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Executives

Mark W. Brugger – Chief Executive Officer

John Williams – President and Chief Operating Officer

Sean M. Mahoney – Chief Financial Officer

Analysts

David Loeb - Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc.

William Marks - JMP Securities

Dennis Forst - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Jeffrey Donnelly - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC

Ryan Meliker - Morgan Stanley

Mike Salinsky - RBC Capital Markets

Smedes Rose - Keefe, Bruyette & Woods

Ken Ho – Keybanc

[Andrew Whitman] – Robert W. Baird

David Katz - Oppenheimer & Co.

DiamondRock Hospitality Co. (DRH) Q2 2009 Earnings Call July 28, 2009 10:00 AM ET

Operator

Good day ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the second quarter 2009 DiamondRock Hospitality Company earnings conference call. My name is [Deanna] and I’ll be your coordinator for today.

(Operator Instructions) As a reminder, this conference is being recorded for replay purposes.

I would now like to turn the presentation over to your host for today’s call, Mr. Mark Brugger, Chief Executive Officer. Please proceed.

Mark W. Brugger

Good morning everyone and welcome to DiamondRock Hospitality’s second quarter 2009 earnings conference call. Today I’m joined by John Williams, our President and Chief Operating Officer, as well as Sean Mahoney, our Chief Financial Officer.

Before we begin, I would just like to remind everyone that many of our comments today are not historical facts and are considered forward-looking statements under Federal Securities Law, and they may not be updated in the future. These statements are subject to numerous risks and uncertainties described in our Securities filings. Moreover, as we discuss certain non-GAAP financial measures, it may be helpful for you to review the reconciliation to GAAP in our earnings press release.

As you already know, the U.S. travel industry continues to face significant challenges from sharp reductions in demand caused by the current recession. Many of the macroeconomic indicators that correlate with hotel demand remain negative, although some are showing signs of moderating.

The second quarterly totals for our portfolio of 20 hotels reflect a continuing negative operating environment for lodging. RevPAR declined 22.2% in the quarter and 19.9% year-to-date. The year-to-date RevPAR decline was led by a 12.8% decrease in rates and a 5.9 percentage point reduction in occupancy.

However, as a testament to our portfolio and branding strategy, our portfolio of hotels continued to gain market share. Year-to-date our hotels have increased their market share measured by RevPAR penetration over 7 percentage points. Margins have been a relatively solid story. Even with the significant loss in revenue, the house profit margin decline in the second quarter was limited to 499 basis points, and adjusted EBITDA margins to 604 basis points. The cost containment efforts of our asset managers and hotel operators are working. John will discuss those efforts in more detail in a moment.

For the company, in the second quarter we generated revenue of $143.6 million, adjusted EBITDA of $32.6 million and adjusted FFO per share of $0.24. Turning to the balance sheet, DiamondRock has historically focused on maintaining a conservative balance sheet and a straightforward capital structure. As of the end of the second quarter, the company’s ratio of net debt to trailing four quarters of adjusted EBITDA was 5.2 times. The company currently maintains more than $80 million of cash including $30 million of restricted cash.

Somewhat unique in our space, we have no joint ventures or corporate debt outstanding, including no preferred equity, no convertible debt and no outstanding borrowings on our corporate revolver. After the completion of the Courtyard Midtown East refinancing later this year and potentially satisfying the Griffin Gate maturity with cash on hand, we will have no material maturities until late 2014, and practically half of our hotels will be unencumbered. Moreover, all of our debt is comprised of non-recourse, subject to certain limited exceptions, property specific mortgage debt.

In these credit constrained times we remain focused on our balance sheet strength and liquidity to both weather the storm and, at the appropriate time, position DiamondRock to create shareholder value by buying hotels in what inevitably is going to be a buyers market for the disciplined few with the balance sheets to take advantage of it. Our liquidity is enhanced through our positive free cash flow, our ability to pay a portion of our dividends in stock, our unencumbered full hotels, our untapped $200 million corporate revolver, and by having the ability to raise cash for future equity offerings. We believe that DiamondRock is well positioned, but we remain vigilant about our balance sheet and will continue to focus on ways to utilize the balance sheet’s great value for our shareholders.

