Premier Inn owner reports bookings surge at UK tourist hotspots

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Lee Smith/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Lee Smith/Reuters

The owner of Premier Inn hotels has reported strong demand at UK tourist spots as Britons holiday domestically, but hotels at airports and in central London continue to struggle.

Whitbread, which also owns restaurant brands including Beefeater and Brewers Fayre, has suffered a torrid year of enforced closures, but said on Thursday that it had seen “encouraging trends” since 17 May, when Covid rules in England were eased to allow hotels to reopen.

UK hotel sales were 73% of their pre-pandemic level between reopening and 14 June as domestic tourism boomed after months of lockdown. Holiday locations with Premier Inn hotels include Skegness, Scarborough, Brighton, Cornwall, south Wales, the Lake District and the Highlands.

That gave glimmers of hope after what the chain had previously described as “one of the most challenging years” in its 279-year history. The company lost £1bn in the year to the end of February. It announced up to 6,000 redundancies in September.

Whitbread said: “We expect leisure demand in coastal and other tourist locations to remain very strong throughout the summer, while the full recovery of leisure demand is dependent on the final release of lockdown, and the return of unrestricted events.”

Shares rose nearly 4% in early trading, making Whitbread the top riser on the FTSE 100.

Sales across hotels and restaurants were still heavily affected by lockdown restrictions in its latest financial quarter, the 13 weeks to 27 May. Hotel sales were down 60% compared with the same period in 2019 – the most recent pre-lockdown equivalent – while food and drink sales fell 86%.

Hotels at airports and in central London, both of which are reliant on a recovery in international travel, have continued to lag even after reopening.

Alison Brittain, Whitbread’s chief executive, said trading since 17 May “has been encouraging”, and added that forward bookings “continue to improve, benefiting from the anticipated post-lockdown bounce in leisure demand, and a continued gradual improvement in business bookings”.

Brittain added that she believed Whitbread’s financial firepower would allow it to keep investing in new hotels while others struggled. During the most recent quarter Whitbread opened 10 hotels in the UK and three in Germany to try to capitalise on the recovery.

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