Marriott Earnings Call Insights: Group Business, REVPAR Outlook

On Thursday, Marriott International, Inc. Class A (NYSE:MAR) reported its third quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call. Take a look.

Group Business

Harry Curtis – Nomura: A quick question on the last bullet point where you actually called out the group revenue for the Marriott brand in the U.S. up 8%. Do you think that the brand from a market share perspective has turned the corner and if so to what degree do you think it’s related to sales force one or is it simply the timing of group business coming back to the brand?

Arne M. Sorenson – President and CEO: Well, I think both are factors. I think in the early stages of a recovery group is never going to contribute as much in REVPAR growth as transient will. Transient will bounce back faster and the group will still be held back a little bit by the length of the booking window and by the fact that the facts on the Group business reflect rates that are put on the books at weaker times in the cycle and I think a longer we get into a recovery cycle the more that factor are to dissipate. I also think that the sales transformation efforts that the Company is engaged in are performing very well. We have just been now five quarters I think since the last markets were rolled out with this new sales transformation process in the United States. The feedback we’re getting from our customers and the numbers that are coming in are both very encouraging to us. We anticipate this year that we will refer in the sense from one market to another in excess of $200 billion bookings this year, that is possible only because of our sales transformation effort, which will really pulls these efforts above property and make — allows us to compensate people for bookings, no matter what hotel they are going to.

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Harry Curtis – Nomura: A quick follow-up on Gaylord, can you discuss your strategy with respect to how you will lift the hotels operating profit, is there much low hanging fruit or is this going to be a longer process?

Arne M. Sorenson – President and CEO: There are some things which are easier than others. Gaylord to be fair has done an excellent job with these hotels, they have great service scores with Group customers, I the Group’s appreciate very much the boxes that Gaylord has, or great hotels, they are great places to hold meetings, and so there is a lot of good there that we hope obviously to preserve and continue to build but Gaylord has had one obvious challenge, and that is they have had to support only four hotels as a standalone brand. So, it’s very hard to get economies to scales around reservation systems, around accounting systems, around any of those sorts of things. I think those things will be the easiest places to drive margins, Gaylord obviously will be communicating directly with you about this. But we’ve been going through very specifically with them before we signed our preliminary documents and certainly as we’ve gotten ready for the transition on which officially commenced on October 1, Monday of this week, when we took over management of those hotels. We think the management – that the margin fee potential for those hotels particular is very strong.

REVPAR Outlook

Joshua Attie – Citi: Let me just prefix my question by saying I don’t think there is anything wrong with the 5% to 7% REVPAR outlook for next year, but it is below the three-year outlook that you talked about in June of 6% to 8%. Has any part of the business decelerated over the last three months or has anything changed in the way you’re thinking about it that might explain the difference?

Arne M. Sorenson – President and CEO: That’s a good question. We are obviously mindful of the fact that the 5% to 7% are different numbers than the 6% to 8%. Just as a refresher, 6% to 8% was we thought a relevant range for our model and was done without the benefit of a budget. It was also a three-year number, not a one year look at 2013. As we’ve gotten closer to 2013, I think we’ll say most things feel about the same I suspect on balance we’re a bit more cautious about the rest of the world than we were in the summer in Beijing where we put that conference on. In the United States at 5% to 7% or may be a bit more cautious about GDP growth, we’ve put another couple of quarters of really pretty modest growth on the books in the United States economy in the quarter’s that have succeeded. We’re now sort of thinking 2%-ish GDP growth for next year that’s implicit in this model. I don’t remember off of the top of my head, but I suspect we were more than 2.5 range in our thinking as we were together in Beijing.

Joshua Attie – Citi: Has any of that cautiousness, has that strictly the outlook or when you actually, when you look at the business that you had in the third quarter and what you are seeing really in the fourth quarter, are you seeing the business decelerate at all or is they just lower GDP forecast for next year?

Arne M. Sorenson – President and CEO: No, I mean just the reverse. I think we used the phrase, steady as she goes, in the prepared remarks quite deliberately. What we are seeing in the United States is very encouraging in terms about a continued recovery in demand and a continuing shift towards rate growth as it contributed to REVPAR growth. Obviously the Group bookings look good I think where we sit in terms of our targeting for special corporate negotiation feel good, supply growth stays low. So we’re very encouraged by what we see in the United States.

A Closer Look: Marriott Earnings Cheat Sheet>>