Whitbread sees recovery move into the regions

​W​HITBREAD​, Britain’s biggest hotel ​​operator, ​reported strong growth in demand ​outside London and said this is a clear sign that the ​rest of the ​country’s economic recovery is gathering pace.

Andy Harrison
Andy Harrison

​The group said its 46 Premier Inns in Yorkshire​ performed well over the 13 weeks to May 29, contributing to a 9.5 per cent increase in the chain’s ​like-for-like sales over the quarter.

The strong performance from the hotel business drove a 6.9 per cent increase in the company’s first-quarter like-for-like sales.

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​While the London hotel market has been strong for over a year as ​the capital​ emerged from a prolonged economic downturn, that has not been the case outside of London.

​Whitbread’s chief ​e​xecutive Andy Harrison ​said: “We know that hotel demand is quite closely linked to economic activity, so it tells us that there are clear signs of economic recovery in the UK regions which we were not seeing a year ago​.

“We are seeing a good performance right throughout the UK.”

​​Premier Inn’s ​​revenue per available room, a key industry measure, ​rose 8.8 per​ ​cent​ across all its 670 UK hotels, but growth was higher in the regions.

“I think what’s interesting is if you look in the UK regions, where ​​​revenue per available room for the total hotel market is up 9.2 per​ ​cent,”​ said Mr Harrison.

In the UK regions, Premier’s total sales grew by 15.3​ per cent​ in the quarter, with rev​enue per available room up 9.9 per cent and occupancy of 80​ per cent​, up 4.9 percentage points.​

Premier Inn​ reported a 14.2 per cent increase in total sales ​over​ the 13 weeks ​and occupancy of 80.7​ per cent​ was up 4.2 percentage points on a year earlier.

​Whitbread plans to add around 4,500 UK rooms and five joint site restaurants in the current financial year to February as it works towards a target of 75,000 rooms by 2018, compared with the current figure of 57,000.

Jonathan Jackson, head of equities at Killik & Co, said: “Premier Inn benefited from a buoyant hotel market, driven by continuing growth in London and clearer signs of economic recovery in the UK regions.”

Elsewhere in the group, coffee chain ​Costa​‘s ​​like-for-like​ ​sales ​rose​ 4.5​ per cent​ despite toug​h​ comparisons ​last​ year​.

T​he Brewers Fayre and Beefeater restaurants division ​reported a 4.4​ per cent increase in underlying sales, helped by weak numbers last year.

“The restaurants business also performed well, with like-for-like sales growth of 4.4 per cent, outperforming the industry benchmark, which was boosted by soft comparatives due to cold weather in the first quarter last year,” said Mr Jackson.

“During the quarter, the group opened 208 UK rooms, and for the full year expects to open around 4,500 UK rooms and five joint site restaurants.”

Mr Harrison said the group ​i​s well positioned for another good year as its brands continue to win market share.

Costa, which has 1,791 UK stores and has been the driving force behind the group’s growth in recent years, opened a net 36 new UK stores in the quarter.

Whitbread has grown rapidly in recent years ​following strong​ demand from cost-conscious customers for affordable hotels and an increasing trend for takeaway coffee which has driven growth at its Costa chain.

However, demand for restaurants has been less resilient.​

“​The restaurant market is finding life tough because consumer real disposable income is under pressure​,” said Mr Harrison​.

​“​However, there are more people in employment, the housing market is stronger and confidence has picked up​.”

Whitbread has 43 new Premier Inn hotels under construction in the UK​​. Costa is expected to open around 300 net new stores this year.

Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown stockbrokers, said: “Despite coming up against strong comparatives, the company has posted extremely strong sales growth.

“The growth in the restaurants business was perfectly creditable, Premier Inn stronger still and Costa was again the jewel in the crown with an excellent set of numbers. ​Whitbread does not plan to rest on its laurels, with further expansion targeted to underpin its presence in each of the markets it operates.​”​