As for the outlook, the lack of visibility remains too high to provide meaningful guidance at this time. However, we want to continue to provide as much relevant information as possible to assist investors and analysts in deriving their own estimates. Here is what we can tell you. For the full year 2009, we project approximately $51 million of total debt service, $10 million of owner funded capital projects, $10.5 million of cash corporate G&A, and REIT taxable income of $35 to $45 million which will be the basis for determining the amount of our 2009 dividends. We hope that this information is helpful.

With that, I’ll turn the call over to John.

John Williams

Thanks Mark. We continued to see negative operating trends across the portfolio in the second quarter. With hotels in several of our major markets losing RevPAR at accelerating rates, we’re still playing defense, implementing creative and unprecedented cost saving measures across the portfolio. At the same time, we’re working with our operators to uncover additional revenue sources, and new market segment opportunities in order to enhance market share and maximize profits.

Overall, portfolio occupancy was down 6.7 percentage points to 69% and average daily rate was down 14.6% to 159.30 in the quarter. GOP margin as Mark mentioned was down 499 basis points. New York and Chicago were our most challenging markets in the second quarter. Our New York Courtyards had RevPAR declines in excess of 30%. Our Chicago hotels suffered mid-twenties percent RevPAR declines, and our Los Angeles and Atlanta properties experienced around 20% declines. Our best performing hotels were in Boston and the Caribbean, where our Western Boston and Frenchman’s Reef Marriott were relative bright spots with RevPAR declines of only 3.9 and 5.9% respectively.

It’s very hard to see many positives in the tragic market we’ve been in for over a year, but our portfolio has gained market share throughout, validating our brand strategy. All three major segments were meaningfully negative in the second quarter.

Business transient revenue, traditionally the most profitable business, was down an astounding 37% for the quarter. The lost business transient room nights were partially replaced by opening discounted rate categories and increasing contract room nights, particularly at our airport hotels. This change in mix is a major contributor to the decline in portfolio average daily rate.

Leisure and other revenue in the quarter was down 7%, almost entirely in rate. Leisure faces easier comparisons as it was already under stress in the comparable period and we’ve seen the demand to be induced with discounting in this segment which is not true with the business traveler.

Group revenue was down about 23% with the decline mainly coming in room nights, with the rate down just 6%. With the reduced volume across the portfolio, food and beverage sales were off nearly 20% for the quarter, resulting in F&B margins off 230 basis points for the quarter. We continued to see group booking revenue pace drop off as it has for six quarters. Page was off 14.5% as of Q1 and stood down 19% by the end of Q2, as short term pick up in rooms became even more difficult. The drop off is again primarily in room nights as rate is down less than 4%.

The Westin Boston group business this year continues to benefit from its new meeting space, with pace up 4.4%. For 2010, group revenue booking pace for our portfolio is off 16.4 versus same time last year. As we’ve said in the past, we believe this comparison is clouded by cancellations not being reflected in last year’s numbers and the shorter term nature of current bookings.

On the cost front, we remain vigilant about cost savings and maintaining profit margins. Our largest cost area, salaries and wages, were down about 14% in the quarter. However, benefit costs were down just 7% so overall wage and benefit costs were down about 12% in the quarter. Support costs, including property level G&A, repairs and maintenance, and marketing, were down almost 13% in the quarter. Productivity was better in the quarter reflecting contingency plans implemented over the past year. Rooms cost per occupied room was 4% better. Man hours POR was better by 8% and incentive management fees for the second quarter were down over 60% or $1.9 million.

With almost $300 million of capital invested in our properties over the past five years, our overall portfolio is in good condition and will require much less capital over the next several years. We budgeted $35 million for capital expenditures in our hotels for 2009 with approximately $25 million of that amount coming from FF&E reserve funds. The budget includes $5 million in energy ROI projects, most with paybacks of one to three years.

Our cost containment plans are expected to save approximately $10 million in 2009, 65% of the savings come from reduced labor costs as positions are eliminated and hours reduced. The $10 million in savings from our 2009 cost containment initiatives is in addition to the $5 million savings from the plans we implemented in 2008, as well as the substantial savings incorporated into the original 2009 operator prepared budgets.

