Logo of jester cap with thought bubble.

Image source: The Motley Fool.

Choice Hotels International Inc (NYSE:CHH)
Q1 2021 Earnings Call
May 10, 2021, 10:30 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Choice Hotels International First Quarter 2021 Earnings Call. [Operator Instructions]

I would now like to turn the conference over to Allie Summers, Investor Relations Director for Choice Hotels.

Allie Summers -- Director, Executive Reporting and Investor Relations

Good morning and thank you for joining us today.

Before we begin, we'd like to remind you that during this conference call certain predictive or forward-looking statements will be used to assist you in understanding the company and its results. Actual results may differ materially from those indicated in forward-looking statements, and you should consult the company's Forms 10-Q, 10-K and other SEC filings for information about important risk factors affecting the company that you should consider. Moreover, we'd like to acknowledge that there continues to be uncertainty as to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our future performance. These forward-looking statements speak as of today's date and we undertake no obligation to publicly update them to reflect subsequent events or circumstances.

You can find a reconciliation of our non-GAAP financial measures referred to in our remarks as part of our first quarter 2021 earnings press release, which is posted on our website at choicehotels.com under the Investor Relations section.

This morning Pat Pacious, our President and Chief Executive Officer; and Dom Dragisich, our Chief Financial Officer will speak to our first quarter operating results and financial performance. They will be joined by Scott Oaksmith, Senior Vice President, Real Estate & Finance. Following Pat and Dom's remarks we'll be glad to take your questions.

And with that, I will turn the call over to Pat.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Allie, and good morning everyone. Thank you for joining our first quarter 2021 earnings call, and I hope you are all well. As you'll hear today, we believe that the deliberate set of strategic decisions we've made in recent years and our targeted actions during the pandemic, along with the dedication and hard work of our franchise owners to navigate the impact of the pandemic, drove impressive results that position us well to further capitalize on growth opportunities in 2021 and beyond. Throughout my remarks today, I'll provide comparisons not only to prior year, but also to 2019, which we believe are more meaningful in analyzing performance trends as the prior year's quarter results were impacted by the pandemic.

In the first quarter of 2021, we once again delivered results that significantly outperformed the industry, our chain scale segments and local competition, and we expanded our adjusted EBITDA margins to 69%. Our domestic systemwide year-over-year RevPAR change surpassed the industry by 23 percentage points, declining 4.4% and 18.7% as compared to the same quarters of both 2020 and 2019 respectively. And we continued to achieve sequential quarter-over-quarter improvement. In addition, we generated steady month-over-month growth in our choicehotels.com and other proprietary digital channels revenue contribution mix throughout the quarter. We also benefited from our most loyal customers, Choice Privileges Diamond Elite members, who contributed an even higher percentage of overall revenue for the quarter as compared to 2020 and 2019. These results have helped us increase RevPAR index versus our local competitors by over 6 percentage points in the first quarter as compared to 2019. We achieved that through notable lifts in both weekday and weekend RevPAR index and up significantly across all location types as reported by STR.

For over a year, we've observed significant RevPAR share gains against the competition as compared to 2019 giving us further optimism about our future revenue trajectory. However, our April RevPAR results are truly remarkable, marking near returns to 2019 levels. Aided by our strong value proposition and continued outperformance, demand for new franchise contracts grew significantly in the first quarter. Likewise, our franchise owners are remaining with Choice as seen in our industry-leading voluntary franchisee retention rate and owners who choose to build and develop hotels in the current environment increasingly seek our brands. For the first quarter we awarded nearly 90 new domestic franchise agreements and over 50% increase over the same period of 2020. Of the total new domestic agreements, over 80% were for conversion hotels. These hotels historically open about three to five months after contract execution.

Throughout the first quarter, we also continued to grow our effective royalty rate, a reflection of the continued strengthening of the value proposition we provide to our franchise owners. These results and our optimism for the future led us to reinstate the dividend at the pre-pandemic level and resume our share repurchase program.

Underpinning our first quarter success are the deliberate decisions and strategic investments that we've made in our product portfolio, our value proposition, our platform capabilities and other franchisee facing tools. These investments allowed us to not only capitalize on demand that historically has driven our core business, but also enabled us to attract new travel demand to new market locations and our key segments such as extended stay and upscale. In fact, we believe we are now better positioned to increase our share of travel demand in the years to come than we were prior to the onset of the pandemic. We pride ourselves on investing in our high-quality well segmented portfolio of brands and this sets us apart with our franchise owners. We constantly monitor changing consumer preferences and strategically manage our portfolio to ensure we are building the brands of tomorrow in key strategic segments that provide a compelling return on investment.

