Anthony G. Capuano
Chief Executive Officer and Director at Marriott International
Thanks, Jackie, and thank you all for joining us this morning. Global demand rebounded strongly and swiftly during the first quarter after a brief Omicron-related slowdown early in the year. In March, worldwide RevPAR was just 9% below 2019. Occupancy rose to 64%, with ADR an impressive 5% above March of 2019. COVID-19 is still impacting our business to varying degrees around the world, but as global vaccination rates increase, case counts decline and new COVID variants are tending to be less severe. Many countries have started to cautiously adopt a live with COVID policy, leading to a rise in demand for all types of travel. Leisure demand, which had already fully recovered during 2021, has further strengthened this year, with first quarter global leisure transient room nights more than 10% above 2019.
Recovery of business transient and group demand is still lagging leisure, but as greater numbers of employees return to the office, demand has been rapidly improving. Additionally, day of the week trends continue to show that trips that blend leisure and business are on the rise. In March, in the U.S. and Canada, while Monday through Wednesday occupancy was down in the mid-teens, occupancy during the shoulder days, Thursday and Sunday, was down in the single digits and occupancy on Fridays and Saturdays was nearly in line with March of 2019. While still below pre-pandemic room nights, cross-border travel demand is growing slowly as more countries around the world reopen their borders and lift travel restrictions. Cross-border guests accounted for 14% of global room nights in the first quarter, a gain of around 100 basis points compared to a quarter ago, but well below the 2019 share of 19%. In the U.S. and Canada, March RevPAR was within 4% of 2019. Occupancy topped 68% during the month and ADR accelerated to 6% over pre-pandemic levels.
While the extent of RevPAR recovery still varies widely from city to city, overall, progress during the quarter was widespread across all chain scales as well as market types, that is primary, secondary and tertiary markets, RevPAR recovery saw a meaningful improvement in March versus the fourth quarter. Luxury was the standout in the quarter, with ADR a remarkable 27% above pre-pandemic rates. Group demand in the U.S. and Canada accelerated sharply during the first quarter. In March, group RevPAR was 16% below 2019 compared to down more than 30% in the fourth quarter of last year. Growth in new bookings has contributed to a meaningful improvement in group pace for the remainder of the year. As of March 31, group revenue pays for the remainder of 2022 was down in the high single-digit range compared to 2019. We also expect additional short-term bookings to further boost group revenues. April was the eighth month in a row where in the year for the year group bookings exceeded 2019 levels. Importantly, our sales teams remain focused on driving ADR, which has continued to rise for new bookings.
ADR for managed hotel bookings made in January was 3% above 2019 levels, while ADR for bookings made in March had risen to 12% above pre-pandemic levels. Business transient demand in the U.S. also gained momentum during the quarter. Recovery in March improved notably compared to the fourth quarter, with business transient room nights down 10% to 15%. Special corporate accounts, which tend to be larger companies, have recovered more slowly than smaller-sized businesses, which have now fully recovered. Special corporate new bookings strengthened in March and further advanced in April. Internationally, all regions, except for Greater China, experienced additional RevPAR recovery in March compared to the fourth quarter recovery. In the Middle East and Africa, where borders have been opened since late last year, first quarter performance was stellar, with RevPAR surpassing 2019 for the second quarter in a row.
This was led by strength in the UAE from the World Expo in Dubai that ran from October of 2021 through March of this year. At the other end of the spectrum, in Greater China, where restrictions have been the most severe, RevPAR dropped significantly with the lockdown of several major cities, including Shanghai, late in the quarter. We are keeping a close eye on trends in Europe, but outside of Russia, the war in Ukraine has not yet impacted demand. Cancellations have been minimal. And as all countries in the region have removed or reduced travel restrictions, bookings across the rest of Europe have accelerated for spring and the summer high season. In Russia, we've closed our corporate offices and paused all future hotel development and new hotel openings. There are currently 23 properties opened in the country, though occupancies are modest. We continue to evaluate our operations in Russia, which represented well under 1% of our global fees in 2019. We are watching the horrific humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and neighboring countries with deep concern.
And we're doing what we can to help those impacted in the region. I'm very proud of our teams that have been mobilizing to help those in need in numerous ways, including working with relief partners and housing refugees at Marriott properties in neighboring countries. The power of Marriott Bonvoy was, again, evident in the quarter, as we remain focused on strengthening our loyalty platform for our 164 million members. Of course, member engagement has risen as travel demand comes back, but there has also been a significant increase in members earning and using points outside of our hotels. Our Bonvoy members are interacting with us more through everyday spending, thanks to our collaborations with companies like Uber. We have also seen incredible global interest in and engagement with our Bonvoy co-brand cards, with new card acquisitions and card spend both up meaningfully year-over-year. The first quarter also marked our best quarter ever for direct digital bookings, which helped drive owner and franchisee profitability. Digital bookings were up 14% compared to the first quarter of 2019, partially driven by meaningfully higher downloads of our redesigned Bonvoy app, which were 70% above pre-pandemic levels. Turning to development. The number of deals presented at our monthly development committee meetings has continued to increase.
We signed 124 deals globally through March of this year, a new first quarter record. Conversion activity remains a bright spot, given the breadth of our roster of conversion-friendly brands across chain scales and the meaningful top and bottom line benefits associated with being part of our system. Conversions accounted for 22% of room additions in the quarter. Despite construction time lines having lengthened a bit so far this year due to supply chain disruptions and labor shortages, we expect openings to ramp up each quarter in 2022. Average construction time lines are currently just over two years for limited service properties and remain longer for full-service properties. Looking ahead, we still expect full year gross rooms growth to approach 5% and deletions of 1% to 1.5%, leading to anticipated net rooms growth of 3.5% to 4%. While signing activity has been picking up nicely, 2022 gross room additions are expected to be impacted by the diminished construction starts the industry has experienced throughout the pandemic, particularly here in the U.S.
With financing starting to ease a bit, the industry has seen a notable ramp-up in new construction starts in the first quarter, but they are still well below 2019 levels. However, we remain confident that over the next several years, we will return to our pre-pandemic mid-single-digit net rooms growth rate given the improving global environment, the attractiveness of our brands, our strong development activity, our momentum around conversions and the largest pipeline in the industry. In closing, I feel extremely optimistic about our future. With our unparalleled portfolio of 30 global brands and over 8,000 properties worldwide, our invaluable Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, our numerous growth opportunities and the best associates in the business, I believe Marriott is uniquely positioned to benefit from the continued recovery ahead. I will now turn the call over to Leeny to discuss our financial results in more detail.