In Kabul, Banking On Luxury Accommodations

A five-star hotel in Afghanistan may seem a risky business proposition. But not to the Marriott chain, which is going to manage a six-story hotel under construction in Kabul. Part of the U.S. and NATO security bubble, it will likely draw foreign businesspeople hoping to sign reconstruction deals.

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Construction of a five-star hotel is underway in Kabul, Afghanistan. The American hotel chain Marriott will manage this new luxury complex, which boasts 209 rooms.

As NPR's Quil Lawrence reports, the company's investment may not be as risky as it seems. That's because the building is adjacent to the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters, making it a prime location for businessmen swooping into Kabul to make deals with the government and with international donors.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Massoud Circle sits between Kabul's international airport and the long street which has been blocked off and consumed by the American embassy complex and NATO headquarters - what has become Kabul's mini green zone. Most Afghans driving by assume that the new building going up there is another embassy annex. It's actually the skeleton of what will be Kabul's largest luxury hotel.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

LAWRENCE: Afghan laborers work inside the frame of the Kabul Grand Hotel - the Marriot name will not appear on the building. Construction has stopped and started several times, as delivery of high quality steel girders got delayed for months at a time from sea ports in Pakistan.

With a little imagination, says Rafat Kamal, you can see it.

RAFAT KAMAL: Here is the lobby, the reception. Two grand stairs and you climb to the upper floor where we have the restaurants...

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

LAWRENCE: Kamal is a board member of the investors group building the hotel. He walks up a stairway in the scaffolding, pointing to the concrete blocks that mark out guests' rooms, an Afghan wedding ballroom, a cafe and a swimming pool. But it was security, he says, that dictated the design.

KAMAL: The windows are minimized for security. But besides it, it is treated for anti-blast film with anti-blast film.

LAWRENCE: Soon after construction began, a review ordered that the entire building be set back an extra 60 feet from the road to reduce the risk from car bombs. Any doubt about the need for stringent security measures evaporated in September, when insurgents took over an empty building half a mile to the east, and began firing rockets and grenades at the U.S. Embassy. Two landed in the hotel construction site.

Ahmad Walid is the admin manager on the project. He said his team stayed on the job.

AHMAD WALID: The laborers was working here and we were shouting go hide yourself. They were working. For Afghan people it's normal. You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

LAWRENCE: No one was hurt on the site, though errant rockets killed 16 Afghans that day.

None of this seems to have deterred Kamal and the other investors. That may be because Kabul's only other 5-star hotel, the Serena, does a bustling business despite having been targeted by suicide bombers on several occasions.

Once the Marriot opens, VIPs may be able to stay in luxury and make their deals without ever leaving the security bubble of Kabul's green zone. And that means profits for investors like Kamal. More than that, Kamal says, he wants Kabul to have another 5-star address.

KAMAL: Here will be the outdoor swimming pool. OK? You will find people sitting outside of the outdoor terrace. So, it will be a really a nice place to stay.

LAWRENCE: Barring more major delivery problems or insurgent attacks, the Kabul Grand is expected to open in February of 2013.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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