Last year we launched our newest mid-scale extended stay brand Everhome Suites to provide franchisees with another opportunity to capitalize on this fast-growing segment in the hotel industry and help drive returns in practically any economic environment. As hotel financing starts to rebound, we anticipate developers increased demand for this new product. In fact, in April, we met with over 25 developers and toward the new model room for this exciting brand and interest is very high. We also proactively reinvested into the future of our product portfolio with Comfort's Move to Modern refresh program, which has been recently completed and the launch of the new Comfort prototype this quarter to help the brand family maintain its leadership position in the upper mid-scale segment for years to come. And we remain focused on growing our strategic conversion brands specifically, Clarion Pointe, a relatively new brand extension to the Clarion brand has experienced a five-fold increase of its portfolio and the Ascend Hotel Collection has increased the number of its domestic rooms by over 25% since the end of 2019.

Based on our strong track record of organic growth, we believe these internal investments will continue to drive attractive returns for years to come. At the same time, we continue to invest in our value proposition capabilities. We enhanced our pricing and merchandizing tools to further enable our franchise owners to reach their target customers and effectively drive top line revenue to their hotels while reducing their total cost of ownership. These tools are contributing to the outperformance our brands are experiencing. We also provided our guests with additional travel options by signing strategic agreements with new travel partners such as Penn National Gaming.

Finally, the decisions we've made to better align our cost structure in the post-pandemic environment that are here to stay, position us well to capitalize on opportunities as travel demand recovers, while allowing us to continue to invest for the long-term. We have maintained competitive share gains since the onset of the pandemic and we expect our momentum to continue, while uncertainty remains we are observing positive signs of recovery that give us confidence for 2021 and beyond. With the vaccine rollout pace accelerating and consumer confidence at its highest level since the pandemic began, Americans are feeling more optimistic about the prospect of traveling again. Indeed recent studies point to a significant uptick in consumers intent to travel in the next six months.

We've observed that throughout the first quarter and particularly in the month of April, our customers are planning their travel further in advance as witnessed by the lengthening of average booking windows. We are also pleased to see that our first quarter experienced over 400 basis points weekday occupancy index share gains as compared to 2019. As discussed on our prior calls, we believe the share gains are partially driven by long-term consumer trends, such as remote work, virtual learning and early retirements which afford more Americans flexibility in where and when they travel for leisure. Additionally, we are seeing sequential quarter-over-quarter improvements in our business travel booking trends. As a matter of fact, even our group travel is showing signs of recovery with the sports segment bookings expectations for this year already exceeding 2019 levels.

We continue to observe positive trends and rising outlooks across most key domestic economic indicators. Additionally stimulus checks from the recent financial relief package, high household savings and business reopenings all point to a continued recovery for our small business franchise owners and middle class consumers, our core customers.

I'll now provide a brief update on our key segments where are all of our brands achieved RevPAR index gains as compared to 2019 versus their local competitors through the first quarter. Our Extended Stay segment is a significant growth engine for the company. The acquisition of the WoodSpring Suites brand in 2018 and our strategic investments in the Extended Stay segment, allowed us to nearly quadruple the size of the portfolio over the past five years, with the segment now representing 10% of our total domestic rooms. In the first quarter the Extended Stay segment rapidly expanded by 44 units year-over-year from the first quarter of 2020 and now stands at nearly 455 domestic hotels with a domestic pipeline of 310 hotels. We expect this Extended Stay unit growth rate to further accelerate in the future.

Once again, our purpose-built brand tailored for long-term guests outperformed the competition in this cycle resilient segment. The WoodSpring Suites brand is our first brand to experience RevPAR levels that exceeded our 2019 results. For the first quarter as compared to 2019, WoodSpring reported over 3% RevPAR growth, driven by a more than 4% increase in average daily rate and an average occupancy rate of 74%, a truly remarkable achievement. The brand's pipeline continues to expand year-over-year and reached nearly 150 domestic hotels at the end of March 2021. Our Suburban Extended Stay brand experienced 10% year-over-year domestic unit and pipeline growth. At the same time our MainStay Suites mid-scale extended stay brand captured over 13 percentage points in RevPAR index gains versus its local competitors as compared to 2019. The brand's portfolio expanded to over 90 domestic hotels open a 26% increase year-over-year. The increased developer interest we are seeing reaffirms that our strategic commitment and continued investments in this highly cycle-resistant segment are driving a competitive advantage. Given these results, we remain optimistic about the growth potential of our Extended Stay portfolio.

