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Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc. (WH) Q1 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

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WH earnings call for the period ending March 31, 2021.

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Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc. (WH -2.79%)
Q1 2021 Earnings Call
Apr 29, 2021, 8:30 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good day, and welcome to the Wyndham Hotels & Resorts First Quarter 2021 Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions]

I would now like to turn the call over to Matt Capuzzi, Senior Vice President of Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

Matt Capuzzi -- Senior Vice President of Investor Relations

Thank you, operator. Good morning, and thank you for joining us. With me today are Geoff Ballotti, our CEO; and Michele Allen, our CFO. Before we get started, I want to remind you that our remarks today will contain forward-looking statements. These statements are subject to risk factors that may cause our actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied. These risk factors are discussed in detail in our most recent annual report on Form 10-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission and any subsequent reports filed with the SEC. We'll also be referring to a number of non-GAAP measures. Corresponding GAAP measures and a reconciliation of non-GAAP measures to GAAP metrics are provided in our earnings release, which is available on our Investor Relations website at investor.wyndhamhotels.com. We are providing certain measures discussing future impact on a non-GAAP basis only because without unreasonable efforts, we are unable to provide the comparable GAAP metric. In addition, last evening, we posted an investor presentation containing supplemental information on our Investor Relations website. We may continue to provide supplemental information on our website in the future. Accordingly, we encourage investors to monitor our website in addition to our press releases, filings submitted with the SEC, and any public conference calls or webcast. With that, I will turn the call over to Geoff.

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Matt, and thanks, everyone, for joining us today. Our Select service franchise business model delivered a strong start to 2021, with domestic RevPAR of down 25% to 2019, tracking ahead of what we estimated internally for the first quarter. And with consumer demand continuing to increase, our RevPAR has also improved significantly throughout the month of April. Month-to-date, our domestic RevPAR is down only 7% to 2019, with economy occupancy and RevPAR now running ahead of 2019 levels. Across all brands, we're seeing occupancies in the 70s in Florida, Arizona, and Utah; in the 60s and almost a dozen other states, including California, Texas, and Georgia; and in total, 75% of our domestic system are in states that are at or above 50% occupancy month-to-date.

We're also seeing steady improvements internationally, as Michele will cover later, most notably in China, where spending on travel is once again back to near pre-COVID levels. Throughout the quarter, we were highly encouraged to see cancellation rates normalize. Our average booking windows lengthened, and March website bookings surpassed 2019 booking levels. Consumer confidence is back, hotels are selling out again and our busy summer season is upon us. A period over the next six months where the U.S. Travel Association is reporting that nearly nine out of every 10 American surveyed are planning to take a trip. Adjusted EBITDA for the quarter was $97 million, down 11% to 2020 and down only 14% to 2019. Free cash flow generation was equally strong with adjusted EBITDA converting at 60%. Our operations team opened 7,600 rooms, which was 23% higher than what we opened last year in the first quarter. Conversions were strong, accounting for 70% of our total openings in the quarter. And despite continued travel restrictions and buy/sell transaction volumes near historic lows due to ongoing lender forbearance and government stimulus, our franchise sales team signed 13,000 new rooms in the quarter, which was 87% of what was signed in the first quarter of 2019.

Our global pipeline grew sequentially for the third consecutive quarter to 187,000 rooms. Room terminations were significantly below prior year and more importantly, 34% lower than what they were in the first quarter of 2019. Foreclosures remained at around 0.5% of our domestic system, and we successfully entered into agreements with servicers for 26 of the 31 domestic hotels and foreclosure at the end of the quarter, as our net room growth for the full year tracked on pace with expectations. Owners in the Select service segments of this industry are recognizing the power of our brand. According to STR in 2019, occupancies for branded hotels in our core segments were 300 basis points higher than non-branded hotels, and costs were 500 basis points lower.

