closed pubs on your hands what on Earth are you going to do with them?
The answer, it appears, may come from Italy. It is the only European country with more than a million hotel rooms, and big chains only account for 5 per cent of them. The pandemic has lured investors out of the woodwork and they are eager to purchase notable properties whilst awaiting a resurgence in hotel bookings for 2021. EasyJet have already placed landing gear on this bandwagon by announcing a new schedule of 28,000 flights and five million seats from March 2021, with fares leading in at £14.99 for a one-way orange journey.
In Italy hotel assets are an attractive proposition for those with money to burn and they are 'girando intorno come falchi' many family-owned businesses that have gone to the wall this autumn. French group Covivo recently finalised the acquisition of seven Italian hotels from a US private equity group for £550 million, but it is true that this did include Rome's Hotel Exedra. It is reported that there is more demand than availability for some of the privately owned gems and to stop prime Italian real estate being sold off to nasty foreigners (who the Government don't mind staying in the hotels, it's just the owning of them they object to) the state-backed investor Cassa Depositi e Prestiti has launched a two billion Euro real estate fund to take over the properties, leaving the management of them with the former owners.
Paolo Barletta and Nicola Bulgari have launched a company in Italy to focus on the acquisition and renovation of hotels who are struggling to pay their debts. It got NTI to thinking that this could be the answer in Great Britain. An IP with some pubs to shift could add classical classical features and architectural elements such as columns, pilasters, pediments, entablatures, arches, and domes to the exterior of the average Queen's Head or Royal Oak, chuck in a pizza oven and hang some plastic bougainvillea over the fence. You would then have yourself an Italian gem. Call it a 'palazzo' and the price triples. The issue, of course, is that the Italians cannot do plumbing if their lives depended on it, so an inventive insolvency professional would need to sew a kipper into the lining of the bathroom curtains to give the property an 'authentic Italian feel'.
That should shift them.