Our mid-scale brands represent over two-thirds of our total domestic portfolio and over half of the total domestic pipeline. As we celebrate Comfort's 40th anniversary this year, the brand's continued growth and performance success is proved positive that we invest for the long-term. Our efforts to transform the brand are paying off, specifically the Comfort Family achieved RevPAR index gains versus its local competitors of nearly 10 percentage points and a RevPAR change that was nearly 11 percentage points more favorable than the upper mid-scale chain scale in the first quarter as compared to 2019. In March, we officially launched the much anticipated rise and shine prototype which maintains Comfort's low cost to build advantage over its competition and is designed to meet guest expectations for an elevated experience. The Comfort brand family reached over 260 hotels in its domestic pipeline, over one quarter of which are hotels awaiting conversions, which we believe will fuel the brand's growth in the near term.

And finally, Clarion Pointe, ended the first quarter by achieving a milestone of the 30th hotel opened in the United States and more than 20 additional hotels awaiting conversion in the near term. Our upscale portfolio achieved impressive year-over-year growth in the first quarter, where we increased our domestic upscale room count by 22% and marked the highest number of openings in a given quarter, matching the company's all-time record. In addition, developer interest in our upscale brands remained high as we more than quadrupled the number of domestic franchise contracts in the first quarter year-over-year.

The Ascend Hotel Collection leads the industry as the first and largest soft brand. The brand grew its domestic room count by nearly 26% year-over-year and expanded to nearly 380 hotels open around the globe. Ascend Hotels achieved the following performance in the first quarter as compared to the same period of 2019. The brand outperformed the upscale segment RevPAR change by 19 percentage points. It achieved RevPAR index gains of 12 percentage points against its local competitors and it recorded average daily rate index gains of 11 percentage points. This performance further enhance the brand's attractiveness to developers looking for a smart conversion opportunity which was showcased in the brand's strong franchise agreements activities for the quarter.

Our upscale Cambria Hotels brand continues its positive momentum, growing its portfolio size by 14% to 57 units with 18 projects under active construction at the end of March. The brand continues to build on its success with four hotels already opened year-to-date and five additional planned to open through the end of the summer. Consumer confidence in Cambria Hotels drove the brand RevPAR share gains versus its local competitors to 16 percentage points in the first quarter as compared to 2019. These results are proof of Choice Hotels value proposition in the upscale segment for our current and prospective owners.

We're also committed to enhancing our value proposition by growing our platform business. In the first quarter, we further expanded our attractive upscale platform and successfully on-boarded 22 Penn National Gaming Casino resort properties, representing nearly 7,000 rooms joining our Ascend Hotel Collection. This strategic agreement will offer our more than 48 million Choice Privileges members the opportunity to earn and redeem points at these Penn properties by booking their stays directly on choicehotels.com. We are proud of everything we've accomplished this quarter, but we certainly could not have done it without the dedication of our associates and the strength of our award-winning culture, focused on diversity, equity and belonging.

I'm especially pleased to say that Choice was recently named by Forbes as one of the best employers for diversity and one of America's best mid-size employers, as well as one of the best places to work by comparably. In closing, I'm confident that, thanks to the investments we've made over the long-term and our targeted actions amid the pandemic, we are in a stronger position as a company to successfully capitalize on the recovery. Our strategic approach, resilient business model, high quality well segmented portfolio brands and strong balance sheet will help us to further capitalize on growth opportunities in 2021 and beyond.

With that, I'll hand it over to our CFO, Dom?

Dominic Dragisich -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Pat and good morning everyone. I hope you and your families are all well. Today, I'd like to provide additional insights around our first quarter results, update you on our liquidity profile and approach to capital allocation and finally share our thoughts on the outlook for the road ahead.

Taking a closer look at our results for the first quarter 2021, total revenues excluding marketing and reservation system fees were $91.4 million. Adjusted EBITDA totaled $63.1 million driven by improving RevPAR performance and our ability to realize adjusted SG&A savings of 20% and our adjusted EBITDA margin expanded to 69%, a 330 basis point increase year-over-year. As a result, our adjusted earnings per share were $0.57 for the first quarter.