In 2020, STR highlights that economy-branded hotels outperformed independent hotels by 1,300 basis points, while mid-scale branded hotels outperformed independent hotels by 500 basis points. And so, our teams are finding that prospective new franchisees are looking for immediately recognizable brands like ours in the economy and mid-scale space, brands that can provide strong central system contribution at a lower distribution cost. Over the past several years and no more so than in 2020, we've tailored our brand's offerings to fit guests' evolving needs, which, when combined with our powerful sales, marketing, loyalty and distribution platform, helped our franchisees gain market share versus their STR comp sets of 350 basis points in 2020, followed by another 400 basis points this quarter. A few examples of recent independent conversion activity this quarter include the award-winning and LEED-certified Vienna Hotel and Spa by Trademark located on Long Island, minutes away from Bethpage Golf Course in Jones Beach. In the heart of the European Union, the hotel Avenue Louise, Brussels, became our 50th European conversion to the Trademark brand. And in the Caribbean, we converted the award-winning Kunuku Aqua Resort in Curacao along with the Turtle Island Beach Resort in Belize, both to Trademark Collection hotels by Wyndham. On the Wyndham conversion front, in the newest News Boomtown on Colorado's front range and in Morgantown, West Virginia's epicenter of history, we converted the origin Westminster Hotel and the Hotel Morgantown, two highly rated lifestyle hotels, to our growing upscale Wyndham brand as part of a nine hotel package deal with a trash group of Mississippi, who have another four hotels to convert to the Wyndham brand in Austin, Tupelo, Moville and Kansas City later this year and next. And internationally, we converted a beautiful five Star Hotel in the heart of Downtown Xinxiang, Henan province, China, to a full-service Wyndham.

In addition to our team's ability to convert 52 hotels to Wyndham brands in the quarter, we saw 17 hotels under construction in the fourth quarter progress to opening, including our fifth new construction Microtel to open in China, Tianjin, which was also the first of seven new-build Microtel hotels, our China team expects to open this year, bringing our Microtel by Wyndham brand to 11 direct franchise hotels in total in a country where we introduced the brand only two short years ago. We also opened a very first new construction motor prototype in Canada, the Microtel Inn & Suites, Quebec, across from the tourist center on Scenic Lake [Majauntiq]. Develop for interest and demand for our new build Microtel mode of prototypes is thriving. And our franchise sales team's ability to penetrate high barrier markets like Phoenix, New York; Kansas City, Missouri; and Raleigh, North Carolina, which are just four of the over 100 Microtels now under development in our pipeline, stems from Microtel's highly efficient design, which requires less land to construct and where 70% of the build-out is rentable square footage versus about 60% for its peers. Microtel has become one of our most popular new construction prototypes to sell throughout this pandemic to developers who believe that now is the time to be building at a significantly lower cost per key for a brand that drove a full year 2019 RevPAR index of over 115%.

On an overall basis, our development pipeline grew 120 basis points sequentially. We signed 112 new hotel agreements in the quarter, representing 90% of 2019 signings. The domestic pipeline improved 70 basis points, reflecting both conversion and new construction growth. And internationally, the pipeline increased 150 basis points sequentially, primarily reflecting continued interest in new construction overseas. Our China pipeline, at over 62,000 rooms, is almost entirely direct franchise, and it now sits with 20% more rooms in it than it did a year ago. Our Shanghai-based development team's ability to execute and open nine of the 18 available direct franchise brands that we've so far selectively decided to sell in China has shifted our concentration from a primarily all-master license country to over 1/3 of the China room mix now being direct franchise agreements, where we are receiving 100% of the royalty fees. Moreover, our China team's ability to open 40 full-service five Star Wyndham and Wyndham Grand hotels in key capital cities and provinces is a strong testament to Wyndham's growing brand recognition and franchise sales efforts. It's over 1,400 China hotels are now sold under our by Wyndham umbrella branding. Our entire organization remains focused on doing everything we possibly can to help restore owner profitability to pre-COVID levels.

Earlier this month, based on extensive feedback from our franchise advisory councils, our owners, and our guests, we expanded our industry-leading relief measures by reducing breakfast brand requirements for our economy hotels. These changes are designed to help franchisees lower operational cost while maintaining guest satisfaction, and we believe that they're the most significant breakfast relief measures taken by a major hotel company to date. The overall feedback and the engagement from our owner community since the announcement has been positive. We continue to advance our ESG efforts. And just yesterday, we published our 2021 ESG report, which is now posted on our corporate and Investor Relations websites. This report highlights our commitment to operating our business in a way that is socially, ethically and environmentally responsible. The report also includes enhanced disclosures around data privacy, cybersecurity, water conservation, and biodiversity, and it's based on the Sustainable Accounting Board Standard for hotels and lodging and the task force on climate-related financial disclosures. The report also features some of the very important work our teams are doing in response to COVID-19, ensuring the health and safety of our guests and team members and providing continued support to our franchisees while helping them become certified in our Wyndham Green program.

Our quality scores is ranked by ISS are now two out of 10 on governance, two out of 10 on environment, and a best-in-class one out of 10 on social. We've intensified our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts as we cultivate a workplace that supports the open dialogue that makes Wyndham Hotels & Resorts such a great place to work. We've earned a perfect 100% score on the human right campaigns, LGBTQ Equality Index for three consecutive years, and we've achieved an A- rating on the carbon disclosure CDP report for the second year in a row. We are thrilled with the recent upturn demand with what our teams around the world have achieved. And with how we currently see the busy summer season ahead shaping up. And with that, I'll turn the call over to Michele. Michele?

