Upper Crust owner SSP will ask shareholders for close to half a billion pounds to tie it over until the travel market recovers from the ravages of Covid-19.

The company, which relies heavily on sales in airports and train stations, said that it intends to raise around £475 million in a rights issue.

Many sites have been forced to close during lockdowns (Aaron Chown/PA)

The money will help position the company for the next stage of the Covid-19 pandemic which has battered SSP’s business, it told shareholders.

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“Over the past year the group has experienced an unprecedented period of disruption in the travel sector,” said chief executive Simon Smith.

“Early and extensive action has enabled us to protect the business and put ourselves in the best possible position to emerge strongly as the market recovers.”

But the full recovery might be drawn out, SSP admitted, saying it could be another three years until the travel market returns to normal.

New variants of the virus, constraints to the supply of vaccines and other lockdown measures mean that the pace of the rebound was slower than bosses had expected late last year.

“Strengthening the balance sheet now will underpin the business if the recovery in the travel sector is slower than we anticipate and it gives us the capacity to invest in growth opportunities as we emerge from the pandemic,” Mr Smith said.

“Our current expectation is that the early recovery will be led by domestic and leisure travel from which we are well-placed to benefit.”

The money will be used in a reasonable worst case scenario to cover liquidity, including the repayment of £300 million worth of Bank of England Covid-19 support loans in February next year.

Alongside Upper Crust, SSP also runs YO! Sushi stores, and Burger King and Starbucks franchises.

It serves customers at 180 airports and 300 rail stations in 35 countries around the world.