Parker has left the business in good shape

RETIRING Whitbread chief executive Alan Parker will be a tough act to follow. Yesterday’s trading statement shows just how well he has steered the company through the slump. Group like-for-like sales fell just 0.7 per cent in 2009, not bad for a consumer-facing business coping with the worst recession since World War Two. Although budget hotel chain Premier Inn has struggled along with the rest of the industry, things improved in the fourth quarter; like-for-like sales in the three months to the end of February were up 1.7 per cent, compared to a 4.6 per cent fall for the full year.

Premier also outperformed its rivals on the all-important revenue per available room (Revpar) measure. So far this year Revpar at regional hotels – which account for around 90 per cent of its estate – has fallen by 6.9 per cent, compared to an industry drop of 10.2 per cent. If PricewaterhouseCoopers is right in predicting industry Revpar growth of three per cent in 2010 and five per cent in 2011, Premier’s prospects look good.

Some are concerned that the firm has poached Andy Harrison from easyJet, instead of opting for a continuity candidate like managing director Patrick Dempsey. But Harrison is perfect for the role. Like the low-cost airline, Whitbread is all about big brands, consistent customer service and competitive prices. He is lucky that Parker has left the business in such good shape.