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Geoff. Good morning, everyone. I'll begin my remarks today with a detailed review of our first results, followed by an update on our capital allocation strategy and a brief note on outlook. Throughout my discussion today, I'll provide comparisons not only to prior year but also to 2019, which we believe are more meaningful as prior year results were already impacted by COVID-related travel restrictions and therefore, are of little help in analyzing recent trends and recovery prospects.

Our first-quarter results continue to demonstrate the resiliency of our business model and the strength of our brands. We generated $303 million of revenue, a year-over-year decrease of 18% when excluding cost reimbursement revenues, or 26% versus 2019. The majority of this decrease was driven by a global RevPAR decline as well as outsized RevPAR effects from our two owned hotels and lower license fees from travel and leisure. Versus 2019, RevPAR was down 31% globally, 25% domestically, and 45% internationally on a constant currency basis. The domestic RevPAR decline of 25% represents an improvement from down 31% in the fourth quarter, which was driven by both stronger occupancy and stronger ADR. This is exactly what we want to see. Our owners successfully pushing rate when occupancy provides the opportunity. As Geoff mentioned, our economy brands are leading the recovery with 2021 RevPAR now surpassing 2019 levels, and our mid-scale brands are fast followers with 2021 RevPAR now within about 10% of 2019 levels. The 45% decline internationally was in line with fourth-quarter performance despite China occupancy softening to 40% as a result of regional lockdowns. This was more than offset by favorable occupancy trends in other international regions due to the relaxation of some local restrictions. We are encouraged by the recent trends in China where April month-to-date occupancy levels are now averaging about 10% below 2019 levels.

Adjusted EBITDA was $97 million in the first quarter, down only 11% versus a year ago and 14% versus 2019, as the revenue declines were substantially offset by reduced costs due to our COVID mitigation plan implemented last April and lower volume-related expenses. Importantly, our adjusted EBITDA margin and our franchising margin, each improved approximately 600 basis points compared with 2019. Our adjusted EBITDA margin increased to 42%, reflecting not only the COVID-19 cost savings but also less excess marketing fund spend in the quarter this year. Our franchising margin calculated on the same basis as our peers, which excludes the effects of our marketing funds, increased to 81%, benefiting predominantly from our COVID-19 cost mitigation plan. Adjusted diluted earnings per share declined to $0.36, down 28% year-over-year, or 31%, compared to 2019, due to elevated interest expense associated with a higher overall debt balance as well as a higher tax rate, primarily due to the non-cash remeasurement of net deferred tax liabilities caused by state tax rate changes.

Free cash flow for the quarter was $59 million compared to $10 million in the first quarter of 2020, an increase of almost six-folds and compared to a cash use of $2 million in the first quarter of 2019. You'll recall that both of the prior year periods included special item cash outlays. Even after normalizing for those amounts, we double free cash flow over both periods due to strong collections and working capital management. We ended the quarter with nearly $1.3 billion of liquidity, and our first lien net leverage ratio was 3.4 times, well below the five times limit. On April 15, we redeemed $500 million of unsecured notes reducing our annual cash interest expense by approximately $27 million. This impact will be somewhat muted in 2021 by the $13 million call premium we paid as well as the partial year-to-date was outstanding. There was little impact on our net debt position as we primarily used available cash to redeem the notes. Coupled with the issuance of our four and 3/8 notes back in August of 2020, this redemption effectively returns our liquidity profile and debt structure to pre-pandemic levels while extending $500 million of maturity by approximately 2.5 years at a 100 basis point lower interest rate. Post redemption, our liquidity stands at approximately $750 million.

Our capital allocation philosophy today remains consistent with what it was pre-COVID. Our first preference is to always invest in the business for future growth. M&A activity has been limited due to bid-ask disparities. But with increasing optimism around recovery, we expect there could be a more active market on the horizon, we will be strategic and methodical in-sourcing and evaluating deals and continue to look for valuation creation opportunities. We came into this pandemic with a target leverage range of three to four times and a preference to be in the lower half of that range. After thorough analysis, we continue to believe this is the right goal for our business. This range affords us tremendous optionality while providing plentiful access to affordable debt. We expect to get back within this range primarily through EBITDA generation as we approach 2022. We continue to be a regular dividend payer. Not only were we the only lodging C-corp to maintain a meaningful dividend throughout the pandemic, we were also able to double last year's dividend in the first quarter of this year, further demonstrating management and our Board's commitment to shareholder return. We target a dividend payout ratio in the low to mid-30s, which would put the dividend growth rate generally in line with our annual earnings growth rate. Any excess cash will then be allocated to share repurchases. Moving now the outlook. While we grow ever more confident each passing day with increasing vaccination percentages and recent occupancy trends, there are still uncertainties ahead, and we are, therefore, not yet providing a full outlook for 2021. However, I do want to provide a few updates to the projections we provided on February's call.

