While the hotel industry has been extremely negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hilton (HLT, Financial) has done an excellent job navigating industry volatility, a testament to the company’s high-quality, asset light, high-margin business model and superb management team. From the moment the pandemic began, Hilton’s management team took decisive actions to ensure the company not only managed through what it knew would be a challenging period, but also positioned the company to generate improved margins, cash flows and investment returns once the business recovers to pre-COVID-19 demand levels.
Industry RevPAR (the industry metric for same-store sales at a given hotel) bottomed in April 2020 and has shown sequential improvement every quarter as travel and mobility have recovered along with COVID-19 vaccine rollouts and a resumption in travel. In recent months, there is increasing evidence that a robust recovery scenario is underway, led by domestic leisure travel occasions which is currently trending above 2019 demand levels. For the first three weeks of July, the most recent data the company provided, RevPAR has already recovered to 85% of 2019 levels – a significant improvement over prior months driven by increased hotel occupancy and a rapid recovery in rate.
While management anticipates a moderation in leisure demand as we exit the summer, it expects the moderation in leisure travel to be offset by a more pronounced recovery in business transient travel occasions as offices reopen this fall. Although there remains near-term uncertainty in domestic travel given the increase in COVID-19 case numbers following the arrival of the Delta variant in the U.S., we believe that the medium-term outlook continues to point to a robust recovery scenario.
Throughout the pandemic, Hilton took actions to reduce corporate expenses by about 20% compared to 2019 levels. Simultaneously, the company provided resources and support to the Hilton owner community which further solidified Hilton as the preferred franchise partner, thereby expanding Hilton’s pipeline of units around the world.
In the most recent quarter Hilton affirmed its near-to-medium term outlook of mid-single-digit net unit growth, and a resumption of its historical 6-7% net unit growth beginning in 2023-2024, higher growth than competitors, and further evidence of Hilton’s unique business model.
We believe that Hilton will continue to grow its market share over time given independent hotels’ increased interest in seeking an affiliation with global brands, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. While the recovery may continue to be uneven, Hilton has made tremendous progress which will help it become an even more profitable and stronger business going forward.