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Premier Inn owner Whitbread cautious on outlook as hotels reopen

* Over 270 hotels in UK now open

* Plans to reopen the rest in July

* Shares down 4% (Recasts, adds shares and analyst comment)

By Yadarisa Shabong

July 7 (Reuters) – Premier Inn owner Whitbread reported a 80% fall in first-quarter like-for-like UK sales on Tuesday noting improving demand for hotel rooms in tourist spots but subdued demand in London and elsewhere.

Of its more than 1,200 Premier Inn hotels and pubs across the UK, it said more than 270 hotels and some 24 restaurants had reopened after lockdowns as had all of its hotels in Germany.

It plans to reopen the rest by the end of this month.

“It is still very early days … 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,” said CEO Alison Brittain.

Brittain has been touted as a possible candidate to lead Lloyds after the British bank said its CEO would step down next year.

Shares in Whitbread were down 4% as of 0805 GMT, falling to the bottom of London’s FTSE 100.

“The tone of the statement suggests some optimism that areas that benefit from tourism should be able to cope, however with sports events still closed to the wider public, and business bookings also subdued, it is likely to be a long road back,” CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson said.

“This morning’s early fall in the share price appears to reflect that early pessimism.”

The travel and leisure sector has been among the worst hit by the pandemic.

Whitbread, which started out as a brewery in the 18th century, cancelled its dividend and raised 1 billion pounds ($1.25 billion) in a cash call in May. (Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru; editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Jason Neely)

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