BUDGET hotel operator Whitbread says a strong festive period was a major driver in increasing sales.

The firm, which runs Premier Inn and Costa, said like-for-like sales grew 6.8 per cent in the 11 weeks to February 13.

Coffee shop chain Costa recorded underlying sales growth of 7.3 per cent, with Premier Inn improving 8.3 per cent.

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Whitbread's UK estate includes 51,671 Premier Inn rooms and 1,578 Costa outlets as well as hundreds of Beefeater and Brewers Fayre restaurants.

Andy Harrison, chief executive, said: “This puts us on track to deliver full-year results towards the top end of current expectations.”

Last year, Whitbread revealed plans to be part of a £30m Darlington leisure development, building an 80-room hotel as part of an overhaul of a former bus station.

Premier Inn already operates hotels at Morton Park, in Darlington, Bishop Auckland and Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.