LONDON-British leisure group Whitbread may put up for sale its luxury Marriott UK hotels with a price tag of euro 1.4 billion ($1.9 billion).

“In its business review on Oct. 28, 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,” according to a statement from the group.

Whitbread had been expected to sell half of the Marriott hotels through a sale and manage-back which will allow the company to continue to run the hotels. But the latest announcement is being seen in the city as an indication of the company’s willingness to get out of the four and five-star sector with an outright sale. The problem with a sale-and-manage back is that Whitbread has to pay franchise fees to Marriott International, the US owner of the brand, and these fees could make such a deal unviable.

Morgan Stanley and CB Richard Ellis, the firms handling the sale and manage-back, are tipped to handle the new process, which will attract interest from property, private equity and trade buyers. Likely bidders for the 12 Marriott country clubs include De Vere Hotels. Marriott International could throw its hat into the ring but the biggest bidders are likely to be funds.

Whitbread’s problems with Marriott stem from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Since then the division has struggled to produce returns that would keep the city happy. Last week Whitbread admitted that the Marriott recovery had stalled, due mainly to the impact of the weak dollar on American clients.