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Sales jump 10% at budget hotel chain

Leisure group Whitbread reported stronger sales at its budget hotel brand Premier Inn after a pick-up in demand from business customers.

Special offers also boosted occupancy at weekends and holiday periods as Premier, which operates two hotels in Belfast, posted a 10.9% rise in like-for-like sales for the quarter to August 19, slightly ahead of the 10.5% growth rate seen in June.

The hotel chain, which generates around two-thirds of Whitbread's profits, has benefited from increased marketing, including an advertising campaign fronted by comedian Lenny Henry, and the impact of "dynamic pricing" where rooms are priced according to demand.

It said business account sales were up by more than 20% as cost-conscious firms continued to focus on staff travel expenses.

The chain is set to build a third Premier Inn in Belfast's Titanic Quarter.

Whitbread also reported further strong trading at its coffee shop chain Costa, which operates several outlets in the province, as new drinks and food offers helped quarterly like-for-like sales lift 8.1% - similar to the rate seen in June.

In the restaurant division, which includes the brands Beefeater and Brewers Fayre, like-for-like sales for the most recent quarter were up 4.3%, against a 3.6% rise in the first three months of the company's financial year.

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Whitbread said the division attracted 6.7% more customers in the period due to value-for-money menus featuring "some of the nation's favourite dishes".

Alan Parker, who is due to step down as chief executive in November, said Whitbread remained confident over prospects for the remainder of the year, although it faces tougher comparisons with a year earlier.

He added: "We will continue to make progress in this 'age of austerity' by relentlessly focusing on meeting the needs of our customers."

Whitbread opened nine new hotels with a total of 795 rooms during the financial year to date, with another 1,905 rooms planned for the rest of the period.

It has opened a total of 98 Costa stores in the year to date, including 54 company-operated stores.

The company, which employs 34,000 people, has appointed easyJet boss Andy Harrison as Mr Parker's replacement.