Let's take a closer look at our three key revenue levers, beginning with RevPAR. Our domestic systemwide RevPAR outperformed the overall industry by 23 percentage points for the first quarter, declining 18.7% from 2019, compared to 2020, our first quarter 2021 RevPAR declined only 4.4%. At the same time, our first quarter results exceeded the primary chain scale segments in which we compete as reported by STR, by over 8 percentage points versus 2019. Our domestic systemwide occupancy rate has seen significant improvement since mid-March 2021. In fact, starting in mid-March, we've experienced our highest occupancy levels since the start of the pandemic, with systemwide occupancy rates exceeding 70% on numerous days. We are optimistic that these demand trends will remain elevated, especially throughout summer and will further strengthen the financial health of our franchisees.

The trends of improving RevPAR performance have continued into the second quarter. Our April performance was significantly stronger with a RevPAR decline of approximately 4% and an occupancy rate increase of 80 basis points versus 2019 levels. These trends give us even greater optimism for our 2021 performance. We've long focused our brand strategy on driving growth across the higher value and more revenue intense upscale, extended stay and mid-scale segments and the investments we've made are paying off. In the first quarter, these strategic segments helped us achieve material RevPAR change outperformance against our respective industry chain scales and drove gains versus our local competitors. Specifically when compared to first quarter 2019, our upscale portfolio increased its RevPAR index relative to its local competitive set by 14 percentage points. Our extended stay portfolio outperformed the industry's RevPAR change by an impressive 38 percentage points and grew versus its local competitive set by 10 percentage points.

And finally the RevPAR change for our mid-scale and upper mid-scale portfolio exceeded these segments by 9 percentage points. For the first quarter 2021 versus the same period of 2019, all of our brands achieved RevPAR index gains versus their local competitors. In fact, we were able to increase our overall RevPAR index against local competitors by over 6 percentage points, notably through our franchisees' ability to maintain rate integrity. More specifically, our average daily rate improved from the prior quarter and our average daily rate index increased 3.7 percentage points as compared to 2019. We've also observed firsthand that our investments in pricing optimization capabilities for our franchisees are paying off. At the same time, we continue to grow the overall size of our franchise system and open the highest number of hotels in any first quarter in the past 10 years. Across our more revenue intense brands in the upscale extended stay and mid-scale segments we observed stronger unit growth, increasing the number of hotels by 2.4% year-over-year and improving the growth from fourth quarter 2020.

For full year 2021, we expect our overall unit growth trend to continue. Furthermore, we expect the unit growth of the more revenue intense segments to accelerate versus 2021 and range between 2% and 3%. Aided by our strong value proposition and outperformance, demand for our brands continue to gain momentum since the beginning of the year with over half of the domestic agreements executed in the month of March. Specifically, we saw an increase in demand for our conversion brands with domestic conversion contracts up 76% year-over-year.

Our royalty rate remains a significant source of our revenue growth, which is driven by the attractive value proposition we provide to our franchisees, their continued desire to be affiliated with our proven brands and our pipeline. The company's domestic effective royalty rate exceeded 5% for the first time ever in a quarter and increased 7 basis points year-over-year for the first quarter compared to the prior year. We expect to maintain the historical growth trajectory of this lever in 2021 as owners seek Choice Hotels proven capabilities of delivering strong top line revenues to their hotels, while helping them maximize return on investment.

I'd now like to turn to our liquidity profile and share capital allocation update. Our strong results have led to an even stronger liquidity position for the company. At the end of first quarter 2021, the company had approximately $823 million in cash and available borrowing capacity through its revolving credit facility, even though our cash generation tends to be weaker in the first quarter, due to the seasonality of our business and other cash outlays. Given the continuing improvements in our operations, our strong liquidity and credit profile and our increasing optimism for 2021 and beyond, our Board has approved the reinstatement of our quarterly dividend at the pre-pandemic level beginning in July 2021. Additionally, the Board has also approved the resumption of the company's share repurchase program. Both actions highlight the confidence we have in our business to continue generating strong levels of cash and are a testament to our impressive results, while reflecting our continued commitment to driving long-term shareholder value and returning excess capital to our shareholders.

