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Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (HOT - Analyst Report) recently announced the opening of its first hotel – Aloft Asheville Downtown – under its Aloft brand in Asheville, North Carolina. The hotel, which marked the 60th worldwide opening of Starwood Aloft, will be managed by McKibbon Hotel Group, Inc.

Asheville, the 11th largest city of North Carolina, is the county seat of Buncombe County. The city enjoys excellent urban infrastructure and is conveniently linked to major interstate highways and an airport. The diverse architectural background and exotic scenic beauty of the city has been a major enticement for leisure and business travelers.

Strategically located in Biltmore Avenue, Aloft Asheville Downtown hotel is in close proximity to major tourist spots of the city.  These include Asheville Art Museum, Biltmore Estate and Asheville Mall. A concept of urban and cultural fusion at the hotel aims to cater to modern travelers seeking a unique experience.

Starwood has set a new trend in hotel designs with one of its lifestyle brands Aloft. The brand aims to attract  tech-savvy, next-generation customers. Aloft has spread its operations globally with around 60 hotel openings since its launch in June 2008.

The Aloft brand is currently on a high growth trajectory and has left its mark in the main regions of North America, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, India, Southeast Asia and China.

The tourism industry has been a key economic sector for North Carolina, alongside the health care, manufacturing and business services sectors. According to N.C. Department of Commerce’s Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development, the overall domestic visitor spending in North Carolina increased to $18 billion in 2011, which marked an 8% increase over 2010 figures.

Standalone, Buncombe County in North Carolina generated $783.01 million in 2011, a 7.41% increase over 2010. Moreover, they believe North Carolina is set to retain its position as the nation's sixth most visited state and is well positioned for continued growth in the coming years.

Starwood has explored the area earlier, with a hotel designated under its ‘Four Points by Sheraton’ brand.  However, the market is not free of competition. Several major hoteliers like Wyndham Worldwide Corp. (WYN - Analyst Report) and Marriott International Inc. (MAR - Analyst Report) already have a strong presence in the region.

We presently have a long-term Neutral recommendation on the stock. Also, the company carries a Zacks #3 Rank, which translates into a short-term Hold rating.

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