|Ph Credit: Delon Lorans , ERBIL INTERNATIONAL HOTEL|
A delegation from the international hotel chain, Sheraton, recently visited Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital Erbil to explore the possibility of building a hotel, an official in the Kurdish Ministry of Tourism said.
“So far each of the Marriot, Hilton and Turkish Divan brands are building hotels in Erbil,” Omed Kayfi head of Kurdistan Region tourism department told Rudaw. “Sheraton has also visited the Kurdistan Region to assess the security, tourism and business conditions here to decide whether or not to build a hotel.”
McClatchy newspaper chain reported in July that Marriott will manage a 200-room hotel and 75-room executive residential building.
The interest of international chains in Iraqi Kurdistan is seen as a sign of the region’s relatively stable security and its success in attracting foreign business. Many parts of Iraq are still off-limits for international businesses due to instability.
Sheraton was established in the US state of Massachusetts in 1937 and has long had hotels in the Middle East.
In the 1980, there were attempts to convince Sheraton to lend its name to a hotel in the Kurdish capital, currently called Erbil International Hotel. But a deal was not reached “for financial reasons” said Luay Abdulhadi, the current manager of Erbil International. In Kurdistan, the hotel is popularly known as Sheraton.
The reported visit by the Sheraton delegation comes months after Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani issued a decree only allocating land for investment projects to well-known international brands. Amid widespread concern over local corruption in investment projects, a government committee is currently reviewing all projects to ensure they are complying with existing laws.
As Kurdistan opens its doors to international businesses, some have criticized the lack of a comprehensive plan to develop tourism sector and the poor quality of tourism services.
Sarbast Amedi, the director of tourism in Dohuk province, said the five-star hotels in Kurdistan only meet the standards for four-star hotels in neighboring countries such as Turkey and are equivalent to three-star hotels in Europe.
He said the government needs to do more to convince international hotel chains to invest in Kurdistan.
“Well-known international hotels will only succeed in Kurdistan if we don’t impose our own cultural norms and customs on them… Otherwise even if they come here they will fail,” said Amedi.
He added that the government should not try to close down night clubs in hotels because of objections from religious people.
The only international hotel chain currently operating in Kurdistan is Rotana, run by a hotel management company of the same name that operates in the Middle East and North Africa.
According to the Tourism Board, around 1.3 million people visited Kurdistan in 2010, with approximately 20,000 of them coming from outside Iraq. The Board expects an even larger influx of tourists to Kurdistan this year.
There are currently 183 hotels, 107 motels and 40 tourist resorts in the Kurdistan Region but only six of the hotels are five-star. Of those, three are in Erbil, two are in Dohuk and one is in Sulaimani.