Updated from 8:17 a.m. EDT

If hotel earnings are any indication, the economic recovery appears to be on track.

On Thursday, both Starwood Hotels ( HOT) and Marriott International ( MAR) announced earnings that easily topped Wall Street expectations and issued higher earnings guidance for 2004, telling shareholders the economic recovery was boosting lodging demand.

Starwood, best known for its Sheraton and W Hotels brands, announced first-quarter net income of $34 million, or 16 cents a share, an improvement from the loss of $116 million, or 58 cents a share, it had a year ago. Excluding all items, the company announced earnings of $33 million, or 16 cents a share, easily topping the 10-cent profit expected by Wall Street and the year-ago loss of $17 million, or 8 cents a share.

Revenue came in at $1.23 billion, higher than the $976.3 million expected by analysts and up 13% from the year-ago $1.09 billion. Revenue per available room, a key industry metric called revpar, was up 11.6% in stores open last year, led by a 14.8% gain in revpar for the company's St. Regis hotels.

"This quarter continues the momentum we saw building in our company the past six months, especially now as the world returns to an accelerated travel pattern," said Barry Sternlicht, chairman and CEO. "It is gratifying to see the strategies and investments we have made in the recession drive our performance now."

Earnings before interest, taxation depreciation and amortization, which can be a better measure of earnings since Starwood owns so much land, came in at $222 million, up 18.7% from the year-ago $187 million. The strong results were fueled by a 32% year-over-year jump in management and franchise fees.

And Starwood expects this EBITDA growth to continue going forward, citing an "expectation of a sustained recovery." Unlike rivals that have largely issued conservative guidance, Starwood continues to express bullishness about not only its own business, but a broader economic recovery as well.

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