Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide said it is aggressively expanding in Asia despite the region's economic downturn and sluggish tourism industry. The group's chief executive, Juergen Bartels, said the downward trend provided an opportunity for the group. 'The best thing to do is to invest when the market is down . . . we believe there will be a tremendous comeback in Asia,' Mr Bartels said. Starwood's only hotel in Hong Kong, the Sheraton, had an occupancy rate of 68 per cent for its 850 rooms, he said. The group's hotels and resorts in the United States had an average occupancy of 65 per cent and made US$12 billion last year. 'We call 65 per cent a turnaround or a great leap forward, but you call the 68 per cent a crisis?' he said. He ruled out any operational cutbacks in Asia and said it had only made five people redundant in Asia so far this year. Mr Bartels is on a world tour after taking the reins following Starwood's acquisition of Westin Hotels & Resorts and ITT Corp, which includes the Luxury Collection, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts and Four Points (Compass) Hotels. Mr Bartels said the group was gradually moving to the top end of the market and had invested $2.3 billion renovating its hotels and resorts since 1995. It will spend a further $1 billion this year. The group spent $32 million renovating the Sheraton Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. Group Asia-Pacific president Theodore Teng said the hotel chain, with six hotels on the mainland, had been focusing on Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou but was shifting to inland areas and secondary cities. 'We are looking at 20 to 30 cities. The outside world may consider them secondary cities, but in China they form a very important part of the next wave of economic development,' Mr Teng said.