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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's easyHotel has reached an agreement with developers to open more than 500 rooms in Iran, joining other foreign chains that have moved into the country since the lifting of sanctions.
The budget chain, which was launched by easyJet (EZJ.L) founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou in 2004, now operates in Britain, six other European countries and the United Arab Emirates.
"There are a number of hotel companies that are looking to expand into Iran. We're looking to develop in the Middle East, and it made sense for us to take this opportunity," easyHotel Chief Executive Guy Parsons told Reuters.
"We're comfortable that now is the right time to go ... But we're going to keep monitoring the situation and discussing it with the franchisee and developer in Iran," he said.
Relations between Iran and Britain have often been fraught though there has been a gradual improvement in recent years, helped by Iran's nuclear deal with major world powers that led to international economic sanctions being lifted in 2016.
Iranian protesters stormed the British embassy in 2011, prompting London to expel Iranian diplomats, and the countries only resumed diplomatic relations in 2014.
Iran is the 33rd largest tourism market in the world, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, and the government hopes to attract 20 million tourists a year by 2025.
Parsons said easyHotel in Iran would be managed by a franchisee, meaning much of the running of the hotels would be subcontracted to local staff, allowing the firm to expand without risking direct capital investment.
He also said most of its customers would probably be "Iranians in Iran" and the company was not necessarily targeting a large growth in travel from Europe or Britain.
Additional reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain; editing by David Clarke