Shares in Whitbread have today risen 69p – almost 8% - on the back of a report in The Times newspaper that the group was in discussions to exit the four-star hotel market with the disposal of Marriott for £1bn. The group had been in discussions to sell half its Marriott property portfolio under a proposed sale-and-manage-back arrangement, but is now in talks over an entire disposal. Whitbread issued a statement to the stock market this morning, which said: “Whitbread notes the recent press speculation relating to the sale of its Marriott UK hotel assets. “In its Business Review on 28 October 2004, the company announced plans for a partial sale and manage back of its Marriott UK hotels. The company confirms that it is currently in discussions which may or may not lead to the disposal of some or all of these hotel assets.” Analysts said the resulting lift in share price was due to the expectation that any large-scale disposal would see cash returned to shareholders. It would also provide evidence that the newly-anointed chief executive, Alan Parker – who previously ran Marriott, was prepared to take the necessary steps to realise value. Following a 100-day review of the business last year Parker spoke of evolution, rather than revolution. One analyst said: “It is a dramatic, value-creating move and a complete turnaround from the 100-day review. It also has implications for the rest of the business.” The shares closed at 965p, leaving Whitbread capitalised at £2.68bn.