Abu Dhabi: Marriott International, the US-listed hotel operator, said it was “very keen” to enter the Iranian market pending the removal of legal barriers, with a spokesman from the hotel chain saying there is strong demand in Iran for hotels.

Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director for the Middle East and Africa at Marriott, said that Iran represents a “substantial market” to be responded to in terms of demand for hotels.

“Today, Marriott International, being a United States publicly-floated company, is precluded from doing business in Iran. Depending on what happens in the future and what agreements are reached between the United States and Iran, if the doors open legally to do business in Iran, we would be very keen to pursue that opportunity,” he said.

His comments put Marriott on a long list of companies waiting either for more sanctions to be lifted in order to be able to legally do business in Iran, or waiting for other companies to first enter Iran in order to get a better feel for the market.

In late October, a top spokesman at Viceroy Hotel Group, told Gulf News the company was eyeing Iran, but would prefer to see other hotels’ experience in that market first before launching a property there.

Until there’s a legal framework for Marriott to enter Iran, the operator said it plans to capitalise on a growing number of visitors from the country to its hotels.

Marriott’s Kyriakidis was speaking on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi at a press conference to formally launch the operator’s latest hotel in the UAE capital. The property is owned by developer Bloom Holdings.

Asked about performance and expectations for the UAE market given falling room rates and lower demand, Kyriakidis said he was bullish on growth amid expectations of stronger demand in the lead up to the Expo 2020 as well as growth from the Chinese market.

And while a stronger US dollar (and hence, a stronger UAE dirham) was deterring many visitors, Marriott was shifting its focus to a wider demographic range.

“Three or four years ago, [UK visitors] accounted for 12 per cent of visitors, and now, that’s come down to about 7 per cent, but it (UK) is still a very valuable segment of the market, so certainly, the strength in US dollar and a weaker pound have had an impact.

Marriott has successfully offset that with new source markets particularly the Arab travellers — we’re seeing growth from the Saudi market, and we’re seeing new markets like China opening up, and India showing strong demand,” Kyriakidis said.

Marriott also said it plans to grow its presence in the UAE to 80 properties in the next three to four years from the current 50 properties — a plan that will make the UAE Marriott’s biggest market in the Middle East.