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SAO PAULO, Oct 6 (Reuters) - U.S. hotel chain Marriott International Inc plans to almost triple the number of its hotels in Brazil, in a bet that the nation's worst recession in a quarter century will be short-lived.
The company will spend 400 million reais ($104 million) in Brazil by 2018, part of which will go to add three more hotel brands focused on domestic travelers, Tim Sheldon, Marriott's president for Latin America and the Caribbean, said on Tuesday.
Under the plan, Marriott will build another 11 hotels, adding to its six existing Brazil properties, he said. Domestic investors plan to team up with Marriott for the investment, pouring about an additional 300 million reais into the project.
The tack is similar to the one Marriott has pursued in other key emerging market countries, such as Mexico, in recent years, Sheldon noted. AC by Marriott, Fairfield and Residence Inn will be among the brands represented in the new openings.
"We did extensive research in Brazil to understand what the market opportunities were and that's why you see us building three-star and four-star hotels," he said, adding that a current downturn did not change the company's mind.
Brazil's economy, the largest in Latin America, shrank over the past couple of quarters and is slated to contract this year and next, the country's first back-to-back annual retractions since the 1930s.
Households across the country are grappling with accelerating inflation and rising unemployment, while the government has struggled to win congressional approval of initiatives to narrow a swelling budget deficit.
According to Sheldon, Marriott plans to focus on a group of 16 Brazilian cities with more than 1 million inhabitants each, all having recently gained international airports with direct flights to Europe and the U.S.
The Bethesda, Maryland-based company is building four hotels in Rio de Janeiro, which Sheldon expects to be ready ahead of the Olympics next year. Another five hotels will be built in southern Brazil - two in Florianopolis, two in Curitiba and one in Porto Alegre.
The remaining two new hotels will go up in the northeastern city of Recife.
$1 = 3.8496 Brazilian reais Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Christian Plumb