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Whitbread still confident of good year
Occupancy in Premier Inns, the UK's largest budget chain, has dropped over the last few months, its parent company Whitbread said.
Alan Parker, Whitbread's ceo, said the sales trends reported in December were continuing.
"In recent weeks Group like-for-like sales have been predominantly negative, particularly due to lower occupancy in Premier Inn," he said.
He said that since the start of 2009, "it has been difficult to establish any clear trends."
But Mr Parker said he expected profits for the year to be "in line with market expectations."
Occupancy levels have dropped from 65% to the high 50s with the chain's Heathrow property badly hit.
But Mr Parker said that business travel was holding up well with companies looking for less expensive accommodation but leisure sales were falling.
In its interim statement for the 50 weeks to February 12, 2009, Whitbread said that total sales for Premier Inn were up 14.3% compared with the same 50 weeks a year ago.
Total sales for the Group's hotels and restaurants were up 11.5%.
Mr Parker said that by the end of 2009, Premier Inn would have 54 new hotels, bringing its total to 626 with just over 40,000 rooms.
He said that the Group's Business Account was attracting more interest with total accounts up by 40% and sales up 26%.
Mr Parker said he expected 2009 would be a "very challenging year" and the Group would focus on three key priorities: achieving cash flow neutrality in 2009/10, reducing operating costs and outperforming the opposition.