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Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.’s (HOT - Analyst Report) largest brand Sheraton Hotels & Resorts announced plans to open 35 new hotels over the upcoming 12 months. These openings are part of the brand’s $8 billion global expansion plan over the next three years.

The strategic expansion primarily focuses on the emerging markets, with more than half of the properties slated to be opened in China. The Sheraton brand also has plans to debut in markets such as Samoa, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. The brand also plans to return to Iraq, after it closed operations in the country in 1990.

The Asia-pacific region remains the most important choice for Sheraton’s expansion strategy. As of 2013, the company operated more than 100 hotels in the region and has 23 hotel openings scheduled over the next 12 months. The brand seeks to debut in secondary markets in China, like Wuhan, Shaoxing, Nanchang, Zhengzhou and Qingdao, in addition to the hotels it operates in Beijing and Shanghai. Sheraton plans to open another 13 hotels in China by 2017.

Another key emerging market, India, is also high on Sheraton’s radar. The company plans to add three hotels to its portfolio in 2014 and 2015, with openings scheduled in Bengaluru, Noida and Chandigarh. The company also plans to introduce hotels over the next 12 months in other countries like New Caledonia, Samoa and Sri Lanka.

In the emerging markets of Europe, Sheraton will add two hotels over the next 12 months — Rostov-On-Don Hotel in Russia and the Sheraton Ismayilli Resort & Spa in Azerbaijan. In the Middle East, seven properties are slated to open, increasing the brand’s portfolio to 23 hotels, by Feb 2015. Additionally, in its African portfolio, Sheraton has six hotels slated to open by 2017. In Latin America, Sheraton will open its seventh hotel in Brazil and will revisit the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean region next month.

More than half of Starwood’s properties are situated outside the U.S., which gives the company wide international exposure, unlike any of its peers. Further, the company is consistently trying to expand its international footprint and seeking to tap the high demand in the emerging markets.

Stocks to Consider

Starwood currently has a Zacks Rank #4 (Sell). A better-ranked stock in the hotel industry is Marriott International, Inc. (MAR - Analyst Report), with a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). In the broader leisure services sector, investors may consider Wynn Resorts Ltd. (WYNN - Analyst Report) and MGM Resorts International (MGM - Analyst Report). While Wynn Resorts sports a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy), MGM Resorts has the same Zacks Rank as Marriott.

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