Our asset managers in conjunction with our hotel operators continue to work diligently to search for additional savings, knowing that we face more difficult margin comparisons in the second half of this year. Areas of particular focus including additional housekeeping efficiencies and food and beverage outlet profitability.

On the acquisition front, sellers remain reluctant to bring institutional quality hotels to market in this environment and opportunities remain limited. Our observation on distressed assets is that many lenders are postponing the inevitable and it will be at least early to mid 2010 before many of these assets reach a tipping point to become opportunities. However, we’re looking for opportunities and have recently resumed our acquisition pipeline meetings with senior executives of Marriott International. We remain optimistic that very good buying opportunities will result from this downturn. We just don’t know exactly when yet.

With that I’ll turn it back over to Mark.

Mark W. Brugger

Thanks John. As you have heard, the operating environment for lodging is difficult and we expect that to continue for the next several quarters. During these times our team will remain focused on having a strong balance sheet, ample liquidity, and maximizing profits through progressive asset management initiatives that leverage the best learnings in the industry.

With that said, we believe that DiamondRock is well positioned for the future. With the high quality portfolio and one of the best capital structures in the industry, we expect to take advantage of the acquisition market at the appropriate time to create value for our shareholders.

Now we would like to open up the call for your questions. Operator?

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from David Loeb - Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc.

David Loeb - Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc.

Hi. I had a couple. John you just talked a little bit about opportunities. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about when you think the timing of assets that are currently beginning to default actually turns into assets for sale. And do you think pricing is going to be advantageous early in that process or do you think that prices are going to fall as we move ahead into a situation where there’s more distress?

John Williams

David, hi. That’s a pretty hard question to answer obviously given the uncertainties in the securitized market and all that we think has to be done from a precedent standpoint before people are comfortable understanding what the process is going to look like. We think once those precedents are set it could begin to happen more quickly.

But if you look at what we’re seeing today, it’s really the most troubled assets that really don’t have much opportunity for success, and therefore you don’t get many bidders at the foreclosure auctions. But we are seeing I would say a very slow trickle of assets come to market, but just nothing that we’ve seen that fits our profile at this point.

David Loeb - Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc.

So just to drill a little deeper into the hard part of that, do you think as we get more and more hotels hitting distress or reaching maturity on their CMBS mortgages and not being able to replace those, do you think that the pricing is going to continue to decline on those assets? Do you think that we’re going to see cap rate expansion? Or do you think that the best opportunities are going to be earlier?

John Williams

Again, I’ll use history as a guide. The opportunities in the last go round in 2002 and ‘3 were pretty limited. Pricing didn’t necessarily deteriorate as we went through that, but again the early ones were the most troubled. And as we came out and sellers began to see opportunities to sell whether they were lenders or owners, you know, the volume increased as we went through the cycle. I would expect the same thing this time.

David Loeb - Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc.

And on the cost control front, as the RevPAR change is starting to shift over from more occupancy into more rate and as you begin to lap some of your cost saving initiatives, what do you think the prospects are for margins in the second half? And as you look into next year again its easier comparisons, but if we continue to have flat or moderately down RevPAR do you think that it’s going to be tougher to keep margins in line?

John Williams

You know, David, obviously we’re focused pretty intently on that very question, the second half and particularly in 2010 because we frankly see all trends pointing to a negative RevPAR 2010 environment. And as you point out a lot of hard work has gone into cutting costs at this point. We’re looking very, very hard with all of our operators for additional opportunities and, you know, as things get tougher again if the last cycle is any guide, even when we thought we’d reached the point where there weren’t many more opportunities we found some more opportunities. So whether it’s housekeeping or food and beverage, the two big hitters, you know, we are looking very, very hard for additional opportunities to save because as you point out, the comps are going to be tough in the second half and even tougher next year.

Operator

Your next question comes from William Marks - JMP Securities.

William Marks - JMP Securities

I had a question on first of all a simple question on share count and you’ve given some guidance on that. Could we assume that, you also gave dividend guidance, should we assume that it’s a cash dividend or any thoughts there?

