Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. (HOT), the owner of the St. Regis and W brands, is seeking to partner with privately owned hotels in Europe, an executive said.

“There are a lot of family-owned, independent luxury hotels that sit trying to connect to the kind of customers we already have,” said Michael Wale, the senior vice president for northwest Europe, in an interview yesterday. “We’re starting to talk to those owners,” he said. He cited the Negresco in Nice, France as a potential property to have discussions with.

Starwood plans to open 50 hotels in Europe, Africa and the Middle East over the next three to five years, the White Plains, New York-company said this week. Starwood sees a “potential growth area” in the luxury hotel sector, Wale said.

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