by Michael J. Shapiro | February 19, 2016

In its fourth-quarter earnings call, Marriott International reported solid performance for the end of 2015 and the year overall. Worldwide revenue per available room was up 5 percent of the full year, accompanied by a 4 percent increase in average daily rate. North American occupancy was a record 74 percent.

"We are encouraged by recent demand trends," noted president and CEO Arne Sorenson during the call, highlighting group business specifically. "Group RevPAR in North America increased 6 percent in the [fourth] quarter, and new group bookings for future business increased 10 percent year-over-year. Group-booking pace for the company's full-service hotels is up 7 percent in 2016 compared with 2015."

Corporate transient business also was strong: Based on negotiations for 2016, Sorenson said the company expects corporate rates to rise at a mid-single-digit rate this year. "Make no mistake," said Sorenson, "business travelers are on the road."

Regarding the planned acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Sorenson said the company still expects the transaction to close in mid-2016. Without including the impact of the acquisition, Marriott expects worldwide gross rooms growth of 8 percent this year -- 7 percent net -- and a worldwide RevPAR increase of 3 to 5 percent.

Marriott now has more than 759,000 rooms in its portfolio -- not including Starwood's impact when the deal closes -- thanks to nearly 52,000 new rooms that were added in 2015. "Our development group had an outstanding year, signing new contracts for 104,000 rooms in 2015, including 9,600 associated with the Delta [Hotels] transaction," said Sorenson. "We expect that our owners and franchisees will invest more than $15 billion on the newly signed projects that should open over the next several years."

Both Marriott and Starwood shareholders will meet March 28 to vote on the previously announced acquisition deal, Marriott revealed in the earnings call.