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'Everybody is Doing Business in Iran': Hotel CEO

Tehran, Iran
Travel Ink | Gallo Images | Getty Images
Tehran, Iran

The president of Rotana, one of the biggest hotel chains in the Middle East, believes there are significant investment opportunities in Iran, despite growing international sanctions.

"Iran has got a huge untapped potential. Iran is a safe country, it's a beautiful country", Selim El Zyr, president of Rotana, told CNBC's "Access: Middle East". Rotana had so far signed on three Iranian properties, he said.

Iran, once an OPEC heavyweight among oil exporters, is subject to several international sanctions due to concerns that its nuclear program may have covert military aims.

(Read More: Op-Ed: Neighbors Not So 'Happy' With Iranian Warship)

El Zyr said sanctions made operating in Iran more complicated, but that risks in markets like Iran can be controlled, giving Rotana early market penetration advantage and possibly more lucrative rewards in the future. He added that investors should be skeptical of some media coverage of Iran.

"You know, everybody is doing business in Iran. They put their head in the sand and they say, no, we're not. We know how this country is surviving. They are doing business," he said.

Rotana is present in some of the world's riskiest countries, with 45 hotels across the Middle East and North Africa. Future projects include the Shams Rotana hotel in Baghdad, Iraq, due to open in 2014.

Violence continues in the Iraqi capital, 10 years on from the U.S.-led invasion. On Tuesday, two local politicians were killed near Baghdad when a bomb attached to their car exploded, and a recent report by Mercer Consulting ranked the city the world's most violent.

However, El Zyr emphasized the city was not at war, and argued that turmoil was concentrated away from business and government areas.He highlighted that the chain's best-performing "conflict zone" hotel is currently in Iraq, in the southern city of Erbil in Kurdistan, where occupancy exceeds 80 percent.

(Read More: Risks Too High to Focus on Middle East: CEO)

El Zyr added that Iraq should focus on rebuilding its infrastructure.

"They must build the infrastructure. And part of the infrastructure is hotels. If you have no hotels, you cannot attract business men or governments guests or anybody," he said.

This week on "Access: Middle East": An exclusive interview with the co-founder and president of Rotana, Selim El Zyr. Find out which hotel markets he sees flourishing this decade, and why the alcohol-free brand can work.

Contact Access: Middle East

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