Nevertheless, our capital allocation philosophy remains unchanged. We will continue to be disciplined stewards of capital and take steps that we believe will maximize shareholder value. Choice's primary objective in this area has always been to increase organic growth by strategically investing back into the business. We will continue to monitor the environment for other investment opportunities and evaluate capital returns in the context of our leverage levels, market conditions and our overall capital allocation strategy.

Before closing. I'd like to offer some thoughts on what lies ahead. While we are not providing formal guidance today, we currently expect RevPAR change for the remainder of the year to be stronger than first quarter 2021 results versus both 2020 and 2019. Our view is reinforced by the following: First, we continue to see consumers' desire to travel climbing aided by the vaccine rollout and improving domestic economic environment and higher levels of consumer savings. Second, we are pleased that our domestic RevPAR change has continued the pattern of sequential improvement with significantly stronger April RevPAR results versus 2019 and trends continuing into May. We currently expect strong travel demand trends to continue.

Finally, we continue to be optimistic given other positive trends such as demand increases in key urban locations and our share gains in business travel, combined with the continued resilience of leisure demand. We will continue to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 across the business and we'll provide further updates in August during our next earnings call.

In closing, we remain optimistic that Choice Hotels is well positioned to succeed in 2021 and beyond. Our resilient, primarily asset light franchise-focused business model which has historically delivered stable returns throughout economic cycles and provided a degree of cushion from market risks will continue to benefit us in the long run. Our investments for the long-term that propel our future forward coupled with our strategic approach, disciplined capital allocation strategy and strong balance sheet will allow us to continue to capitalize on opportunities during the recovery and drive outsized returns for years to come.

At this time, Pat and I would be happy to answer any questions. Operator?

Questions and Answers:

Operator

We will now begin the question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] Our first question today comes from Robin Farley with UBS.

Robin Farley -- UBS -- Analyst

Great. Yes. Just to follow-up on the share repurchase authorization. When do you anticipate -- is there anything in terms of balance sheet targets before you anticipate, actually doing share repurchase? Thanks.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Robin its, share purchase has always been a key part of our capital allocation strategy. I think when you just look at the recovery of the business, you look at our liquidity position. It allows us to do a share repurchase program. I would state it that way. Historically we haven't been programmatic in our share repurchase. We've been more opportunistic when we see the share price in a dislocated or discounted fashion relative to intrinsic value. So those are the things that we look for with regard to when we would go into the market and repurchase shares. So as of Friday, we have the ability to sort of go back and do that. And then we'll -- we were essentially returning to the capital allocation strategy that we had prior to the pandemic. So there aren't specific metrics that we look for other than a discount to intrinsic value.

Dominic Dragisich -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes Robin, the only thing I would add is just in terms of that capital allocation hierarchy, obviously, we've always talked about internal investments that are going to drive outsized growth first, M&A opportunities and then returning capital to shareholders. In terms of the balance sheet position, I mean you see where we are, we were one of the very few, if not the only ones that had -- that didn't have to renegotiate a covenant as well. And so from that perspective, I don't think that this is an either or, I think a lot of folks who said, oh you are in investment business instead of returning capital to the shareholders, I think that we're going to have the opportunity to do all of the above over the course of the next several months.

Robin Farley -- UBS -- Analyst

Okay, great, thanks. And if I could ask as a follow-up. I know you talked about the acceleration growth in the upscale and Extended Stay. I'm just curious whether you expect on a companywide basis, acceleration from the 2020 growth rate, which I think was about 0.4% overall. Do you think that companywide basis that will accelerate this year as well? Thanks.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, I mean, I think the only guidance that we provided in the prepared remarks obviously was the acceleration in those revenue intense segments. Last year those revenue intense segments grew about 2%. We gave guidance for 2% to 3% this year. I think that in terms of modeling, I would expect to see the trends that you're seeing today in the economy segment probably carry forward to 2021, but we're certainly seeing that acceleration in terms of those revenue intense segments. The only thing I would say it's not really just a story of net unit growth. This is really a story of net royalty contribution. I think it's really important and that's why we always talk about the revenue intense segments and that's the reason that we provided guidance. At the end of the day we're adding more revenue intense segments. So, getting to that historical 3% to 4% unit growth is not the only goal here, it's really around getting to that 3% to 4%, maybe even 4% to 5% in that royalty growth overall.

Robin Farley -- UBS -- Analyst

Great. Now, that makes sense. Thank you.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Dany Asad with Bank of America.

