First-quarter group business at U.S. hotels has been stronger than expected, according to data just released from Smith Travel Research. Group occupancy improved at a steeper rate than transient, in fact; a 7.8 percent year-over-year improvement vs. 4 percent growth for transient business. Group revenue per available room also grew faster than transient, a 10.3 percent increase vs. 9.2 percent. Rates, however, still are creeping up at a slower pace on the group side, showing that planners still have strong negotiating leverage. First-quarter group daily rate climbed by 2.3 percent over last year, while transient rates rose by a relatively robust 5.1 percent. STR just started calculating quarter reviews by segment.