NHS staff who stayed at hotels helped Premier Inn prepare for social distancing

Having dozens of doctors and nurses staying at Premier Inn hotels throughout the pandemic has helped staff work out how to ensure that guests stick to hygiene and social distancing routines when they reopen to the public.

The company, which has taken advantage of lockdown to refurbish several hotels, said customers are flocking to regional holiday hotspots, which are getting a good number of bookings.

However, Alison Brittain, chief executive of Premier Inn owner Whitbread, tried to temper investor expectations by pointing to slow restarts in other countries.

“It is still very early days and therefore too early to draw any conclusions from our booking trajectory, especially as there has been volatility in hotel performance in other countries that relaxed controls before the UK,” she said.

She added that demand “remains subdued” in other areas, including cities such as London.

Ms Brittain said the company has taken “key learnings” from keeping 39 of its UK hotels open in order to house key workers, including many NHS staff.

She said these can now be applied to the rest of its sites.

“Enhanced social distancing and hygiene standards can be delivered consistently across our entire estate and this, together with more flexible booking options, our value pricing and our superior network will ensure that our leading customer proposition is maintained.”

It came as Whitbread reported a predictable drop in sales in the first quarter of the financial year, ending May 28.

Sales dropped by more than 79% across the UK and Germany, where Whitbread is rapidly expanding.

The company is now tapping into the £1 billion that it raised from shareholders a month ago so that it can “withstand a long period of low revenues”.

But analysts have said it will also give Whitbread the chance to go out and buy some struggling smaller rivals.

“Our strong balance sheet, alongside both our leading operating model and the power of our brands, means that we are in the best possible position to take advantage of enhanced structural opportunities that we expect to become available in both the UK and Germany,” Ms Brittain said.

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