Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. plans to operate as many as 20 new hotels in Africa over the next four years as the U.S. owner of the Sheraton and St Regis brands takes advantage of rising travel on the continent.

The U.S. company is seeking to add mainly five-star properties to its existing set of 37 hotels, Neil George, senior vice president for acquisitions and development in Africa and the Middle East, said in an interview in Johannesburg yesterday. Five of the new sites are earmarked for Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy and most populous nation with about 170 million people.

“We are extremely positive about Africa,” George said at the Hotel Investment Conference Africa. “There are massive opportunities there. It’s mostly management contracts. It’s our preferred vehicle for growth.”

International hoteliers are seeking to expand in African countries to exploit an increase in travel and higher economic growth rates than in the U.S. and Europe. Marriott International Inc., the world’s second-largest publicly traded hotel chain, bought Cape Town-based Protea Hospitality Holdings for about $200 million in April. Closely held Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, the U.S. operator of the high-end Radisson Blu chain, has 30 hotels under development in Africa, it said yesterday.

Taj International Hotels Ltd., a unit of Tata Group of India, plans to have as many as six new hotels in sub-Saharan Africa over the next two years, Michael Pownall, general manager of the company’s Cape Town outlet, said in an interview at the conference.

Terrorist Attacks

Some African hotels have had double-digit declines in occupancy this year as terrorist attacks and political turmoil have affected markets such as Nigeria and Egypt, Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Margaret Huang and Brian C. Miller said in a note today. Even as these factors restricted growth, average revenue per available room in Southern Africa is up 6.7 percent this year to $74, the analysts said.

“While we take appropriate precautions to care of our hotels, staff and guests, we take a long term view on destinations and expect that everything” will eventually stabilize, George said.

South African revenue per available room is up 7 percent this year as tourist numbers increase, the Bloomberg Intelligence analysts said. A record 9.6 million foreigners visited the country in 2013, up 5 percent from a year earlier, according to the South African Department of Tourism.

Starwood, based in Stamford, Connecticut, has more than 1,200 properties in 100 countries, according to its website. The shares declined 0.5 percent to $82.62 as of 11:03 a.m. in New York, valuing the company at $15.74 billion.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kamlesh Bhuckory in Johannesburg at kbhuckory@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Simon Thiel at sthiel1@bloomberg.net.

Photo Credit: Le Méridien Douala in Cameroon. Starwood Hotels