Hotels and coffee a winning duo at Whitbread

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STRONG demand at Premier Inn hotels and continued growth at Costa Coffee helped leisure group Whitbread post a 4.3 per cent rise in its first-quarter same-floorspace sales yesterday.

It came as the parent company also announced that Lloyds Banking Group executive Alison Brittain would join Whitbread as chief executive designate on 28 September and replace outgoing Andy Harrison as its boss in December. That is a month earlier than previously planned.

Sales at Costa Coffee stores open more than a year up 5 per cent in the quarter

Sales at Costa Coffee stores open more than a year up 5 per cent in the quarter

Harrison has helped Whitbread’s stock market value jump to almost £10 billion from £2.5bn during his five years at the helm.

The group said yesterday that underlying sales at Premier Inn climbed 6.3 per cent in the 13 weeks to 28 May, with new floorspace beefing up that revenues advance to 14.3 per cent.

It was also a positive picture at Costa Coffee, with sales at UK stores open more than a year up 5 per cent in the quarter, and total sales up 17.2 per cent.

In April Whitbread boosted its expansion targets out to 2020, aiming to reach some 85,000 Premier Inn rooms in the UK against 59,471 now.

“Hotels opening in London are filling up immediately”

Andy Harrison

Over the same period, it said it wanted to increase Costa’s sales to £2.5bn from £1.4bn currently as it expands overseas.

Harrison said yesterday that the strong performance of Premier Inn and Costa saw Whitbread’s total sales rise 12.5 per cent in the 13 weeks to 28 May.

Total revpar – revenue per available room, a key hotel sector metric – grew 6.1 per cent, while Harrison said “occupancy remained high at 80.6 per cent”.

Some City analysts noted that although the like-for-like sales performance was decent, it was down slightly on the 6.5 per cent rise in the first quarter of Whitbread’s last trading year.

But Harrison stressed “This is a continuation of the very strong momentum we saw last year. Looking at quarterly blips is not where the story lies.”

He cited a 0.1 per cent fall in Premier Inns’ like-for-like sales in London masking that it had opened a further 800-plus rooms in the English capital and retained 86 per cent occupancy.

“That means new hotels we are opening in London are selling and filling up immediately,” Harrison added.

Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said: “Costa Coffee and Premier Inn continue to fire as Whitbread benefits from the momentum it has built over a considerable period of time.”

Another analyst commented: “I have some sympathy with Harrison’s frustration. It is a victim of its own success in trying to improve each time on reliably strong comparatives at Premier and Costa.”

On her appointment, Brittain will become one of a handful of female bosses among the UK’s biggest 100 listed firms.

Other current female FTSE 100 chief executives are Kingfisher’s Veronique Laury, Severn Trent’s Liv Garfield, Moya Greene of Royal Mail, Alison Cooper at Imperial Tobacco and EasyJet’s Carolyn McCall.

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