- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) | Vacationers helped Marriott International Inc. post a better profit for the third quarter than the hotel owner and operator had forecast.

The hotelier, whose brands include its various namesake Marriott brands as well as the upscale Ritz-Carlton chain, said leisure travelers spent about 7 percent more nights at the company’s lodgings during the quarter than they did a year earlier.

“In the midst of an enormously difficult time, leisure business came back,” said Arne Sorenson, Marriott’s president and chief operating officer.

Leisure travelers accounted for 40 percent of business during the quarter, up from 35 percent from last summer. But visitors were still paying about 13 percent less per night than last year, the Bethesda-based company said.

The company posted a significant loss because of one-time items that dragged down results. So its results may not be a clear sign the hotel business - which has suffered as everyone from big corporations to small families rein in spending - is recovering.

For the whole quarter, Marriott posted a hefty $466 million, or $1.31 per share, loss because of charges that dragged down results. That compares with a profit of $94 million, or 25 cents per share, one year ago.

Excluding the charges, most of which are related to its high-end time-share business, Marriott earned $53 million, or 15 cents per share. Revenue fell 17 percent to $2.47 billion.

Goldman Sachs analyst Steven Kent said he expected Marriott’s shares to fall Thursday because of its conservative comments about 2010.

“Given the industry’s poor performance and inability to forecast, we are not surprised management has taken a conservative stance,” he told investors in a research note.

“We argue there is significant upside to guidance due to pent up demand and what appears to be an economic recovery.”

Marriott shares fell 15 cents, or 0.6 percent, to close at $26.80 Thursday.

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