StockMarketWire.com - Premier Inn hotel chain owner Whitbread said its sales fell 1.0% in the first quarter amid weak trading conditions in the UK accommodation sector.

UK accommodation sales for the three months through March fell 1.5%, and by 4.6% on a like-for-like basis. Food and beverage sales also fell.

'We have delivered a resilient performance in the first quarter despite more challenging market conditions and we continue to make good progress with our efficiency programme, which is helping to partially offset another year of high industry cost inflation,' chief executive Alison Brittain said.

'Whilst we are cautious about short-term market conditions, we are confident in our plans given the significant growth opportunities in the UK and internationally.'

Whitbread said weaker business and leisure confidence has coincided with ongoing political and economic uncertainty in the UK.

The company, which recently sold its Costa coffee chain to Coca-Cola, said it still intended to return up to £2.5bn of the proceeds 'unless more value creating opportunities arise and subject to prevailing market conditions'.

The first phase had now been completed, with £482m returned to shareholders through a share buyback programme, which ended on 10 May.

'For the second phase, Whitbread now intends to pursue a tender offer to repurchase up to a further £2bn of shares, subject to shareholder approval.'

'If less than £2bn is returned through the tender offer, the board will consider a possible third phase to return any remaining surplus cash.' Story provided by StockMarketWire.com