Holiday Inn owner says U.S. demand picks up ahead of summer

graphical user interface: FILE PHOTO: The Holiday Inn Express is seen in St Julian's © Reuters/DARRIN ZAMMIT LUPI FILE PHOTO: The Holiday Inn Express is seen in St Julian's

(Reuters) -Holiday Inn owner InterContinental Hotels said on Friday U.S. demand was gathering pace ahead of the summer season and reported strong revenue for March, adding that forward-bookings indicate further pick-up in the coming months.

The rebound comes after IHG sunk to an annual loss for 2020 and called it the most challenging year in its 200-year history, as the health crisis saw countries across the world impose months-long lockdowns and travel curbs to contain the outbreak.

"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," Chief Executive Officer Keith Barr said.

While IHG's revenue per available room (RevPAR), a key performance indicator for the industry, was down 50.6% in the first quarter ended March, the company notched an improvement from the previous quarter when it was down 53.2%.

Its RevPAR was up 20.8% in March, with Greater China region recording a surge of 288.6% from a year earlier.

Steady COVID-19 vaccine rollouts and the easing of lockdown curbs in most regions including the United States, IHG's biggest market, have offered respite after a painful 2020 for the industry, as has the popularity of staycations.

The FTSE-listed company, which owns the Crowne Plaza brand, said there was a notable pick-up in demand in March, particularly in the United States and China, which continued into April.

The company also said it has repaid 600 million pounds ($834.30 million) it had taken under the government's lending scheme introduced last year in light of the pandemic.

($1 = 0.7192 pounds)

(Reporting by Muvija M in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

Holiday Inn owner says U.S. demand picks up ahead of summer