June 17, 2014 / 6:30 AM / 4 years ago

UK's Whitbread says starts year well

LONDON (Reuters) - Whitbread, Britain’s biggest hotel and coffee shop operator, reported a robust start to the year on Tuesday, driven by particularly strong growth at its Premier Inn hotels business.

The group said sales at outlets open over a year rose 6.9 percent in the 13 weeks to May 29, its fiscal first quarter, with underlying sales at its Premier Inn and Costa Coffee divisions up 9.5 percent and 4.5 percent respectively.

Premier Inn’s revenue per available room (RevPAR), a key industry measure, rose 8.8 percent, benefiting from a buoyant hotel market driven by continuing growth in London and clearer signs of economic recovery in the UK regions.

Underlying sales at the group’s restaurant business, which includes brands such as Brewers Fayre, rose 4.4 percent.

The group’s overall like-for-like sales growth compares to growth of 4.2 percent in the 2013-14 financial year.

Whitbread has grown rapidly in recent years due to demand from cost-conscious customers for affordable hotels and an increasing trend for takeaway coffee.

Shares in the firm, which have risen 43 percent over the last year, closed Monday at 4,168 pence, valuing the business at 7.56 billion pounds ($12.7 billion).

“Whitbread is well positioned for another good year with our strong brands continuing to win market share, reinforced by ambitious organic network expansion,” said Chief Executive Andy Harrison.

The firm currently has 43 new Premier Inn hotels under construction in the UK and expects to open around 4,500 new rooms this year. Costa is expected to open around 300 net new stores this year.

Reporting by James Davey; editing by Kate Holton and Paul Sandle

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