UPDATE 1-Expansion helps Whitbread post first half profit rise

Tue Oct 22, 2013 3:42am EDT

* H1 PBT up 12.6 pct to 216.1 mln stg

* Firm on track to hit 2018 expansion targets

* Opened 12 hotels and 153 net Costa stores in H1

LONDON, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Britain's biggest hotel and coffee shop operator Whitbread posted a 12.6 percent rise in first half profit as new Premier Inn hotels and Costa Coffee stores helped boost sales.

The group, which also operates pub restaurant chains, on Tuesday said underlying pretax profit rose to 216.1 million pounds ($349.18 million) in the six months to Aug. 29, slightly ahead of a company compiled consensus forecast for 213 million pounds. Revenue jumped 12.4 percent to 1.14 billion pounds.

Whitbread, which makes almost all its sales in Britain, has expanded rapidly due to demand from cost-conscious customers for affordable hotels and a rising popularity for takeaway coffee, helping underlying pretax profit grow by 12.0 percent per annum since the onset of the recession.

On Tuesday it said it was on track to meet targets to grow Premier Inn UK rooms by 45 percent to 75,000 by 2018, and double Costa's total sales to 2 billion pounds through expansion at home and abroad, with a particular focus on China.

Total sales at Premier Inn rose 12.2 percent in the first half, boosted by 12 new hotel openings and strong business-led trade in London. Like-for-like sales were up 3.3 percent.

Revenue per available room (RevPAR), a key industry measure, grew ahead of the market at 1.7 percent in London where the firm is expanding, but lagged peers such as an improving Travelodge in the regions - where around 85 percent of Premier Inn's rooms are - growing at 2.1 percent versus 6.0 percent for the sector.

The group also opened 153 net new Costa Coffee stores worldwide, including 86 in the UK and 30 in China, taking its total to 2,680 globally, with 1,664 of those in the UK.

Those openings, coupled with strong demand during a cold first quarter in Britain, helped total sales rise 20.9 percent to 378.8 million pounds. Underlying UK sales rose 5.5 percent.

Shares in Whitbread, which raised its interim dividend by 11.8 percent to 21.8 pence, were flat at 3365 pence at 0716 GMT, having risen 43 percent on a year ago.