A strong economy is great for travel, and hotel behemoth Marriott International (NASDAQ:MAR) has taken full advantage of the cyclical boom in demand for its accommodations. Not only has its own legacy hotels kept bringing in millions of guests, but the hotels it acquired in its merger with Starwood Hotels & Resorts have also helped bolster Marriott's growth.

Coming into Monday's second-quarter financial report, Marriott investors wanted to see outsized gains in revenue and earnings, and the hotelier delivered on both fronts. Moreover, one new feature that Marriott will offer should help boost demand in the future. Now that the company is finally introducing one set of unified benefits across all three of its existing loyalty programs, Marriott's most valuable customers will fully appreciate the attention they get from the hotelier, and that could make them even more loyal -- and valuable -- in the future.

High-rise hotel building with Marriott logo next to a tropical landscape with pool.

Image source: Marriott.

Marriott shareholders are enjoying their stay

Marriott's second-quarter results continued the positive momentum the company generated earlier this year. Gross fee revenue climbed 12% to $951 million, although weaker growth in cost reimbursements limited total revenue growth to about 2.5%. Net income jumped 25% to $610 million, and even after taking out some extraordinary items, adjusted earnings of $1.73 per share were far ahead of the consensus forecast among investors for $1.38 per share.

Fundamentally, Marriott's sales growth was consistent with what we've seen previously. Comparable systemwide revenue per available room, or RevPAR, rose 3.8% across the globe, which accelerated slightly from the pace in the first quarter. North American results were a bit sluggish, with a 3.1% rise in comps, but international gains of 5.7% helped to lift Marriott's overall figure higher. Base management and franchise fees were up 12% from year-ago levels, and incentive management fees picked up an even stronger 14%. North America and the Asia-Pacific region both contributed to those gains, and a combination of better revenue performance and credit card branding fees lifted base fees.

Investors have gotten used to seeing the Marriott network expand, and that kept happening during the second quarter. Marriott acquired 142 new properties with more than 23,000 rooms, and that brought the total system assets to more than 6,700 properties and timeshare resorts. Room counts rose to almost 1.29 million. Marriott also has the pipeline to keep those numbers rising, with 2,740 properties in its worldwide development pipeline that could add another 466,000 rooms to the hotelier's total.

CEO Arne Sorenson showed how Marriott is thriving globally. "In North America," Sorenson said, "solid group business allowed us to drive higher room rates in the quarter." Meanwhile, the CEO pointed to its luxury business overseas, noting that "over 40% of gross room additions are located outside North America, and more than one-third are in upper-upscale and luxury tiers."

Can Marriott keep growing?

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment is yet to come. On Aug. 18, Marriott will introduce a single set of benefits across all three of its current loyalty programs. The idea, in Sorenson's words, is to succeed in "creating an incredibly rich program" in which "members will find it easier to redeem points, achieve elite status, and book stays across the entire portfolio." With credit card partners offering new ways to use cards to earn perks, Marriott is confident that its efforts to unify the Starwood and legacy Marriott programs should pay off with greater customer loyalty.

Marriott left its guidance largely unchanged. For the full year, it still sees revenue per available room rising 2% to 3% in North America, 5% to 6% elsewhere, and 3% to 4% worldwide. Gross fee revenue should be up about 10% to 12% from year-ago levels. Earnings guidance was higher, with Marriott predicting $5.81 to $5.91 per share.

Meanwhile, Marriott issued projections for the third and fourth quarters as well. Gross fee revenue should be between $915 million and $935 million in the third quarter and between $929 million and $944 million in the fourth, with earnings of $1.27 to $1.32 per share and $1.47 to $1.52 per share respectively. RevPAR should rise at about a 2.5% to 3% clip in both periods.

Marriott investors weren't entirely convinced about the hotelier's outlook for the rest of the year, and the stock dropped about 3% in after-hours trading following the announcement. Yet with the potential for a unified rewards program to bring customers in the door and keep them there, Marriott looks like it's at about the right spot in its continuing efforts to create synergies with its Starwood acquisition.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Marriott International. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.