ACCOR is to reactivate development of its no-frills Formule 1 concept in the UK, after seeing improved trading at its three hotels in Doncaster, Stockton-on-Tees and Peterborough.
A year ago expansion was put on indefinite hold and the company's development team for the brand was withdrawn. But a new team headed by John Ozinga, currently in charge of operations in The Netherlands, is now being assembled and will move to the UK in June.
Speaking from Rotterdam this week, Mr Ozinga told Caterer the company hoped to open up to 75 Formule 1 units by the year 2000, with an ultimate potential for as many as 150 properties.
As on the Continent, expansion will largely be funded by Accor itself rather than by franchising, with development costs expected to work out at more than £1m for a 64-bedroom hotel, including land costs.
Accor's plans to resurrect Formule 1 in the UK come as something of a surprise given the product's lacklustre performance since the first hotel opened in Doncaster in July 1991.
Occupancy figures of less than 20% were not uncommon over the two years that followed - despite a tariff of just £15-£19 a room for up to three people - and the concept rapidly acquired the tag "Formule Flop" within the industry.
But according to Mr Ozinga, trading has climbed to 40% in recent months and is still rising as the economy improves and customers become more aware of the brand.
He said there were no plans to alter the Formule 1 format of providing one bathroom for every four bedrooms, although there would be a number of changes of approach.
He admitted, for example, that the company had underestimated the challenge of the bed and breakfast sector. As a result, from 1 June the price of Continental breakfast will be slashed from £2.50 a head to just £1.50.
Money is also to be pumped into a structured marketing programme which properly addresses the different nuances and requirements of the British public, although tourists from theContinent are also to be targeted.
But most important, perhaps, Accor has recognised that to properly establish the brand, which is unfamiliar to the majority of British people, it needs to build hotels in London and the South-east, even if land costs are more expensive than in the North.
"We are convinced there is still a market for Formule 1 in the UK and we want to develop that potential," Mr Ozinga declared. "We have decided to put in the money needed to make the brand successful."
He said he was already on the lookout for sites and hoped to have the first hotel in the south of England open early next year.