The Premier Inn owner Whitbread has reported a pre-tax £1bn loss as sales fell by almost 75% due to Covid-19 lockdowns, however, the hospitality group said summer bookings had surged.
As the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of sites across the group, which also includes the Beefeater and Brewers Fayre pub-restaurant chains, revenues fell 71% to £589m in what was “one of the most challenging years” in its 279-year history, according to the chief executive, Alison Brittain.
However, Whitbread said it was “investing to win” for 2022 and expects to invest more than £350m, including opening an extra 2,000-3,000 rooms in the UK and its first major marketing campaign this month, which saw the return of Sir Lenny Henry to promote the brand.
Occupancy levels were just 23% in January and 29% in February, and the company said the record loss was in part a result of a £348 million impairment charge on its portfolio in Germany.
92% of Whitbread’s hotels are now open and the company said it is expecting “strong demand” for “staycations” throughout summer, and expects business travel and event-led demand “to gradually recover” later this year.
The group said its balance sheet and liquidity position remained strong, enhanced by last year’s £1b rights issue and the £550m green bond issue in February. At the end of the financial year, the business had access to £1.3b cash and an undrawn revolving credit facility of £950.0m.
Chief executive Alison Brittain said: “The last financial year was one of the most challenging in our 279-year history, as we operated under significant Covid restrictions which had many implications for our businesses, our customers and our people. Our business model enabled us to respond rapidly to the changing restrictions and to quickly adapt our operations as required, prioritising the health and safety of our colleagues and our customers.
“This response was possible due to the efforts of our colleagues in our hotels, restaurants and support centre, who continue to work tirelessly to maintain our very high operating standards, customer service and health and safety. I am extremely proud of, and grateful for, their incredible hard work and commitment in this most difficult year.”