MWB Group, the operator of the Hotel du Vin and Malmaison hotel chains, has this morning spoken of signs of a recovery in the hotel market, as it eyes opportunities to expand the two brands overseas. Unveiling interim results the group, which operates 26 properties under the two luxury brands, said that while the first half of the year had been “one of mixed fortunes”, market conditions were improving and that its strong brands, highly regarded management teams, and focus on minimising costs and driving yields meant it was well placed to benefit from the upturn. The group said it was exploring a number of “exciting opportunities” to expand the Malmaison brand in Europe and the US – in particular it was exploring a number of key European cities, especially in Italy. In the six months to 30 June 2010 ebitda at the two hotel businesses was up 13% to £11.8m on flat revenues of £52.4m, although overall occupancy was 75% compared to 77% last year. MWB said its two hotel businesses had performed “exceptionally well” in the period, given some of the issues impacting the business, such as heavy snowfalls during January, airline strikes and volcanic ash clouds in the spring, compounded by “uncertainties in the political and economic environment”. The group said that despite the occupancy drops of 2% “importantly average room rates held up well, especially at Hotel du Vin which saw a 3% increase to £112”. Malmaison room rates held firm at £100. The group said it was pleased that its restaurants had performed resiliently, with revenues down “only” 3% to £22.3m due to a combination of “great locations, excellent service, good value and well delivered menus”. During the period the group sold its remaining stake in the Liberty retail business just off London’s Regent Street, producing £42m in cash for MWB shareholders.