The boss of Premier Inn parent Whitbread is to retire in February 2016 to “seek new challenges”.

Chief executive Andy Harrison – a former chief executive of easyJet – has decided to step down by the end of the financial year ending February 2016.

A succession process led by chairman Richard Baker, is considering external and internal candidates, the company said today.

The announcement came as Whitbread released annual financial results for the year to February 26 showing that its hotels and restaurants division improved operating profits by 15.3% to £401.4 million.

Premier Inn sales grew by 15.3% to £1.1 billion, with like for like sales up by 9.1% as the budget chain achieved record occupancy of 81.3%, up by 3.2 percentage points.

The group plans to increase the number of Premier Inn rooms from 59,138 to around 85,000 by 2020, creating 15,000 new jobs.

The company opened 33 hotels and closed eight in the 12 months to take the total to 697, around 200 more than its closest rival. It plans to have 900 properties in five years time. is the preferred booking channel and now represents 80% of bookings, up from 63% in 2010/11.

Visits from mobile devices continue to be one of the fastest growing channels, increasing 34% year on year to account for 45% of all traffic.

“Our online strength is a significant competitive advantage and allows us to manage a greater part of our customer experience,” Harrison said.

Baker said: “Whitbread has gone from strength to strength under Andy’s leadership, delivering consistent rapid and profitable growth built around our strong brands and the company’s unique culture.

“Over the last five years our revenues have grown by 13% per annum, driving a 17% per annum growth in our earnings per share, which has increased the Company’s market capitalisation from £2.5 billion to £9.7 billion.

“Whitbread has a clear strategy, ambitious growth milestones and the strength of leadership to successfully deliver these goals.”

Harrison said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Whitbread family. It is a great company which has built some of the UK’s favourite brands by putting our people and our customers at the heart of everything we do.

“After 18 years as chief executive of three different public companies it is time for me to plan my retirement from full time executive life and to seek new challenges.

“In the meantime, it is business as usual, which means that the Whitbread team and myself remain fully focused on continuing to deliver profitable growth.”