Starwood to open 40 new hotels in Middle East

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STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. plans to open 40 new hotels in the Middle East and North Africa over the next five years, the hotel operator said Monday.

The company currently has nearly 70 high-end hotels in the region, including a recently opened Westin in Abu Dhabi and St. Regis in Qatar. It has a long history in the area, beginning with its opening of a Sheraton in 1966 in Kuwait.

"Despite economic and political uncertainty in parts of the region, Starwood continues to see demand for growth of all of our brands across the Middle East and North Africa," Frits van Paasschen, President and CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, said in a statement.

Starwood said the region is its second largest growth market after China. The company feels development there is key to its global growth strategy. It expects the number of tourists traveling to the region will double from nearly 80 million last year to 195 million by 2030.

Starwood recently confirmed 10 new hotel projects in the region, which includes four new hotels in Dubai, its first Aloft hotel in Sharjah and new Sheraton hotels in Tajikistan, Algeria and Iraq.

The company, based in Stamford, Conn., has 1,103 properties in nearly 100 countries under a number of brands such as St. Regis, W, Westin, Le Méridien and Sheraton.

Shares of Starwood fell 75 cents to $56.79 in midmorning trading.