Our full-year net room growth target remains consistent with our previous projection of 1% to 2%. We are updating our RevPAR sensitivity from $2.5 million per point of RevPAR to $2.8 million per point to reflect better-than-expected results at our two owned hotels and to remove the conservatism embedded in February's estimate given Q1 and April-to-date performance. At this time, we continue to project license fees of $70 million. We note travel and leisure gross VOI sales would need to reach $1.6 billion before exceeding the contractual minimum fees. We continue to expect our marketing funds to break even in 2021 and interest expense is now expected to be $94 million to $96 million, reflecting the savings achieved in connection with our recent redemption of the 2026 notes. There are no other changes to the projections previously provided in February.

In closing, our first-quarter results were better than we expected, with RevPAR in the U.S. leading the way. 2020 is in the rearview. If there was a silver lining, it was the unique opportunity it provided us to showcase the advantages of a Select service space, the strength of our brands, and that Wyndham is resilient and built to perform well in both up cycles and down cycles. Our focus today is on the future, on driving profitability for our franchisees, and on creating even greater value for our shareholders. With that, Geoff and I would be happy to take your questions. Operator?

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] We'll take our first question today from Joe Greff with JPMorgan. Please go ahead.

Joe Greff -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

My first question is on removal/retention. The churn was better in the first quarter and specific to the first quarter. But is that lower removal is a function of progress in your March to get to 96% retention? Or is it really a function on how the timing is between quarters and '21. And as you think about your views on retention and churn relative to three months ago, are you more favorable?

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

I think it's both, Joe. Terminations certainly have some seasonality to them, and Q1 is normally our lowest termination period. So yes, we do believe that annualizing our Q1 rate is -- we would be at 97%. I think it is getting a bit ahead of ourselves for the full year. But that said, we're very happy with the progress we've been making in retaining our most valuable franchisees. And I think it gives us great confidence in getting back to that 95% level. We're not seeing anything out of the ordinary right now.

Foreclosures are still, as you and I have talked about, less than half of 1% of our system. And we were really pleased to see the terms improved not just prior year, but to 2019 levels. In fact, they were down more to 2019 than they were to prior year. And to the back part of your question, we've been making significant progress, obviously, with everything that we've been talking about over the last few quarters in terms of moving our termination rates from 92% to 93% to 94%, 95% in 2019. And look, of course, our teams out there still believe we could do better.

We achieved a 96% retention for our big days in and Super eight brands back in 2019. And we've got plenty of brands like Microtel that run higher retention rates at 97%; or La Quinta, which has been running at 98%. So we're focused on getting back to that 95% this year and then moving up to 96% over time.

Joe Greff -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

Great. Thank you. And then a follow-up question, probably for Michele or for anybody. With regards to RevPAR sensitivity, the one percentage point is $2.8 million per annum or $700,000 per quarter on average. How does that -- how do you think about that RevPAR sensitivity across the 2Q and through the 4Q?

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

I think -- Joe. Good morning, Joe. I think it's -- I wouldn't think it would be too far different across the quarters. I think you could pretty much straight-line it without significant variance. The third quarter is, obviously, our largest earnings quarter, but it's not going to be very meaningful to your overall model.

Joe Greff -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

Got it. And then just one final ticky-tack question. Is the $49 million related to the absence of marketing fund spend? How does that -- how do you see that allocate through the balance of the year? How much of that was realized in the first quarter?

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

The marketing fund was -- I believe, it overspent about $5 million. It was favorable $5 million year-over-year in the first quarter. So $5 million of the $49 million was realized in Q1.

Joe Greff -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

Got it. And then for the balance of the year, is it relatively even? Or is it more heavily weighted to the summer months?

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes, it would not be even at all. It would be definitely more heavily weighted, I believe, in the second and Q4 for sure.

Joe Greff -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

Got it. Thanks, guys. Good job.

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question is from David Katz with Jefferies. Please go ahead.

