* 2015 EBIT 665 mln euros vs I/B/E/S poll 659 mln euros
* Q1 to remain difficult in France after attacks - CEO
* Optimistic on 2016 despite France, Brazil; shares rise (Recasts with CEO comments, shares, analyst)
By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, Feb 18 (Reuters) - AccorHotels predicted another strong year in 2016 after Europe’s largest hotel group delivered a forecast-beating record operating profit last year despite Islamist attacks in Paris that hit bookings in its home market.
The French company said a restructuring drive paid off in 2015 and demand rose in most markets except France and Brazil, sending its shares up 3.5 percent.
AccorHotels, undergoing an overhaul begun by Chief Executive Sebastien Bazin in 2013, said it would continue to significantly improve its operational and financial performance this year despite a volatile global economy.
“2016 will probably be another record year,” Bazin told analysts after 2015 operating profit rose 3 percent like-for-like to a record 665 million euros ($739.75 million).
Germany and Britain, Accor’s second and third-largest markets, were the main drivers of revenue growth in northern Europe while revenue rose strongly in Spain and Italy, whose economies have been recovering from recession.
However, AccorHotels was cautious about France, its largest market accounting for 30 percent of group revenue, because of the impact on bookings after the Islamist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people in November.
“The attacks hurt France as a destination. The first quarter will remain difficult in France,” Bazin said.
Bookings were however “good, even very good” from April, notably due to the Euro 2016 soccer championships starting in France in June, finance chief Jean-Jacques Morin said.
In Brazil, where Accor is the biggest hotel operator with 220 hotels, the company is prepared for a lengthy economic slowdown, although the summer Olympic Games could help demand.
Brazil is the group’s fourth-largest market, making up 7 percent of group sales.
AccorHotels has 14 hotel brands ranging from budget Ibis to luxury Sofitel. Its earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) of 665 million euros in 2015 beat the 659 million euros average forecast in a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S poll.
“Robust results in a challenging environment,” said Bryan Garnier analysts in a note.
EBIT was down 10 percent in France in 2015 but up 20 percent in the group’s Northern, Central and Eastern Europe region.
Bazin, a private equity specialist who took over in August 2013, has split Accor into two divisions, HotelServices and HotelInvest, separating its hotel services business from its property activities in a move to boost profitability.
Under his lead, AccorHotels has increased its exposure to China and to the luxury sector by acquiring FRHI Holdings Ltd, the owner of luxury hotels including London’s Savoy and New York’s Plaza, in December.
AccorHotels has also been strengthening its food and drinks range and its digital business to fight the rising challenge of companies such as Airbnb and online travel agents (OTAs) Expedia and Booking.com.
On Thursday it announced the acquisition of a 30 percent stake in Oasis Collections, an American marketplace for private rentals, and of a 49 percent stake in Squarebreak, a French start-up offering high-end rentals in France.
($1 = 0.8990 euros)
Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, editing by Alister Doyle and Adrian Croft