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Premier Inn boss welcomes Covid passports to end lockdowns

Simon Neville, PA City Editor
·3-min read

The CEO of Premier Inn’s owner Whitbread is in favour of Covid passports for helping major sporting and music events to reopen.

Alison Brittain also explained that a full-scale recovery for her business, which took a £1 billion loss in the year of Covid, will not happen until lockdown restrictions ease.

She said: “I do like the idea of passports for large sporting events… If that is the only way we can get those events back by having a safe environment in that way then I’m all for it. It’s quite hard to just do a socially distanced way of managing a big pop concert or sporting event.

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur – Carabao Cup Final – Wembley Stadium
Football fans were allowed into Wembley on the weekend as trials for Covid passports were launched (Adam Davy/PA)

“So, that’s an area I would be very pro the passporting arrangements in order to have those events return for those industries that have been incredibly badly hit through the pandemic, but then also through all the add-on places like hotels and restaurants that support them.”

Speaking after publishing the firm’s annual results, Ms Brittain said the hotel sector will also struggle while venues remain closed and large weddings are on hold.

She explained: “Family events, weddings, sporting events, pop concerts – we will need to see a resurgence in demand for them and for that we need to be out of lockdown.”

But she remained hopeful and explained that the 15% of Premier Inn’s hotels based in UK holiday hotspots are practically full as families plan staycations again this summer.

She said: “Booking patterns are strong for the school holiday periods. We’ve got very strong bookings into anything that’s coastal; historic centres; mountains – anything with a view, frankly.”

Festival-goers are also thinking ahead, she explained, with bookings for rooms for the Cheltenham racing in 2022 selling out within 48 hours of going live.

The CEO explained: “A lot of people are thinking ahead to things that they have missed out on doing during the pandemic that they would like to do when those events are back on again.”

There will be a move to a different way of office working. I don’t think it will be the pendulum swing that there will be nobody back in an office and there’ll be no more offices.

Premier Inn has a split of around 50% business and 50% leisure customers – with only around 10% of revenues coming from overseas tourists.

On the business market, around half are workers who are required on sites – typically in construction – and the rest from office-based professions.

Ms Brittain said she hopes to see Premier Inn benefit from the proposed investment in new infrastructure projects announced by the Government.

She said: “We’re expecting more investment-led activity in the UK… and we would expect to benefit from that… (but) the white-collar market is going to take quite some time to come back – if at all fully.”

To combat the expected fall, Premier Inn has launched relationships with travel management companies to get more bookings, she added.

The boss explained she did expect there to be a fundamental shift in the way office work operated in the UK but did not believe it would be extreme.

She said: “There will be a move to a different way of office working. I don’t think it will be the pendulum swing that there will be nobody back in an office and there’ll be no more offices.

“And I don’t think it’ll be the swing that other commentators have said that this was a temporary aberration and we’ll all go back to the office as soon as you possibly can.

“I think there’s a middle ground where people will demand in their employment a bit more flexibility but equally will be in the office for collaboration and training.”