Last year marked a sensational turnaround for Hilton (NYSE:HLT) and its peers in the lodging industry, as a resurgence in the number of business and leisure travelers helped end the protracted slump that emerged in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. That's good news for the company, but for investors, it may mean the company is no longer a bargain.

Hilton stumbled slightly as it approached the fourth-quarter finish line -- earnings released this morning dipped by a penny from $0.17 to $0.16 amid a series of charges -- but the modest setback has done little to impede the company's sharp rebound.

Excluding one-time items, earnings came in ahead of estimates at $0.18, representing a 64% improvement over adjusted earnings of $0.11 from a year ago, when a $27 million tax-related gain boosted results. For the full year, net income jumped 45% to $238 million ($0.60) on revenues that climbed 9% to $4.15 billion.

As was the case last quarter, strong demand continues to fuel a recovery in pricing power. Average daily rates at comparable company-owned hotels jumped 5.1% to $164.61, accounting for two-thirds of Hilton's 8.3% increase in revenues per available room (RevPAR). A number of key markets -- including New York, Boston, and New Orleans -- reported double-digit gains in RevPAR. For the full year, occupancy rose 2.6% to 73.3%, and average daily rates were up 3.1% to $153.72, with both key metrics looking good against industry-wide averages of 61.3% and $86.41, respectively.

During the year, Hilton completed the sale of five properties and now owns only 50 (or about 2%) of its 2,259 total hotels. With those sales leaving fewer rooms, overall revenues from owned hotels managed just a slim 2% rise, to $542 million. However, over the same time frame, the company added 92 franchised hotels to its roster.

The addition of those properties -- and their 10,000 combined rooms -- helped drive management and franchise fees 17% higher, to $96 million. Strong RevPAR increases system-wide (including managed and franchised hotels) also played a role. There was strength across the board, with each of the company's six brands reporting gains, ranging from 5.7% at Embassy Suites to 10.9% at Hampton Inn. Hilton Grand Vacations, the company's timeshare business, also enjoyed another solid quarter, with unit sales up 45% and revenues topping the $100 million mark.

How Hilton's fourth-quarter results will stack up against its rivals remains to be seen, since Hilton is the first to report. Starwood Hotels (NYSE:HOT), a standout performer three months ago, is scheduled to weigh in later this week. Marriott (NYSE:MAR), fresh off a 45% surge in third-quarter earnings, is set to follow next week.

Looking forward, Hilton has raised its 2005 RevPAR outlook and is now forecasting 7.5%-8.5% growth at owned hotels, up from an earlier range of 5%-7%. The company's recent strength has not gone unnoticed, though, and its shares have advanced more than 40% over the past year. So for some, it may be a little too late to check into this hotel's stock.

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Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter owns none of the companies mentioned.