Dany Asad -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Hey, good morning team. Pat and Dom you both mentioned April trends that were pretty impressive relative to 2019 levels. But we've also heard that spring break really did create a spike in demand. And we may even have some element of stimulus that could be propping up demand here. So if you can you just help us first, just wrap our head around that sustainability of this -- the trend of the recovery and kind of how you feel about the balance of the year, whether it's any data points or what you're seeing on the ground?

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, Dan, it's a great question. I mean I sort of referred to this sort of pent-up demand and the bow wave of return to travel that we're going to see. And then the question is going to be at what point does the bow wave subside into something that's more normalized? I would say on the positive front, I mean if I look at our group travel, for instance, we're already ahead of 2019 levels with our sports segment and that was in Q1 and the forward bookings for June-July for that segment alone are significantly above where we were in 2019. So as we look further into the summer and you have some of these segments that tend to book more in advance than our transient business, we see some real positive signs.

I think on top of that, you just look at the return to travel in places like New York City, the Return to Sail Order for the cruise industry, you're starting to see Live Nation and some of these other venues, the opportunity for people to go somewhere and do something is also opening up as well, but those openings are going to occur in the next several months. I do think not only do we have a lot of confidence to travel. There's going to be more places to travel and things to do for consumers. So I look at this as sort of the beginning of what I hope will be a really strong summer here.

The real question will be what then happens in the fall? I go back to these trends we're seeing. I mean if you look at our Q1 number that weekday occupancy index number is really -- it's really remarkable. And a lot of that is this ability for people to work from anywhere. And so our people taking more extended middle of the week type leisure travel. We believe that's happening and really the question is going to be when this return in the fall to whatever the normal is, are people still going to have the flexibility to travel at non-traditional days of the week. And I think what we're seeing in the early trends are that that may in fact be the case.

Dominic Dragisich -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes, Dany, the only thing I would add just from a modeling perspective, April was probably the easier comp out there, just -- you hit that on the head there with regards to the return to spring break. When you think about May-June and July last year, that's when you saw a lot of that pent-up demand returning during the pandemic, especially in the South and so you're going to have certainly a tougher comp in May, probably an even tougher comp in June and in July, we are running some of those promotions and whatnot. So the 4% in April -- 4% down versus 2019 very remarkable, but just from a modeling perspective, we do have a few tougher comps on the horizon as well.

Dany Asad -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Got it. Thank you very much.

Dominic Dragisich -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Michael Bellisario with Baird.

Michael Bellisario -- Baird -- Analyst

Good morning, everyone.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning Michael.

Dominic Dragisich -- Chief Financial Officer

Good morning Michael.

Michael Bellisario -- Baird -- Analyst

I just want to go back to the topic of capital allocation. I think last quarter you guys ranked M&A higher and you're prioritizing this. Dom, you also said it again today, higher than returning excess capital to shareholders. Does the reinstated dividend suggest you're not seeing or maybe you don't expect to see any M&A investment opportunities pop-up over the near term?

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

I think Michael Don's point is, we have the ability to do if at all. I mean that capital allocation strategy has those four pillars to it. I think what we see the recovery of the business, the strength of our balance sheet, we have the ability to invest in our business, which we did in Q4, we did it in Q1, new prototypes, new revenue management tools and we are continuing to invest for long-term. Secondarily, we do look for M&A opportunities. We know that's a challenged environment right now in the hotel sector as its difficult to underwrite assets and then our share repurchase and dividend with regard to returning capital to shareholders. So we have the ability to sort of return to what we were doing back in February of last year and so that's really I think the message that you should take away from that as far as -- it doesn't mean that we're prioritizing one over the other, all four give us an opportunity to improve the overall return to our investors and so that's the portfolio of things we look at and they move in tandem with each other and as we're stating, we think that we're in a place today we can return all four of those to where we were prior to the pandemic.

Michael Bellisario -- Baird -- Analyst

Got it. Understood. And then switching gears, just a little bit. What are you hearing from developers regarding construction cost pressures and are you seeing any lower interest in new construction deals from prospective owners?

