Marriott International (NYSE:MAR) released some good and bad news yesterday. First, the bad: Third-quarter results include an 11% decrease in profits coupled with falling room rates. On the plus side, though, management is sensing that the worst may be over for lodging companies such as Marriott, Hilton (NYSE:HLT), and StarwoodHotels and Resorts (NYSE:HOT). So far, the slump in the hotel business has lasted some three years, since the events of 9/11.

Marriott, the world's largest hotel company with more than 2,500 properties in 65 countries, sports such brand names as Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Marriott, Renaissance, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, and Ritz-Carlton. It's waxing bullish on the coming year, forecasting revenues per room rising 3% to 4% in 2004.

That's nice, but for many investors, including those who bid up the company's shares more than 30% over the past year, it's not enough. They're likely dissatisfied with Marriott's expectation that profit margins won't increase in the near future, due to personnel and insurance expenses, among other things.

A Reuters story notes that, "Group bookings for early next year are strong. But with corporations negotiating flat rates, much of the pickup in early 2004 would be from higher occupancy and a higher proportion of higher-paying business travelers rather than the broad rate increases the industry longs for."

Keep an eye on Marriott and its peers if you're looking for signs of a turnaround in the beleaguered travel industry. And look for the proof in the pudding, such as in financial statements, rather than in rosy forecasts from any company's management.

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