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Premier Inn owner Whitbread has said it expects strong demand for “staycations” throughout the summer as Covid restrictions ease further from mid-May. The hotel and restaurant firm forecasts “a significant bounce in leisure demand in our tourist locations”.

At the same time, Whitbread laid bare the impact of the pandemic on its business as annual losses reached £1bn and sales tumbled by more than 70%. The firm said last year was the “most challenging in our 279 year history”.

It revealed that it had benefitted from £270m worth of government support during coronavirus, including the furlough scheme.

Whitbread, which also owns the Beefeater and Brewers Fayre restaurant chains, said almost all of its hotels, some 92%, were now open. It also plans to invest £350m this year. The group is the UK’s biggest hospitality company and operates 800 hotels in the UK and Ireland.

Last year, it warned it may have to lay off thousands of staff and approached landlords for a temporary rent cut. It also scrapped its dividend payout to shareholders, while directors and senior management took pay cuts. It employs some 30,000 staff, 27,000 of which were furloughed under the Job Retention Scheme.

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