David Katz -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Hi. Good morning, everyone. The -- among the more prevalent topics for us and across the industry is really conversions and conversion sales. I'd love just a little more color on just how competitive that is, how optimistic you are for it, and its ability to drive an accelerating nug as we go forward?

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. It's absolutely competitive. You hear all of our peers talking about it on each of their calls, David. We're thrilled in seeing our conversion activity continue to pick up, and it picked up as we expected it to be, and we talked about it on the last call. It moved from the mid-70s to over 90% of our room opens domestically, and we were really pleased to open more rooms domestically this year than last year. And it moved from the mid-30s internationally to over 50% of our opens internationally.

So our international teams are actually seeing it, too, in terms of just how strong our value proposition is right now at independent hotels in terms of where our teams are focused on. In Asia Pacific, they're seeing it. In Europe, they're seeing it. Our conversion rooms doubled, for example, in China, and they were higher across the board internationally. So look, all of our teams are very focused on driving the number. We did not cut back on any of our franchise sales teams throughout this pandemic.

Our leaders did a great job, not only keeping them in place, but giving them more resources and more support, we're deploying existing sellers to our conversion brands. And we saw that in our conversion pipeline. Our conversion pipeline grew both domestically and internationally, sequentially. We're seeing great interest domestically in our Travelodge and our Days Inn brands. And overseas, we're seeing good interest in our Ramada and especially our Wyndham brands.

And I think the opportunity, the last part of your question is it's -- you need franchise sales teams in place, and we have those teams in place. And when you look at the size of the independent market with 100,000 independent hotels out there that report to Smith Travel, we've -- we're looking at most of those independent hotels in the segments we play in 45,000 of those, 100,000 independents are in the economy, for example, and 25,000 are in the mid-scale. So we're really optimistic and really pleased with the progress.

David Katz -- Jefferies -- Analyst

All right. And just as a follow-up, Michele, I -- look, I think, one of the concerns we have is we sit down to focus on models, just given how strong things have -- strongly things have accelerated. Help us not get too carried away with the remainder of the year. And maybe just give us a couple of balanced thoughts on how we should look at our models for the back half.

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

Okay. I'm happy to do that, David. I think when we think about the back half of the year, we feel really confident in our ability to predict the Select service segment and in the trends that we're seeing for Select service. We still feel as if there is a great degree of variability in the full service and in the international markets. And they're quite temperamental.

So while we're really encouraged by what we're seeing in China, what we want to be, I would say, more confident in, is the ability to see a sustained recovery without further interruption. And so, that's something that we're certainly looking forward to. I think there's plenty of upside to the back half of the year, but nothing that we would be willing to commit to until we start seeing a little bit more consistency in the full service and international performance.

David Katz -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Great. Perfect. Thanks. Congrats.

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Next question is from Patrick Scholes with Truist Securities. Please go ahead.

Patrick Scholes -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Good morning, everyone. Thank you. Can you give us a little bit of color on your expectations -- how that net 1% to 2% unit growth will ramp as the year progresses? Thank you.

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Again, with Q1 openings and terms and execution openings, where 30% higher churns were down. We're looking for -- I think, the easiest way to look at it is that we're assuming we could open, and we said this on the last call, 80% of what we opened in 2019, which would be 80% of 65,000 rooms or approximately 50,000 rooms. And that as we've said, our rooms ramp.

We opened roughly 15% of those in the first quarter, which was five points more than we did. Percentage-wise, back in the first quarter of 2019 when we were growing net rooms at 3%. Openings are always back half loaded and will continue to ramp. And retention is tracking right now on or slightly above that 95% we're looking for. So I think for Q1, Q2, we're going to see that growth coming as we saw in the first quarter from international, and then we're expecting domestic net rooms to begin to contribute in the back half of the year, Q3 and especially Q4.

Patrick Scholes -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Okay. Great. Thank you.

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks.

Operator

Next question is from Stephen Grambling with Goldman Sachs. Please go ahead.

Stephen Grambling -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Hey. Good morning.

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, Stephen.

Stephen Grambling -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Good morning. As a follow-up on the 2021 projections and sensitivities. Last quarter in the deck, I think, you had some potential areas of upside that were unrelated to REVPAR, such as license fees, owned hotels, ancillary fees, and bad debt expense. So any color you can provide in thinking about what will drive the sensitivity of these other areas of upside that aren't RevPAR-related?

