Normal people might have been introduced to economy hotelier La Quinta (NYSE:LQI) via the front desk. But I, like many Fools, first met the company in Peter Lynch's One Up on Wall Street. He loved the company because it ran a tight ship in a new market niche, placing hotels near business districts instead of on-ramps, attracting business customers by positioning itself right between fancy and funky. It became a 15-bagger for Lynch.

That seems like a zillion years ago. Recent history hasn't been so kind to La Quinta. Sales have been dropping every year since 1999, when they were at $912 million.

Unfortunately, the latest numbers begin with yet another year of falling revenues. Full-year sales, at $512 million, sank 2% below year-ago levels. And yes, there was red ink at the bottom line, though at $0.58 per share, it looks a lot better than 2002's loss of $3.55 per stub.

Looking at the full half of the glass, investors should notice a healthy 7% year-over-year uptick in Q4 sales, to $120 million. At $0.07 per share, fourth-quarter losses were much slimmer than the previous year's $0.18-per-share loss. Maybe the most encouraging metric was a 10% jump in Q4 RevPAR (which sounds like a new stock-car racing circuit, but it's actually "revenue per available room").

As Fool colleague Alyce Lomax pointed out last month, many hotel chains -- including some higher up the snazzy scale, such as Marriott International (NYSE:MAR), Hilton (NYSE:HLT), and Canada's Four Seasons (NYSE:FS) -- have all enjoyed better times after a dismal start to 2003. Like these peers, La Quinta is forecasting even happier days ahead. It expects RevPAR increases of 5% for the coming year, with a 9% improvement for the first quarter. Still, the firm is predicting another loss next year, though management expects it to be 40% smaller, near $51 million.

Over the past year, La Quinta's shares have more than doubled to around $8 each. The balance sheet looks OK, and many turnaround-watchers will likely still consider the stock a value. But if the firm's predictions come to pass, next year will be the fifth-consecutive season of red ink, with no earnings in sight. That's a long time to wait for better times.

Looking for a La Quinta -- or any other hotel -- near water and palm trees? Check out the accommodations on the Fool's Travel and Vacation discussion board, or pay a visit to the Fool's Travel Center.

Fool contributor Seth Jayson prefers the local roach motel to neat and tidy inns. He has no stake in any company mentioned here.