Mark W. Brugger

Will, this is Mark. On the share count I think the press release has a pretty accurate number in it for you to use in your model. As far as the dividend what we said before is that we’re going to see where we are at the end of the year. We’ve had discussions with our board about utilizing the [inaudible], a significant portion of stock and we can file a termination later in the year.

William Marks - JMP Securities

And on next year, I understand on the cost side and then John’s commented about expecting negative RevPAR next year. Can you talk about what particularly first half of next year what makes it a difficult comp? Because prices are going to be lower in 2010? Is it because you had groups that decided not to cancel because it would have cost just as much and so they ended up maintaining their stay in 2009 and they won’t in 2010?

John Williams

Well, I think the toughest comparison is going to be created by the average rate challenge that we’ll have next year as occupancy stabilizes. You know, or it even begins to increase at some point next year. So when you have volume increases on top of the pretty dramatic cuts that we’ve made this year in the hotels, it’s going to be hard to keep costs out. But that’s what we’re working on identifying right now is how we can keep those costs out. But difficult comp comes because your volume will increase at some point next year while your rates will still be challenged.

Mark W. Brugger

Will, this is Mark. I would just add that, you know, you’re going in 2010 with very low pricing power in most of these categories. And while we’re going to have to see where corporation’s budget travel for next year that obviously will have an impact, but when you think about the special core rate negotiation going on beginning in September, when you think about the meeting planners booking the groups in next year, clearly the leverage is on the buy side right now of that equation. And so it’s going to take time for those [inaudible] to rebuild that pricing power even as demand starts to kind of rekindle itself. So we just see it as a slower process going in 2010.

William Marks - JMP Securities

Just on current levels of occupancy, it seems most companies have been saying that occupancy is starting to firm at least a little bit. Where is the new demand coming from? I guess it sounds like its all leisure. Would you say that’s accurate?

John Williams

Well, this time of year you would expect that anyway, Will. But yes its discounted rate categories so its demand that you’re inducing on the leisure side and maybe capturing from other lower priced, traditionally lower priced competitors on the corporate demand side or group side. But it generally is in what I would categorize as discounted categories, whether it be mid-week or weekend.

Operator

Your next question comes from Dennis Forst - KeyBanc Capital Markets.

Dennis Forst - KeyBanc Capital Markets

I had a couple. First, in terms of cost cutting have you had any conversations with your outside managers about possibly in this environment taking less of a management fee? I mean clearly you’ve gone to everybody else that you do business with to try and cut costs.

Mark W. Brugger

Yes, Dennis, this is Mark. As far as renegotiating our fees, there’s two major components. There’s the base fee which is a portion of the gross revenues at the hotel so it automatically adjusts as the revenues declined. I think the Marriott’s of the world and the Starwoods of the world would be loathe to open up their contract to help you out there.

The second major component is the incentive management fees, which on some properties can be bigger than the base management fees, but those have declined dramatically. They’re down

60% for us in this quarter so in essence they’ve taken their fair share of paying on this downside and trying to help so far.

John Williams

Dennis I would add, this is John, I would add that the brands have been very, very cooperative when it comes to brand standard issues, whether it be a product issue or a service issue, where they feel there’s opportunity to help us either save capital or increase our cost cutting or decrease our cost they have been extremely cooperative this time around as they were last time. So as Mark said opening up the contracts is probably not an option. But they have been very cooperative.

Dennis Forst - KeyBanc Capital Markets

In the unfortunate scenario that this type of an economy goes through the end of 2010, is there much more that you can do on cost savings? Or have you pretty much reined that pretty much as tight as you can get?

John Williams

You know, as I said we are looking very hard for additional cost opportunities. We’ll find some additional cost opportunities. It won’t be on the scale of what we found thus far. But as the economy worsens, I think everyone’s going to look harder and harder for opportunities to save money. I would say, one thing I would say what we find next year is likely to be temporary while some of what we found this year and last year will be more permanent.

Dennis Forst - KeyBanc Capital Markets

I have one specific item of just housekeeping. What were the number of available room nights in the quarter? Do you have that number?

