Monday, 21 May 2012, 07:43 GMT
Building starts on Erbil's Sheraton International Hotel

Two women pose in front of a giant sign of the to-be Sheraton Hotel in Erbil./ GLOBE PHOTO/Safin Hamid

The Kurdish Globe
By Abdul Hamid Zebari

Region hopes to attract more luxury hotels

Since the fall of the former Iraqi regime, Kurdistan Region's security, stability and economic boom, have drawn the attention of investors.

This, in addition to increased demand, has attracted the owners of five-star hotels to seek investment in the Region. This also pleases locals, who would love to see international hotels in their cities.

"We were eager to see a hotel with global standards. In the past, the citizens of Kurdistan Region had to visit Baghdad to see such hotels during the 1980s," said Nawzad Haddi the governor of Erbil province, who was laying a ceremonial foundation stone for Erbil's Sheraton International Hotel.

Baghdad used to be the only place in Iraq with five-star hotels, mostly during the 1980s. These included Sheraton and Meridien hotels. But now, the the Kurdish Regions could see such hotels in their own towns.

In the presence of foreign and local investors, Erbil held the ceremony to lay the foundation stone for Sheraton International Hotel last week. It will cost of approximately $93 million and will cover an area of 53,000 square meters. The hotel will have 316 rooms. The hotel, due for completion in 2015, will be one of the largest in the country.Starwood hotels, Sheraton International's parent company, signed a contract with BCDKO to manage and administrate the Sheraton. The deal comes 20 years after the company last worked in Iraq.

"Erbil has become a center for gathering international brands in the hotel sector, and Erbil has been chosen due to the security and stability here," the Erbil governor added.

Haddi said the presence of these brands speaks for the rapid construction which aims to restore the country's infrastructure.

According to a survey conducted by Kurdistan's Association for Hotels and Restaurants, many five-star hotels are now in the Region and the demand is increasing to open new ones in the near future.

"Our surveys indicate that the number of hotels in Kurdistan from one to five stars has increased 33 percent compared to last year: 343 hotels and restaurants in Erbil, 318 in Suleimaniya province, and Duhok province has 186 hotels and restaurants," said Hersh Ahmad, head of Kurdistan's Association for Hotels and Restaurants.

But Ahmed is still not satisfied with this figure, he believes Kurdistan needs more luxury hotels to further develop both the economy and the tourism sector.

"We have advised the Kurdistan Regional Government to encourage foreign investors to invest in the hotel sector on the condition of building [hotels with] four or five stars, because Kurdistan still has a shortage of five-star hotels. We have six in Erbil, three in Suleimaniya and two in Duhok, but we are making efforts to increase the number, because these five-star hotels are a civilized phenomenon which offer services according to international standards," Ahmad added.

The Kurdistan Region Parliament approved the Investment Law in 2006. The law offers foreign investors and businesses a great deal of support to encourage them to invest in Kurdistan.Director General of legal affairs at the Kurdistan Investment Board Nawroz Mawlood says the Investment Board pays great attention to the hotel sector in Kurdistan. "If we intend to restore the infrastructure of the country, we have to begin with this specific sector, because you have to arrange an appropriate place for foreign investors to stay if you want to attract them, so we are serious in this sector to provide the best services for visitors," said Mawlood.The Investment Board says foreign investment in Kurdistan Region has reached $18 billion.

Mawlood points to the presence of a number of hotels in the Region with international standards, including Rotana, Hamilton and Sheraton. He says there is ongoing negotiation with other companies to open hotels, such as Four Season and Infinity.

The presence of these luxury hotels in Kurdistan Region has encouraged international organizations, including the United Nations, to hold conferences and workshops in Kurdistan. Many of these meetings used to be held in neighboring countries.

Economic analyst Dr. Mouhamad Salman believes that the main reason to choose Kurdistan to hold these international meetings is because it has these international hotels. "On the other hand, the money spent on these conferences will come back to the Region, so this is another benefit of the luxury hotels." Mawlood believes that encouraging hotels to invest will help boost Kurdistan's economic growth.