x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Change of fortunes for Baghdad as it gets to play host

Having fêted delegates with gold-encrusted dates at the Arab League summit in March, the Turkish hotelier Rixos is back in Baghdad this week with a five-star offering for the second time in two months.

Baghdad has become an unlikely fixture on the international conference circuit.

Having fêted delegates with gold-encrusted dates at the Arab League summit in March, the Turkish hotelier Rixos is back in Baghdad this week with a five-star offering for the second time in two months.

Rixos employees have been flown in from Istanbul to manage the Rasheed hotel and the nearby government guest house where Iranian delegates are meeting the P5+1 powers - the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany - for talks over Tehran's nuclear programme.

This time, the fare on offer at the government guest house in the Green Zone is an international buffet with a Turkish twist, says Ugur Incesu, the corporate general manager of the brand in Baghdad. "It's more of a business affair this time," he added.

Even as bombings continue to blight some down-market neighbourhoods of the city, the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars sprucing up the highly secure Green Zone - planting palm trees, repaving roads, building villas and renovating hotels - as it seeks to return to the scene as a regional player.

Security measures were relaxed for the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 nations after the Arab League summit passed without major incident. A roadside bomb detonated in the Bataween district of Baghdad yesterday, killing one person, and leaving six wounded. Conference delegates heard the explosion, which was near the edge of the Green Zone, but the talks were uninterrupted.

Encouraged by its newly found business, Rixos is seeking to secure permanent management contracts for two hotels in Baghdad.

"We want to be in Baghdad in the long term. Iraq is in need of support from foreign companies," Mr Incesu said. "Baghdad has not hosted major conferences like these in a very long time, and as such the quality of service in the local hospitality business is just not there yet."

halsayegh@thenational.ae