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes. So we have the same slide in the deck this quarter, Slide 34. And I would say, as far as the license fees go, I don't see that as being likely upside. The -- right now, based upon the guidance that travel and leisure gave for Q2 and their Q1 performance, we think they would have to see a significant increase in the second half to reach the $1.6 billion that would be necessary for them to exceed the contractual minimum fees that we are projecting for the full year. So we don't see that as being material upside for the year for us. And we do see upside, though, potentially to the owned hotels, and we did embed that in our $2.8 million RevPAR sensitivity, which is how we increased -- but part of the reason why we increased from $2.5 million from February to $2.8 million now.

And I would say we were quite pleased with the hotel performance. It was a bright spot in quarter. And then even through April, we saw both our Puerto Rico hotel and our Orlando hotel performed better than expected. And so, we took up our expectations for both those hotels, and we think that there could be even some more upside beyond what is currently in our expectations depending upon how recovery progresses. And so, that's potential upside.

The other two areas are ancillary fees and bad debt. And so, while we believe we have a reasonable forecast for both of those right now, they're both a little outside of our control and depending on franchisee behavior. And so, there could be upside to those. We're not banking on it, but certainly, something that we're watching and continue to adjust in our forecast when and if we see trends that would indicate favorability.

Stephen Grambling -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

And then an unrelated follow-up, everyone's been focused, obviously, on this path to recovery, but even before the pandemic, I know you'd implement the number of company-specific initiatives, including leveraging a relationship with imparity and your loyalty program. Can you just remind us of what was implemented, where we are in that -- in leveraging those initiatives, and how that might position the business for growth beyond just the recovery?

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Yes. I mean we think it's been a big piece, Stephen, of our share gain this year, I mean, and positions us very well for recovery. We've talked about four big initiatives. Our new customer data platform, which is you reference was the imparity partnership we had. What we did with Salesforce in terms of automating all of our franchisees' workflow and improving our franchise sales teams to us, which was really important. What we've done on the mobile booking app, which, again, we think is the fastest three-step mobile booking app, which will tell the [gramblings] when they're driving down the road where our nearest hotel is to pull over to and check into.

And it's been just huge for us. Its bookings year-to-date versus '19 are up 50%. We're really pleased to see that. And then I think the biggest thing for us longer term is what we've been doing on the business side. And our business travelers, as we've talked about a lot, is a segment that has been giving our franchisees and owners a lot more share. And that's everything that we've been working on from a direct billing solution. It is now benefiting all of our negotiated accounts and franchisees and our ability to attract new accounts and gain more traction from each account is that that percentage of our business that really allowed our hotels to stay open and never close, continues to pick up.

I mean there is no better proxy for us than what happened in January and February in the quarter with our midweek rates and our midweek occupancies, which outperformed the weekends when there wasn't a lot of leisure demand out there. And what was down 20% to prior year in Q4, that business segment for us, which, again, is 30% of our occupancy for our hotels, improved it down less than 10% in the first quarter.

Our infrastructure and construction business is now nearly flat to last year. And the second largest segment in that business mix for us is what we talked about in the IP that we put out last night. That's our logistics business. That's our trucking and our transportation business, which is actually running ahead. It's 6% ahead of last year. So all of those initiatives, we think, are allowing our global sales teams, our field sellers to go out and find new accounts to sign with us, which, again, gets back to what has been outsized share gains we feel for our brands throughout the pandemic.

Stephen Grambling -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

That is great color. Thanks so much.

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks.

Operator

Our next question is from Dany Asad with Bank of America. Please go ahead.

Dany Asad -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Hi. Good morning, everybody. My question is more -- my first one is more on like the more recent trends. So just the sequential acceleration from March to April is pretty significant here. So do you just have a sense for how much of that is due to calendar shifts, spring breaks, and so on? And how sustainable that RevPAR acceleration is as we progress further into the year?

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Thanks for the question, Dany. It certainly had a lot to do, obviously, with spring break being sooner. And we are seeing above peak-level occupancies and rates in states like Florida and resorts and hotels like the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, which was selling out at higher average daily rates than it did back in -- during that period in '19.

But in terms of the demand that's out there, in terms of the recent optimism, in terms of the global anxiety just continuing to fall, and our booking windows lengthening and our average length of stays lengthening, I mean, it would suggest to us continued pickup through the spring and summer months. And then we'll be looking for that continued business travel segment that we continue to see pickup, continue to help our hotels gain share.

Dany Asad -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Got it. And then my follow-up is a little bit more on the development side. Do you have a sense of how much inflation is changing new construction unit economics? And what are you hearing from your developers in terms of timelines and deliveries and so on?

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Michele and I have been traveling quite a bit the last few weeks. And we're actually leaving this afternoon, we're heading down to Florida. And what we're hearing from our developers, and I think we'll continue to hear today is that they are beginning to experience some delays when it comes to deliveries, especially on the sourcing side, on the FF&E side. I mean we've all been following what's going on with lumber.

