Hilton set to open Erbil hotel
The Hilton chain is planning a second hotel in Iraqi Kurdistan to tap an influx of business travellers working on oil and gas infrastructure projects in the semi-autonomous region.
The luxury development is scheduled to open in 2016, Hilton said. The property will include a 300-room, five-star hotel as well as chalets, two restaurants, five meeting rooms, two boardrooms and a health club and spa facility with an indoor and outdoor swimming pool.
Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, has become something of a haven and attracted international companies that use it as a gateway to the oil-rich country.
"As soon as the investors are looking in a direction, operators follow," said Chiheb Ben Mahmoud, the head of hotel advisory for the Middle East and North Africa at Jones Lang LaSalle. "As long as there is investment appetite, there is a need for services and hotels management."
Air traffic is also rapidly increasing with Etihad, Emirates Airline and flydubai all flying into Erbil.
Rotana, a hotel chain based in Abu Dhabi, has already moved into the Iraq market with the opening of a five-star property in Erbil last year. Swiss-Belhotel International, a chain based in Hong Kong, plans to open a four-star property in the city this year.
Accor, which has brands including Ibis and Novotel, said it was not in discussions for projects in Iraq but was monitoring the market.
Kurdistan is not expected to become a burgeoning tourism destination any time soon. "The Iraqi market and Kurdistan in particular is driven mainly by business and domestic stability," Mr Ben Mahmoud said.
"It is not a tourism destination, there is a visiting family and relatives component but it's not major."
The increasing interest comes as turmoil across parts of the Middle East and North Africa has triggered major challenges for operators in the hotel and tourism industry.
Hotels in Libya, such as the Marriott, were temporarily shut down last year because of unrest, while traveller numbers to Egypt have declined considerably.
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Updated: July 25, 2012 04:00 AM