Marriott looks to Asia, UAE for further growth

BERLIN, March 11 Wed Mar 11, 2009 6:16am EDT

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BERLIN, March 11 (Reuters) - Hotel operator Marriott International Inc MAR.N sees strong growth opportunities in Asia and the United Arab Emirates as it strives to expand further outside North America despite the economic downturn.

Marriott, which typically manages hotels instead of owning them, plans to open 130 hotels with overall 32,000 rooms in the next four years outside of North America, where it now manages 350 hotels.

Half of the openings will be in China, India and the United Arab Emirates, Marriott said on Wednesday at a news conference at the world's biggest travel fair, ITB.

There was pent-up demand for travel, especially in trendy and growth markets, and Marriott will be ready to welcome guests there once the economy had recovered, Marriott President and Managing Director of International Lodging Ed Fuller said.

Marriott -- which runs the Marriott, Courtyard, Ritz-Carlton and Renaissance hotel brands -- is also looking for opportunities to acquire, Fuller said, but seeks individual hotels rather than big chains to avoid anti-trust issues.

Marriott ranks behind Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG.L) and Wyndham Worldwide Corp (WYN.N) in terms of number of rooms worldwide.

It feels the pinch nonetheless. Marriott posted a fourth-quarter net loss, hurt by cutbacks in business travel.

It said at the time it expected first-quarter revenue per available room, a key metric of hotel industry business, to fall 17 percent in North America and 15 percent worldwide.

Many hotels are struggling as recession-hit consumers reduce extras like travel at the same time businesses are looking to trim travel costs and avoid perceptions of frivolous spending. (Reporting by Eva Kuehnen)

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