Sean M. Mahoney

Sure, Dennis. This is Sean. The available room nights this quarter were 821,400.

Operator

Your next question comes from Jeffrey Donnelly - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC.

Jeffrey Donnelly - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC

You mentioned before about looking at some distressed investment opportunities. I’m just curious. Given the demand right now, what metrics are you going to be using to sort of assess valuation to know that you’re buying right? Is it an IRR hurdle? And I guess plus when do you kind of think things turn? Or is it just, I guess, discount or replacement cost price per pound type that you’d look at?

Mark W. Brugger

Jeff, this is Mark. It’s tough. I mean we have the least visibility we’ve ever had on projecting future cash flows for properties which makes underwriting difficult. Probably the more prudent course is to look backwards versus forward. So if we found an acquisition target and that acquisition was accreted to our average portfolio quality and it kind of looking backwards if the growth rates have traditionally, you know, been higher than our portfolio or similar to our portfolio that gives us at least a base line with our existing portfolio. A base line to measure whether we’re creating value or not creating value with the acquisition. So that’s probably going to be a very important component of underwriting assets.

Price per pound at some point will be is interesting and more meaningful in some markets than other markets. And that’s going to play into the thought. But that gets more important in the underwriting when you consider future supply growth and the fundamentals going forward.

Jeffrey Donnelly - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC

I guess a two part question is I think the first half of it being, you know, so is there a way you might want to look different as a company as you go into say 2010 or 2011? Either by geography or the mix of assets that you have, i.e., more group or more leisure. I guess implicit in that is you have to have some sort of view how markets or some other categories are changing. I mean do you think that there’s some segments of the hotel business we’ve seen a more lasting, I don’t want to say permanent, but a more lasting disruption in demand say more like for example luxury group or luxury resort that would cause you to want to stay away from certain segments or move towards others or other markets?

Mark W. Brugger

That’s a difficult question. This is Mark. A couple of things. We generally have been balanced between the three segments, kind of a third, a third, a third, with some sub movement a little bit one way or the other. We like that balance going forward. That’s served us well and I think it hedges your bet a little bit on what’s in vogue or what’s more dynamic at any one point in time. As far as future markets, yes, I think you need to look at the demand generators and kind of see over the next 10 years in individual markets which ones are going to have the greatest rate of growth. So we’re spending a lot of time doing market research. When you’re not buying is the ideal time to really kind of dig into the facts and the individual demand drivers in particular, MSA’s, and make sure that we’re focused on the right ones that are going to have the best growth.

There’s clearly markets that we’re not in that we’d like to be in. You know markets like San Francisco, San Diego, Washington, D.C. So you know we’re going to gravitate towards those higher growth markets as we move forward.

John Williams

And Jeff on the luxury question I would just add that we’ve traditionally stayed away from the true luxury properties, not because we think there’s a structural deterioration in their demand but they’re so vulnerable in a downturn because of the relative lack of ability to respond to revenue changes with cost cuts. So we’ve always felt that’s a little vulnerable in a downturn and difficult to grow your cash flows.

Jeffrey Donnelly - Wells Fargo Securities, LLC

And just one last question. I’m curious, Frenchmen’s Reef, I guess I’m a little surprised I guess about the lack of deterioration there. What sort of powered that strength there during the quarter and do you think you’ll, you know, I guess seasonality aside, do you think you’ll kind of continue to see some resilience in that hotel?

John Williams

We had a bit of a group deficit down there that we knew about going into the year, so we focused pretty heavily on travel agent and more discounted business, which helped dramatically in the occupancy. The other thing that was a big help was American Reward redemption room nights have been very, very strong there and in Vail for the entire year, and we opened up some of the inventory to those room nights. In addition to Marriott changing their redemption plan where there are no blackout dates, which requires that you manage very carefully to your occupancy for the nights that you’re taking the redemptions. But I would say that combination of factors helped Frenchman’s Reef.

Operator

Your next question comes from Ryan Meliker - Morgan Stanley.

