Expansion will go ahead: Starwood

Cassis ... working on strengths.

Leading international chain Starwood Hotels and Resorts Inc is to go ahead with the expansion of operations in the Middle East and Africa, regardless of the economic downturn, the company's new regional head says.

"We will aggressively continue our expansion in the market in the Middle East and step up our activities throughout Africa," said Philippe Cassis, senior vice president and director of operations for Africa and Middle East.

"In Africa we are assessing which places have the necessary political and economic stability for us to consider being involved.

"We'll be looking at the Middle East for properties, and definitely many more in Africa. But we will only consider properties in keeping with the high Starwood standards."

Starwood is the parent company of Sheraton, W, Westin, Four Points by Sheraton, St Regis and the Luxury Collection brands. It has 41 hotels under its umbrella in the Middle East, four in Karachi and Central Asia; and eight in subSahara Africa.

Cassis, a 39-year-old Lebanese with an industry track record in Europe and Latin America, has taken on a huge job.

Events in New York on September 11 "left us with a desert we have to cross," he says.

"It is now our responsibility at Starwood to size up the market and stay in the best possible shape. We don't know how long recovery will take. We must look to some new markets, we must reorganise," said Cassis.

Intra-Arab tourism and the Middle East business sector had already emerged as distinct trends for growth post-September 11 and are a prime focus for Starwood, he said.

Starwood's Four Points and Westin brands are set to become more prominent in the Middle East and Africa, according to Cassis.