Marriott International is evaluating whether to open a hotel in the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, responding to a request from U.S. government officials who are eager to help revive Iraq with foreign investment and economic activity.
The Bethesda, Md., firm, one of the largest hotel operators in the world, would have to overcome major obstacles, such as Baghdad's lack of security and its ravaged infrastructure. Chief executive Bill Marriott is considering the deal but is concerned about safety issues, according to someone familiar with his thinking.
Marriott, which is paid fees by hotel owners to manage properties, is mulling the move as it embarks on a major expansion in the Middle East. To meet demand from a surge of business activity there, Marriott intends to boost its properties in the region from 26 to about 75 during several years.
The Green Zone has been a frequent target of attacks by insurgents. A recent flare-up, when 114 rocket and mortar rounds fell in the Green Zone during a 30-day period ending in late April, showed the area's unpredictability.
Marriott is not the only company that has been approached about managing the hotel development, but it has connections to the Bush administration. Bill Marriott is chairman of the president's Export Council, which advises Bush on trade issues. The council is appointed by the president and includes U.S. business leaders and several Cabinet members, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Paul Brinkley, the deputy under secretary of defense for business transformation, declined to identify any hotel companies considering the deal, nor would he identify the developers.
At a National Press Club event Wednesday highlighting Iraq's business opportunities, Brinkley appeared with Iraq's Industry Minister Fawzi Hariri. In an interview afterward, Hariri said Iraqis "would welcome" an American hotel in Baghdad.
Many foreigners stay at the al-Rasheed, inside the Green Zone, where a rocket attack wounded several guests in October 2003.