Ryan Meliker - Morgan Stanley

I just had a couple of real quick questions for you. The first one was in the press release you mentioned that maybe the deterioration in group room nights may have been attributable to a decline in short term group pick up. And then if I understood correctly during your comments earlier you mentioned that group bookings are becoming more short term in nature. Can you just elaborate, give us a little more clarity in terms of what’s going on with group bookings? Are you just seeing fewer in the month, for the month type group bookings but the longer term bookings are coming in down from the typical nine to 12 months more to maybe three to six? Any color would be appreciated.

John Williams

Sure Ryan. This is John. This is the fairly typical pattern in a downturn where meeting planners are more cautious, number one, because they don’t know within their own group what they can count on in terms of attendance and therefore they’re reluctant to book as far out as they normally do when they have a better visibility. Secondly I think in a market like this meeting planners tend to feel that they’re better off waiting because they know availability will be there and they suspect that they will get a better deal as they wait. So this is a typical pattern that you see. And so the sales people react to that by pushing hard for closure, but at the same time, you know, the logic that the meeting planners are using is pretty good logic. So it makes sense for them to make their booking decisions on a more short term basis.

Ryan Meliker - Morgan Stanley

So am I correct in believing that in the month, for the month bookings are what’s slowing and the longer term bookings have been reduced more to a three to six month window? Or any color there?

John Williams

Yes. I would say if it was a six month window it’s now a three. If it was a one year window now maybe it’s six months. So there is that kind of. But keep in mind that the smaller the group, the shorter the booking window anyway. So if a group is a 30 day booking window for a small corporate group, you know, it could be a week. We’ve seen many occasions in various hotels where we get bookings literally one week in advance.

Ryan Meliker - Morgan Stanley

And then the other question I had was regarding some of your property level performance numbers, you know, it certainly seems that the margin erosion varies substantially, regardless of RevPAR performance and even rate performance. Can you clarify if there are certain properties where you think there was, you know, a little more fat that could have been trimmed? You know, you’ve got some, you know, the Atlanta Alpharetta down 24% RevPAR but only down 690 bits of margin and then the Westin Atlanta down, you know, only 300 bits more in RevPAR but down 17.5% in margin. Just looking to figure out if you think there’s more fat to trim at some properties than at others and if you know get an idea on where some things look from a margin standpoint at the property level.

John Williams

Yes, well, each property has its own story as you might imagine. If you look at the Westin in Atlanta that property lost over 30% in average daily rate, so obviously their impact was going to be greater. But we also changed managers there, so there were some extraordinary costs associated with that. But, you know, each hotel is different.

If you look at the New York Courtyards it’s very difficult to maintain margin when you’ve got $100 rate reductions. So you know those hotels that aren’t heavy on cost to begin with are very difficult to trim in relation to the magnitude of the revenue loss. But we think, you know, in each of our hotels management teams, there’s an incredible focus on cost. And we’re seeing what we think are very good results given the magnitude of this downturn.

Operator

Your next question comes from Mike Salinsky - RBC Capital Markets.

Mike Salinsky - RBC Capital Markets

Real quickly, in the, you give a taxable income assumption for the year. What is the tax benefit for [expenture] assuming in that?

Sean M. Mahoney

This is Sean. The tax number that we gave within the guidance was our distributable tax income which is what we have to distribute for the REIT. We have not given 2009 guidance for our consolidated, pretax income for several purposes because we haven’t given guidance, we can’t give guidance on a tax benefit.

Mike Salinsky - RBC Capital Markets

Would you expect it to be higher or lower than last year’s number? Just given where trends are right now.

Sean M. Mahoney

Well, it should vary commensurate with the decline in operations. So as operations are worse you would expect the tax benefit to go up.

Mike Salinsky - RBC Capital Markets

Second, the pull back of the assets from the market there, you were potentially looking for sales. Was that due to a lack of bids? Was it more of a pricing issue? What was the specific driver in pulling those back right now?

Mark W. Brugger

This is Mark. We got a number of bids. We probably got 10 to 12 bids on our assets, but if you think about the timing we went out and we were trying to get ahead of the market in the beginning of the year. As things deteriorated and every forecast dropped substantially, it was very difficult for buyers to have conviction. And so it was a lack of certainty in their ability to close and then the pricing based on our hold analysis kept changing, and so final offers were probably below what the hold value were on most of our assets. So we decided not to sell any of our assets.

