With restrictions easing, Accor signs deal for two Iran hotels

As restrictions on doing business with Iran ease, international businesses are rushing in to build a presence. Last week, Masoud Soltanifar, head of Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO), said the government is actively seeking foreign investment in tourism infrastructures, including in the construction of hotels. According to the long-term plans published in the Tasnim News Agency, Iran is set to attract 20 million tourists and is looking to build 300 new hotels. The need for 30 new hotels each year would provide a unique opportunity for the foreign investors to have a role in Iran’s hotel-building industry, Soltanifar said.

Just today, French hotels group Accor SA announced that it would become the first Western group to manage a hotel in Iran since the country signed a nuclear deal with world powers.

According to the Wall Street Journal, AccorHotels will open a 196-room ibis hotel and a 296-room Novotel branch close to Tehran’s international airport in October, giving the budget-to-luxury company a foothold in one of the world’s largest untapped tourist destinations. 

The contracts are due to be signed on Tuesday in Tehran by AccorHotels’ CEO Sébastien Bazin and representatives of Iranian company Aria Ziggurat, which owns the buildings.

The deal with the owner of the hotels, Aria Ziggurat Tourism Development Co. (part of tourism investment holding SEMEGA), will take effect next month, Reuters reports. International economic sanctions are set to improve following an agreement with six world powers in July to curb a nuclear program that the West feared was aimed at making nuclear weapons. Western officials previously said that they did not expect the sanctions to be lifted until 2016, and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said on Monday that it remains unclear how long it will take Tehran to complete its tasks. While sanctions didn’t specifically target the tourist industry, the Wall Street Journal notes that years of political isolation contributed to dwindling tourist numbers and a lack of investment in the sector.

"Our brands are looking at huge growth potential in this country, which is home to almost 80 million people and is expanding its economy," AccorHotels Chief Executive Sebastien Bazin said in a statement on Tuesday, noting that the company—the sixth-largest hotel group in the world—is looking to develop a hotel network in the country.

The hotels are scheduled to open on October 15, according to the Guardian, and The National notes that Abu Dhabi-based Rotana is looking to operate four hotels in Tehran and Mashhad by the end of 2018.