Marriott International, the largest hotel company in the world, is betting big on modular construction to drive its growth in North America.

The Bethesda, Md.-based company expects to sign 50 hotel deals this year that would incorporate prefabricated guestrooms and/or bathrooms. That would make up about 13% of signings for North America this year.

The construction process works like this: Guestrooms and bathrooms are built away from the site of the hotel in a climate-controlled factory. Once completed, the units are transported to the site, where the base and frame of the property have been built.

The units get stacked into place by crane. Workers then complete the electrical and plumbing systems and finish other details.

Marriott has opened one hotel using this method: the 97-room Folsom Fairfield Inn and Suites in Folsom, Calif.

In that case, Guerdon Modular Buildings built the units at its Boise plant. The units contained two rooms that included a bed, desk and toilet, plus a connecting corridor. The project was finished two months ahead of time.

“The reason Marriott and others are embracing the modular construction process is that it can dramatically shorten the overall construction schedule, which leads to quicker occupancy and quicker return on investment,” says Tom Hardiman, executive director of the Modular Building Institute, a non-profit trade association.

Some of the challenges hotels can avoid using this process are skilled labor shortages and poor weather.

The hotel industry in the USA has been slower to adopt this method than it has in Europe, where labor costs are higher and warrant alternative forms of construction.

Overall, about 3% of all construction starts use modular construction in North America, Hardiman says. The percentage is historically lower in the hotel construction…