Mike Salinsky - RBC Capital Markets

Looking at the decision to put in the controlled equity lease program versus another equity program, was that more of a decision because of the Griffin Gate? You know as you’re looking for financing options for that? Or, you know, what was kind of the driver behind that decision versus a, you know, second equity issuance?

Mark W. Brugger

You know it’s a three year program. It provides the company with another avenue of liquidity, another tool in our liquidity toolbox. And you know going forward we’ll have access to liquidities and if you have a tremendous credit advantage, so it’s nice to have other resources.

Mike Salinsky - RBC Capital Markets

Looking at your two big group oriented hotels, the Chicago Marriott and the Boston Westin Waterfront, can you give us a sense of how bookings are looking at both of those hotels for next year?

John Williams

Yes, for 2010 both hotels are down. I’ll get you the exact numbers. We’ll get back to you with the exact numbers but both hotels are down, mainly in room nights. Boston less so because of the additional meeting space we’ve been working with and in both cases the citywide calendars are comparable to this year. But I think in terms of what we’re putting on the books we’re watching the booking numbers that we’re using a little more thoroughly than we did last year. And so what’s going at books reflects a lower expectation of what’s going to show up with the group.

Operator

Your next question comes from Smedes Rose - Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

Smedes Rose - Keefe, Bruyette & Woods

We just had a question on the group business that you did in the second quarter this year. Do you have a sense of how much of that was booked a year ago and then how much was shorter term?

John Williams

We really don’t have an answer for that. I’m sure though it follows the normal pattern where the bulk of it across the portfolio is shorter term. The long term bookings tend to be in the big convention hotels, Chicago and Boston, you know. And I don’t have a precise breakdown on the lead time on those group bookings.

Smedes Rose - Keefe, Bruyette & Woods

The second thing is you mentioned at the beginning, and I know maybe this just needs as a reminder your relationship with Marriott in terms of being able to source hotels for acquisitions potentially. What exactly, could you just remind us what exactly the relationship is and how that’s maybe going to be an advantage for you going forward and looking at acquisitions?

Mark W. Brugger

Sure Smedes. This is Mark. The relationship with Marriott’s the same as it’s been since our inception. We have an unwritten agreement with them to look at kind of a first look at opportunities that might come through their pipeline, internal pipeline of deals. So what that essentially means is we sit down with them at regular pipeline meetings with a number of their senior executives. We talk through opportunities that they might be seeing in the marketplace with some of their owners or places where they may have conversion opportunities from other brands to Marriott. And you know in between those pipeline meetings we talk regularly on the phone, if they see something else that might be a good fit for us. And we look at it.

Operator

Your next question comes from Ken Ho – Keybanc.

Ken Ho – Keybanc

I just wanted to follow up on that last question. I know that your relationship with Marriott allows you to look at acquisitions. Now does that work in reverse, where if you wanted to dispose of an asset Marriott might go out and look at buyers for you?

Mark W. Brugger

Marriott, as you know, their business model is not to take real estate on their balance sheet. So they don’t have any interest in buying. And they’re relatively neutral who we sell it to. Obviously they have a preference to good owners, but we’re better served either negotiating through our contacts to find it off market, you know, an off market transaction. Or using a broker to kind of cast the widest net possible when we bring assets to market.

Operator

Your next question comes from [Andrew Whitman] – Robert W. Baird.

[Andrew Whitman] – Robert W. Baird

Two analysts from Baird today, I guess. I wanted to follow up on Mike’s question a little bit. When we heard you on the road recently you talked a lot about financing hotels, potentially with new equity as a way to grow the company and I guess de-lever at the same time. With the controlled equity offering deal now filed, does the controlled offering strategy take a precedent over what you laid out previously? Or how should we just think about those?

Mark W. Brugger

I’d say about more supplemental. I mean the proceeds from this are going to be for general corporate purposes which may include reducing leverage or funding hotel acquisitions. But it’s a relatively measured program at less than 10% of our market cap. Obviously if we found a big acquisition this would be the ideal way to finance it. You’d prefer to go out and deal I think overnight to kind of match fund it, and de-lever the company at the same time.

