Lenny will be laughing as Premier Inn sales jump 10.5 per cent

ROCKETING demand for weekend breaks at Whitbread-owned budget hotel chain Premier Inn has driven an impressive bounce in like-for-like sales.

Premier Inn has benefited from the advertising campaign fronted by comedian Lenny Henry. Picture: Complimentary

The leisure company, which also owns the Costa Coffee chain and Beefeater and Brewers Fayre restaurants, said Premier Inn's sales jumped 10.5 per cent in its first trading quarter. That followed a 4 per cent decline at the full-year stage in April.

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Whitbread said Premier Inn had benefited from beefed-up marketing, including an advertising campaign fronted by comedian Lenny Henry.

Rival chain Travelodge recently launched its own ad campaign featuring soft toys Mr Sleep and the Zzz Squad.

Premier Inn's weekend occupancy had risen significantly after rooms were priced at 29 for leisure guests, the group said. Business account sales at the chain jumped 21 per cent to more than 50 million, as many corporate guests continued to trade down in the fragile economic recovery.

Whitbread's pub restaurants, often sited alongside Premier Inn hotels, grew like-for-like sales 3.6 per cent in the 13 weeks to 3 June. It came as the company hailed "another outstanding performance" at its Costa Coffee business, with like-for-like sales up 8.5 per cent. Whitbread shares jumped 3.6 per cent to close the day at 1,531p.

Richard Hunter, UK equities head at broker Hargreaves Lansdown, called the trading update "extremely impressive".

"Whilst the outcome of the Budget could yet provide a drag on prospects, the company's value offerings have thus far proved very resilient," Hunter said.

Alan Parker, Whitbread chief executive, cited a decision last year to increase market share, reduce costs and conserve cash, which he said created a "positive momentum" in the 2010-11 financial year.

Parker, who will retire in November after 18 years with the firm to be replaced with current EasyJet chief executive and former RAC boss Andy Harrison, said: "Whitbread has performed well in recession and is strongly placed for any recovery."

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However, he gave warning yesterday that "we are aware that comparables get more challenging as the year progresses and we are not planning on the consumer climate becoming any easier".

Premier Inn opened four hotels with a total of 380 rooms in the quarter, part of 2,500 new rooms due to open in this financial year.

Whitbread's group same-floorspace sales rose 7.6 per cent in the latest trading quarter. But City analysts said it was too early in the year to revise annual profits guidance.

Numis Securities maintained its top-of-the-range forecast of 256.8m, compared with the 223.6m reported a year earlier.