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

It's really interesting, the interest is very high, particularly with WoodSpring, with Everhome, even with our Comfort brand, now that that's been returned to a growth perspective after the refresh. The issue is around lumber prices and all the transitory materials cost that we've seen. When I talk to vendors who some of our largest vendors, they think things will normalize in about three or four months time. That's about the same working hypothesis that most of our developers have. And so beginning to sort of get the ball rolling on getting your application and getting a contract executed, getting your land acquired and then getting your financing, that takes time. So I think a lot of owners are expecting to get the ball rolling and then as things move forward, hopefully, three or four months from now, those construction costs come down, so that the deals pencil to the types of returns they are looking for.

Michael Bellisario -- Baird -- Analyst

Helpful. Thank you.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Thomas Allen with Morgan Stanley.

Thomas Allen -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thank you. A big macro theme is just labor shortages. What are you hearing from your franchisees in terms of that?

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, Tom, that's the number one thing we hear from our franchisees is getting the labor they need into their hotels. We as a company and our franchisees in tandem with us have done a number of things during the pandemic to save on labor costs, everything from housekeeping on request to a flexible Grab and Go Breakfast, these items also save on labor costs. So there are some things we've done to remove the labor cost, some of it in our franchisees total cost of ownership. So the ability to hopefully be able to continue to run their hotels with a smaller labor force than they've had prior to the pandemic, but I mean everybody has been talking about the same thing. It's the additional unemployment insurance stimulus money that is really causing people not to return to work yet as housekeepers and the like. So again we hope that's transitory. It extends through the month of September, so as workers begin to get closer and closer to that, we do hope it will ease up on the pressure that some of our franchisees are seeing.

Thomas Allen -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Pat just a follow-up on this. When you think longer term, do you have an estimate of how much you're kind of changes will help streamline the cost structure of your -- of the hotels?

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. We have some internal targets. I would say they are competitive in nature, so I won't speak to them, but they are significant and it is something that we have been working on prior to the pandemic. We've been able to pull some of that forward during the pandemic, and execute it earlier, and what was going to be something we piloted, we just put it out there and I'm pleased to say in a lot of these, the consumer reaction to it has been as positive as our franchisees reaction to it has been. And a lot of these also help us on the environmental front as well. So everything from not as much water and chemical usage in turn in the rooms every night to the types of things that can impact our environment going forward. So there is a really nice alignment, if you will, of lowered cost, lower environmental impact and guest expectations are actually in alignment with that. So I think it's something that we have been working on prior to pandemic and a lot of these are going to stay in place going forward.

Thomas Allen -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thank you.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from David Katz with Jefferies.

David Katz -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Hi, good morning everyone. Thanks for taking my question. I wanted to just get a little more insight, if I may, on the new build development activities. And the question is really in the context of the capital and the balance sheet use that the company has deployed over time. Is that new build stretching out? What are you sort of hearing and seeing and how should we think about that curve in the next couple of years as best as we can tell? Thanks.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, David, I think as we've been talking about the last several calls for the time it takes to do a new build has been elongated. It was first driven by the pandemic. Now I think it's going to be continued to be driven more by the both labor, FF&E and materials cost for constructing a new hotel. So as I said, what we're hearing in the marketplace is anywhere from a three or four month delay before those things hopefully normalize. But those are the things that we're seeing as far as the elongation of from a contract execution to a -- to an open hotel.

Dominic Dragisich -- Chief Financial Officer

And then David, to your point on just key money distributions over the course of last years, what we saw is actually that number coming down. Back in 2020 -- 2018, we were close to about $50 million and 2019 it dropped to about $40 million and then last year it was about $37 million or so distributed as well. We actually were a net recycler of capital for our Cambria portfolio in Q1 as well. So, we brought $25 million in, in terms of some of those investments that we're making. So obviously a competitive environment in order to get some of that revenue intense, unit growth that we we're talking about, we would be more than happy to lean in a little bit on key money for the remainder of the year to get some of those projects started and accelerated. But I think the better news is, it's really the conversion engine. So when you think about those openings in Q1, over 80% of those openings came from conversions. We actually sold 25 franchise agreements in Q1 as well that actually opened in Q1, which is one of the reasons why you're seeing the phenomenon with the pipeline, it's not necessarily the best barometer of near term, mid term unit growth. We think that as we continue to see those conversions ramping up, we'll be able to sustain that unit growth target that we have for the company.

David Katz -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Perfect. Thanks very much.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Patrick Scholes with Truist Securities.

Patrick Scholes -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Hi, good morning everyone. First question, can you tell us what your expectations are this year will be for spending on development in the Cambria brand? And where did you finished last year with that?