And what we're hearing is how that relates to late beds because box springs aren't arriving on time or late fixtures in furniture and equipment that have to do with lumber, which, if anyone's tried to buy 2 times4 of late notes that, that's tough to do, and it's twice as expensive. But in terms of the overall 12 to 18 months that we've talked about from a development standpoint, it's probably more -- after permitting, it's probably more toward the 18 than it was toward the 12. But I think our franchisees are hopeful and most economics -- every economist I read is of the belief that with the easing of quantitative measures, mills are going to return to normal capacity, and the production will soon return to normal and delivery will pick back up. But in terms of development, those franchisees of ours with cash are looking for new sites and are looking for new construction, and that's what we've been seeing in the pipeline of our new construction Microtel motives and La Quintas, which we continue to open.

Dany Asad -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Thank you very much.

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Dany.

Operator

Our next question is from Ian Zaffino with Oppenheimer. Please go ahead.

Ian Zaffino -- Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. -- Analyst

Okay. Thank you. Can you guys maybe talk about some of your discussions with your franchisees? What they are thinking on the labor side as far as availability of housekeepers, et cetera? Has that been a headwind so far to kind of increase occupancy, that's something we should expect going forward? Any kind of color on that. Or -- and also, sort of the franchisees, what are the steps you're going to do to mitigate that? Is that taking a higher ADR, et cetera? Just some color there. Thanks.

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. It's -- Ian, it is a great question. And it's -- I think, if you were to ask Chip Rogers, our CEO at the American Hotel and Lodging Association, who's had all of us -- all the leadership on a call -- several calls last week and this week, it is the #1 issue right now that's out there. Labor has always been an issue long before this pandemic began. I mean we've always known that the hotel industry employs 10 million people. And that -- but before we went into COVID that we were struggling to fill one million jobs. And certainly, with the pandemic and employment insurance, it's an issue our industry is very, very focused on. It's especially concerning in urban and group and meeting and full-service destination hotels. I mean we need more housekeepers. That's what we're hearing, and that's what Michele and I see when we travel. We need more front desk workers. We need more culinary workers. And what the hotel industry is doing, to your question, is advocating on so many different fronts.

Last Tuesday, the administration approved an additional 22,000 H-2B visa applicants. And that's allowing our 66,000 normal temporary foreign workers to grow to 88,000. But it's a drop in the bucket, and we need more. We're asking the administration for the travel ban to be lifted for all J-1 foreign students. That's another 300,000.

Let's see, the HLA is launching, I know, a custom portal to attract the young opportunity youth from across the United States of America, especially in the downtown areas, and getting the word out in terms of what a great industry we have. It is much less of an issue in the Select service space for a company like ours. We don't have the outlets. We don't have the restaurants. We don't have the banquet and catering facilities. But it's certainly top of mind for our ownership. And it was a large part of what -- in terms of what we're doing, what led to our new breakfast standards that we put out, you may have seen this week for our economy hotels to really reduce the labor and the FTE requirements for our owners. Everybody's focused right now on getting our franchisees and our owners back to -- now that they're getting back to the occupancy levels back to the profitability levels that they had in 2019.

Ian Zaffino -- Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. -- Analyst

Okay. Great. And maybe a little bit far out here, but if we get an infrastructure bill, how do we think about how that flows through to each of your segments? I mean I'd imagine Select service would do the best. And as you kind of go up, that they wouldn't benefit as much. But what are kind of your thoughts there? And how will we expect the brands to sort of operate and benefit from something like that? Thanks.

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. I mean it's -- we're really excited. Whatever shape the country's infrastructure plans might take, our teams are working at trying to find new infrastructure accounts. I mean so many of the targeted, we call them, pick and shovel infrastructure companies that are out there that we'd expect to benefit are already customers of ours. We're certainly talking to them about what Stephen asked about, all of our new Wyndham business products, and our direct billing capabilities. And I mean, these are the folks that stay in our hotels. We're seeing great success at winning more bids and gaining more share, as I said a minute ago.

Our Wyndham Direct, which was launched in the middle of last year, has produced 50% more business in the first quarter sequentially than it did in the fourth. And so, look, we're looking at who's building roads and bridges and the power companies and the computer companies and the broadband companies. And we're going after them. And we think that -- that combined infrastructure and construction of your question is about 60% of that 30% mix. And again, it's nearly flat to where it was last year, down 2%. We're looking at that, and we're also looking at that logistics business, which we also think with the U.S. manufacturing segment index at a 37-year high. We think that's a big opportunity for us as well, and we're really focused on winning that business.

