Iran is getting its first foreign-branded seaside hotel, complete with swimming pools, bars, and a spa.
Melia Hotels International plan to open the five-star property in a 130m tower on the Caspian Sea as early as next year.
The announcement comes after a slew of trade sanctions on the Islamic Republic were lifted in January.
“We firmly believe in Iran’s tourism potential,” CEO Gabriel Escarrer said, not stating whether alcohol would be served at the bars.
“We have always been pioneers in the development of new markets.”
Iran’s first foreign-branded hotels in decades arrived in October, when French operator Accor opened a Novotel and an Ibis near Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. Hoteliers, including Dubai-based Jumeirah and Abu Dhabi-based Rotana, want to cash in on growing tourism in one of the Middle East’s oldest civilisations, with its ancient ruins of Persepolis, pristine beaches, and skiing slopes.
The Gran Melia Ghoo hotel will form part of a new district being built in the resort of Salman Shahr. It will compete with a property being built by Rotana to become the first luxury hotel operated by an overseas company in Iran since Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution forced Hyatt, Sheraton, and owners of other brands to flee in 1979.
Iran will have almost 900 hotels within five years, compared with 768 now, according to a forecast by Euromonitor International.
Lodging revenue is set to increase about 25 per cent during that time, the firm predicts, as the number of visitors is forecast to grow by a similar percentage, to 6.3 million.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” said Nikola Kosutic, Euromonitor’s head of Middle East research.
“The quality of accommodation is not according to western standards, and we expect a great shift on that front, mostly through launches of international hotel chains.”
Tehran and the religious pilgrimage site of Mashhad will probably draw most of the investment. However, some of the biggest hotel companies are holding back.
UK-based InterContinental Hotels Group, owner of the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza brands, had no plans to expand to Iran. US-based Hilton Worldwide Holdings was also holding off, despite seeing “significant potential for hospitality growth,” the company said.
For Melia, the lifting of the sanctions means it can enter before US competitors do.
“Our Mediterranean roots make it easier for us to connect with the Middle East hospitality concept,” Escarrer said.