By Vishwadha Chander
(Reuters) -Premier Inn-owner Whitbread said hotel bookings in its tourist locations picked up in the run-up to the summer season, lifting its shares even as Britain delayed plans to ease pandemic restrictions.
The Dunstable-based company said it traded "significantly ahead of the market", though total sales still fell 69.8% in the 13 weeks ended May 27 from pre-COVID-19 levels.
The shares rose 4% by 0739 GMT to be the best performers on the FTSE 100 index.
"Our forward bookings continue to improve, benefiting from the anticipated post-lockdown bounce in leisure demand, and a continued gradual improvement in business bookings," Chief Executive Officer Alison Britain said.
The rate of decline slowed in the period from May 17 to June 14, when overnight leisure stays were allowed, with total UK accommodation sales during those weeks down just 27% from pre-pandemic levels.
The travel and leisure sector is showing signs of recovery as Britons have started booking domestic trips for the summer holiday season rather than foreign trips
By May 17, the company said 98% of its more than 800 Premier Inn hotels were open.
"A lack of air travel will push Britons to staycation at coastal towns in the UK, where roughly 15% of the group’s hotels are scattered," Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Laura Hoy said.
But with Britain now pushing back its plans to lift most social restrictions to July 19, Whitbread said a full recovery of leisure demand depended on the removal of remaining lockdown measures.
The company opened 10 new hotels in the UK during the quarter. There are signs of recovery in Germany, too, where 19 of Whitbread's 30 hotels had opened.
(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander and Muvija M in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Elaine Hardcastle)