Ian Zaffino -- Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. -- Analyst

Agreed. Thank you very much.

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Here's our next question from Michael Bellisario with Baird. Please go ahead.

Michael Bellisario -- Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated -- Analyst

Good morning, everyone.

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Mike.

Michael Bellisario -- Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated -- Analyst

Just bigger picture topic here for me. I want to circle back to the T&L transaction. Interested to hear your view on maybe how you think this deal improves your overall brand platform, what it means from a growth perspective. And then if there's any longer-term financial benefit that you guys might receive as a result of the deal. Any comments there would be helpful.

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Look, we're thrilled with -- I thought it was just a brilliant move on Wyndham Destinations, apart from a rebranding standpoint, it is a great brand. Our Blue Thread sales, if you were following, yesterday, essentially, when you look at sales, doubled year-on-year from 7% to 14%, we're incentivized on that -- on those new owner sales. And we're doing everything we possibly can to -- and there are so many new initiatives our two teams are working on to continue to drive new owner sales for travel and leisure. We think there's a lot more we could do together on the call center marketing front, on the CMP lobby marketing.

There's a lot of our franchisees that would love the opportunity to have T&L take over their front desk from a concierge standpoint and provide their guests with services. And the Blue Thread transactions increased. As Mike Braun said yesterday in his call, 200 basis points to 9% of their transactions. There's really no change to the timeshare sales strategy or the timeshare Wyndham branding that we use from a redemption standpoint, it offers us. Our Wyndham Rewards program just continues to strengthen with all of the great additions that come into the travel and leisure world. And so, we're very optimistic about the future, and our teams are working really well together. Michele, did you want to add anything to that?

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

No. No structural changes to the contract or to our ability to earn the license fee.

Michael Bellisario -- Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated -- Analyst

Got it. [Indecipherable] Thank you.

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our final question today comes from Alton Stump with Longbow Research. Please go ahead.

Alton Stump -- Longbow Research LLC -- Analyst

Great. Thank you and good morning. I just wanted to ask quickly back on company-owned hotels, doing better than you had expect, Michele, in the first quarter. What were the key drivers of that? And is that sustainable, do you think, over the rest of the year?

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes, Thank you. So actually, at our Puerto Rico hotel, the hotel has benefited from increased air travel and then the island had eased a bunch of the restrictions. So they saw a better leisure performance than we had initially expected. And then once the guests were on property, they were a bit confined, and we saw better on-property spend in some of the outlets, the F&B outlets, spa, things like that. And so, they had a really great first quarter.

At the Bonnet Creek Hotel in Orlando, it's all about rate. What they were able to do was supplant the higher-rated group business that they typically would get in the first quarter with the same rated leisure business. And so, they did really great -- really great job by the team there. For both hotels, they typically earn about 75% of their EBITDA in the first half of the year. So there's a little bit of upside potentially back half of the year. But I would say, more limited than first half.

Alton Stump -- Longbow Research LLC -- Analyst

Great. Thank you. And then one quick follow-up on the labor front, which is certainly a big issue across the hospitality industry. There's -- your thought or is fantasy thought that we'll start to see unemployment insurance as that kind of, hopefully, dries up or at least kind of stuff to get back on exporting that will probably dry up as we move into the back half of the year. So should that help the labor front? Or is your expectation that we're going to continue to see the current tight environment over the rest of the year?

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. I mean I think franchisees' expectation, Alton, is that it absolutely should help in September when it goes away, but I can't predict what else is out there on the horizon from stimulus.

Alton Stump -- Longbow Research LLC -- Analyst

Got it. Makes sense. Thanks so much.

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks.

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Operator

It appears we have no further questions. I'll return the floor to Geoff Ballotti for any closing remarks.

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

All right. Well, thank you very much, Keith, and thank you, everybody, for your continued interest in Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. Michele, Matt, and I look forward to talking to you in the weeks ahead and hopefully being with you in person at one of the many industry events that we'll be attending this spring and summer as our industry returns to normal. In the meantime, enjoy your spring. And we hope you'll all be out on the road this summer. Stay healthy, and we hope to see you soon.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 51 minutes

Call participants:

Matt Capuzzi -- Senior Vice President of Investor Relations

Geoff Ballotti -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Michele Allen -- Chief Financial Officer

Joe Greff -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

David Katz -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Patrick Scholes -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Stephen Grambling -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Dany Asad -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Ian Zaffino -- Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. -- Analyst

Michael Bellisario -- Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated -- Analyst

Alton Stump -- Longbow Research LLC -- Analyst

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