[Andrew Whitman] – Robert W. Baird

And then just on operations it looks like the leisure transient’s been a positive I guess for the summer. Do you think that after the summer busy travel season slows down that maybe there’s another potential for another leg down in top line fundamentals in terms of just demand falling off and us taking a second leg down?

John Williams

This is John, Andrew. I think if we don’t see a return of corporate travel we’re going to have continuing deterioration. I think on the leisure side in our destination resorts we’re seeing occupancy actually improve year-over-year in this last three month period. And you know you can generate leisure demand at destination resort with your rate structure. So I would anticipate that same trend continuing. At convention hotels, you know, we’re struggling with the booking pace and with the attrition associated with groups. But I think the key to the fourth quarter is whether or not corporate travel begins to come back.

[Andrew Whitman] – Robert W. Baird

Just as you think about your dividend strategy, when the dividend has a little bit more visibility behind it, can you just talk about what’s your thoughts on how you might pay that out? Do you think the strategy might change instead of paying what was a fairly large portion of your cad number to maybe a base dividend plus a special? Is that something that’s at least on the table?

Mark W. Brugger

Yes it is. We’re having continuing conversations with our board. We had a board meeting a week ago and addressed that with them. Clearly that’s an option that’s on the table. I think we’re going to need to see kind of how the whole market evolves, what a competitive yield’s going to be, how people restart their dividends and when. And then the concept of a base more stable quarterly dividend and a special dividend at the end of the year given the volatility of our earnings might make sense. But I think it still needs a little time to play out to see how that comes to be, both from our perspective as well as from the investment community, what people are going to pay a premium for.

Operator

Your next question comes from David Katz - Oppenheimer & Co.

David Katz - Oppenheimer & Co.

All of mine have been asked and answered. Thanks.

Operator

Your next question comes from David Loeb - Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc.

David Loeb - Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc.

How about three questions from two Baird analysts? I just want to follow up on the margins one more time. John you mentioned the noble managed asset having a new manager. I’m just curious about noble versus brand managed, Hilton versus Starwood versus Marriott. How are you finding their receptivity relative to each other? I know in the past you’ve talked about Hilton providing some air cover, giving Marriott space to be a little more aggressive with cost cutting, a little more owner focused. And it sounds like they’re doing a really good job on that, but I wonder if you could talk a little bit about all four of your managers and what you’re thinking about that. And I guess five managers because you have [Phil] as well.

John Williams

Okay. That’s a tough one, David. You’re asking me to step on a bunch of rakes here but I’ll answer it. I think what we said before was that everybody is being more aggressive this time around because if you think about it the last time around they kind of evolved into a final kind of cost structure in 2002 and ’03 as the aftershocks hit. This time we really started at that point. So we had a much more aggressive beginning to the cost cutting.

I think that the fact that Hilton is owned by, that the brand is owned by a real estate company, they obviously have a huge value that they place on the Hilton brand and they’re not going to do anything brand destructive. But I think they look very hard at the operating level to see what they could do to reduce costs. And I think that did in fact give air cover to the other big brand companies.

I think the other thing to think about is that Marriott particularly was in a sort of efficiency mode before this all started. They were looking very hard at their operation to try and improve efficiencies across the system, so they had kind of a head start there. I think when you think about Starwood, you know, they went through a fairly substantial reorganization and new leadership team, so they might have taken a little bit longer to get started but they’re certainly in our Boston property, which is our main exposure to Starwood, they’re being very aggressive and cooperative with respect to cost structure.

So, you know, I would say all the things that we’ve said in the past continue to be true and we’re very, very pleased with the brand operators approach to this downturn.

Operator

Okay. This concludes the Question-and-Answer session of this conference call. I would like to turn the call back to Mark Brugger for a closing statement.

Mark W. Brugger

Thank you for your continued interest in DiamondRock and we look forward to talking to you next quarter.

Operator

Thank you for your participation in today’s conference. This concludes the presentation and you may now disconnect. Have a good day.

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Source: DiamondRock Hospitality Co. Q2 2009 Earnings Call Transcript
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