Dominic Dragisich -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes, so what I would tell you Patrick is, overall, we have $725 million authorized for Cambria. Right now on our balance sheet, we have about, call it $540 million. So a lot of it obviously depends on the pace in which some of these properties get opened and which groundbreaks happen. I think hitting that $725 million would actually be welcomed because that means these projects are breaking ground so to speak. But the reality is, over the course of the next several months and year frankly, we're going to be working within that authorization, which is the $725 million. As it pertains to the broader key money, what I mentioned was last year we were around $40 million or so deployed. We would expect to see probably pretty similar trends in 2021. Now obviously, we would be willing to lean in a little bit more, just given the fact that we certainly have the capacity, that goes back to that organic unit growth story that we talked about before and the number one priority in terms of the capital allocation hierarchy.

Patrick Scholes -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Okay, thank you. Dom then just a -- just want a clarification on your prepared remarks, did you say that you expect 2021 RevPAR to be better than 2019 on a dollar amount, is that correct?

Dominic Dragisich -- Chief Financial Officer

What we talked about was that RevPAR for the remainder of the year. So Q2, Q3, Q4, we expect to see as better in terms of RevPAR change than the RevPAR change that you saw in Q1 of this year.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

So quarter-over-quarter continues...

Patrick Scholes -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

That makes perfect sense. Thank you.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our next question comes from Dan Wasiolek with Morningstar.

Dan Wasiolek -- Morningstar -- Analyst

Good morning, guys. Thanks for taking the questions. Just the first one with the infrastructure proposal in the US, any potential impact that might have on some of your segments like Extended Stay or mid-scale?

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Those are projects that generally fill our Extended Stay hotels. If you look at our broader portfolio even beyond Extended Stay, that construction segment is one of the larger segments of our business travel, and that has actually held up fairly well during the pandemic, and is not too far off of where we were in 2019. So the more of those types of construction projects that get approved as a result of an infrastructure spending bill, the better plus, I think overall, just improving the airports, roads, bridges, tunnels, particularly for a company like ours that is heavily dependent on domestic travel and that's a key driver. The more investment the company or the country puts into those assets, the better off it is for productivity and for our business as a whole.

Dan Wasiolek -- Morningstar -- Analyst

That's great. Makes sense. And then just a question, I guess, on your international brand and the recovery you're seeing there. I mean obviously domestic is the vast majority of your business. But any comments on kind of how international brands and the recovery are doing and what you see moving forward there? Thanks.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. So as we stated in 2019 that was 3% of our earnings. But as it sort of go around the world, we have a large presence in Australia and New Zealand, that market has performed quite well. They are in island, both countries and we saw in December their summer a really record return of consumer demand. Again, they are in mostly drive to leisure markets not too different from here in the United States. So that market has done well. When you look at what's happening in India and you look at what's happening in Japan, in particular from a RevPAR perspective, those two markets are extremely challenged today. And in China, we only have seven hotels, but those seven hotels are seeing the same type of return we're seeing in China. Europe is a different story. I mean, Europe has been probably the most impacted at this point with RevPAR down significantly and hotel closures there being much higher than what we experienced here in the US. But I think as again, each of these countries gets to the point of where vaccinations are having an impact and where travel restrictions then begin to be lifted to become more optimistic as you get into the third and fourth quarter for our international markets.

Dan Wasiolek -- Morningstar -- Analyst

Okay. Thank you, guys.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

This will conclude our question-and-answer session. I would like to turn the call back over to Pat Pacious for any closing remarks.

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, operator. Thanks everyone again for your time this morning. As you heard today throughout the first quarter, Choice Hotels continued to drive the results that once again significantly outperformed the industry and our chain scale segments, and I believe the strategic investments we've made in recent years and the targeted actions we've taken during the pandemic are going to allow us to continue to grow our share of travel demand over the long-term. So I hope you all stay safe and healthy and we'll talk to you again this summer. Take care.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 53 minutes

Call participants:

Allie Summers -- Director, Executive Reporting and Investor Relations

Patrick Pacious -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Dominic Dragisich -- Chief Financial Officer

Robin Farley -- UBS -- Analyst

Dany Asad -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Michael Bellisario -- Baird -- Analyst

Thomas Allen -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

David Katz -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Patrick Scholes -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Dan Wasiolek -- Morningstar -- Analyst

More CHH analysis

All earnings call transcripts

AlphaStreet Logo

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.