Starwood Hotels finds grounds for growth in Latin America

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Next year will be a big one for Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Latin America, as the company plans to open hotels in locations where it previously had no presence.

That growth is part of Starwood's worldwide strategy, according to Laura Canepa, public relations director for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Latin America.

"Starwood is in a process of global expansion, and that includes all divisions of our company," Canepa said. "Latin America has a slightly lower volume of growth than the other divisions because of the volatility of the region. [But] we have signed on for the construction of 12 new hotels. This includes new destinations where Starwood didn't have a presence, including Costa Rica."

In spite of the volatility, Canepa noted growth in travel to Central and South America.

"We have noticed an increase in not only business travelers but also leisure travelers to South America," she said.

Canepa said Buenos Aires was one of the most popular destinations.

"Buenos Aires has been voted as one of the most attractive cities by international travelers, with a very favorable exchange rate, a richly varied gastronomical offering, culture and architecture," she said.

This is good news for the Argentinian travel industry, which suffered in the months after the nation's economic crisis at the beginning of this century.

"The city of Buenos Aires has recovered much of the business travel segment that it had lost during the economic crisis," Canepa said. "It has also recovered the regional tourism from countries that before had [avoided visiting] because it was very expensive to visit Argentina."

In addition to Buenos Aires, Canepa said Argentina's interior was attracting more visitors.

"The north of Argentina has had a boom in European visitors, and the south has received a great number of Brazilian travelers," she said.

W's debut in South America

But it is other cities in Central and South America that are slated for the biggest growth in terms of Starwood presence.

The region will have its first W Hotel in 2008, when the 205-room W Santiago opens in the Chilean capital.

"W has already arrived in Mexico City, and it's really an innovative concept that revolutionized the hotel industry in Mexico," Canepa said.

"We think that the same thing will happen in other countries, where the five-star hotel offerings are very standardized. W introduces a new concept in terms of the service experience, design and technological innovation. This is the difference that the guest experiences as soon as they are in contact with the brand."

Canepa added that the company would like to expand the W brand further in Latin America.

"We would like to find the [appropriate] conditions to enter the market in Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and other destinations," she said.

Among Starwood's new properties in Central America will be the first Westin in Honduras. Slated to open in 2008, the 164-room Westin Resort & Spa Roatan will be about 20 minutes from the Honduran island's airport.

"The hotel will be part of a mixed-use development, with villas and individual residences," Canepa said. "In Honduras, the market was in need of a hotel with these characteristics, and there we saw the opportunity, with the developers, to introduce the brand.

"We believe that the Westin brand has enormous growth potential in our region."

Another Starwood brand expanding in Central America is St. Regis. The St. Regis Resort & Residences will open in Costa Rica next year at Playa Coyol on the central Pacific coast.

"The international traveler recognizes the St. Regis brand for its emblematic properties around the world," Canepa said. "Costa Rica is a destination that needs a concept like St. Regis. Often the decision to visit a destination is made based on [the presence of] a prestigious and well-recognized hotel."

The majority of the new Starwood hotels opening in Central and South America are operated by Starwood and owned by separate entities, according to Canepa.

With the new properties, Starwood will have a total of 56 properties in 14 countries in Latin America. And the company isn't done yet.

"We are evaluating investments and expansion plans all over the region," Canepa said.

"Brazil is a priority for us. We're operating very strongly there with our Sheraton brand -- the Sheraton Rio Hotel & Towers and Sheraton Barra in Rio, a Sheraton in Porto Alegre, a Four Points in Curitiba and another in Macae.

"Obviously, we are evaluating other cities for other Starwood brands. Le Meridien is one brand with which Starwood is working hard to expand in the region."

To contact reporter Mark Chesnut, send e-mail [email protected].

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