Major U.S. hotel brands are moving into the north of Iraq, a reflection of growing economic development in the Kurdistan region of a country that most U.S. consumer brands have long avoided.
Marriott International signed agreements on Sunday with Empire Iraq to manage two new properties in Iraq’s Erbil. The agreements, signed at the newly inaugurated US Consulate in Erbil, cover a 200-room, upscale Marriott Hotels & Resorts-branded hotel and a 75-unit deluxe Marriott Executive Apartments property. Both are planned to open simultaneously in 2014.
That follows an announcement in May that Best Western International Inc. plans to open its first hotel in Erbil.
The three hotels are on pace to become the first U.S. hotel brands in modern-day Iraq. A Dubai-based hotel chain, Rotana, earlier opened in the city. Other hotel companies, such as Intercontinental Hotels Group, have said recently they would begin research on the region.
"Our view is that the commercial world is coming into Erbil," said Ed Fuller, Marriott's head of international lodging. "This is an emerging country."
The interest comes as the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa has presented the hotel industry big challenges. Marriott earlier this year closed its hotel in Libya due to unrest in the country. In Egypt, the company continues to operate seven hotels. Some expansion plans have slowed while others are moving ahead, Mr. Fuller said.
Two years ago, Mr. Fuller and other Marriott executives met in Baghdad with Gen. David Petraeus, who tried to encourage the chain to open a hotel. But he felt then "it was too early."