Marriott International on Thursday announced plans to purchase Protea Hospitality Holdings, a Cape Town-based hotel group with 116 properties. The deal would nearly double Marriott’s presence on the continent, making it the largest hotel company in Africa.

“Africa has significant untapped potential for travel and tourism, both as a destination and source of new global travelers,” Arne Sorenson, president and chief executive officer of Marriott International, said in a statement.

The Bethesda-based hotel giant said it had signed a letter of intent with Protrea, but did not disclose the terms of the proposed deal.

Marriott, which has beefed up its international presence in recent years, says the deal would give the company a leg up in Africa, where Protrea manages, franchises and leases hotels in seven contries, including Nigeria and Uganda.

“The development cycle for opening new hotels in Africa is typically long due to the challenges posed by emerging infrastructure,” Alex Kyriakidis, president of Marriott International for the Middle East and Africa, said in a statement. “Joining forces with Protea Hotels and their highly respected management team is the strongest way to jumpstart Marriott’s footprint in Africa.”

Marriott said it plans to sign definitive agreements by the end of the year. The deal could close as early as the first quarter of 2014.