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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Morocco hopes lure of Winston Churchill will attract hotel investors

Government said to plan next year to sell a 51 per cent stake in La Mamounia Hotel, which has welcomed famous names such as the late UK war-time leader

Marrakech at dusk, Morocco. The government is said to want to sell a stake in the famous La Mamounia Hotel. Getty
Marrakech at dusk, Morocco. The government is said to want to sell a stake in the famous La Mamounia Hotel. Getty

Morocco is counting on Alfred Hitchcock and Winston Churchill to help raise money.

The government plans next year to sell a 51 per cent stake in La Mamounia Hotel, a former Marrakesh palace-turned-five-star hotel that has, for decades, welcomed leaders such as the late French leader Charles de Gaulle and former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as well as Hollywood elite, according to two sources.

The government is expected to fix a minimum price and invite bids sometime in next year. The majority stake is currently held by the state railways monopoly, while minority shareholders include the state-controlled investment management fund, Caisse de Depot et de Gestion (CDG), and Marrakesh’s city council.

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The hotel has long been a profitable business, but had stopped distributing dividends to shareholders for eight to 10 years through to 2017, mainly because of the repayment of loans obtained to fund a major overhaul, said Marrakesh Mayor Mohamed Larbi Belkaid.

"This is an iconic historic landmark for Marrakesh and for the global hotel industry," he said.

La Mamounia, which was listed in February 2018 as one of the “7 Most Historically Significant Hotels in the World” by interior design magazine Architectural Digest, has a storied past. The Art Deco palace was a favourite of Churchill’s, who, the magazine said, once described it to Franklin Roosevelt as “one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

Rooms at the hotel can run from around €600 (Dh2,512) per night, while suites can climb to around €5,530 nightly. A riad, or traditional Moroccan villa, goes for around €6,500 per night, according to the hotel’s website.

As well as welcoming scores of A-list celebrities such as Marlene Dietrich, Ray Charles, Paul McCartney and Elton John, the 95-year-old palace that was a wedding gift to Prince Al Mamoun from his father served as a backdrop for films including Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much and Oliver Stone’s Alexander.

Khadija Borara, a spokeswoman for the railway company, known by its French acronym ONCF, declined to comment. Najat Saher, an official with the Finance and Economy Ministry’s privatization department, did not return calls seeking comment. The daily L’Economiste said the government had valued the hotel at 3 billion Moroccan dirhams ($315 million) at least. But Belkaid said that no valuation of the hotel has ever been made.

The hotel, once the flagship of Morocco’s luxury hospitality industry, has seen its star dim slightly in recent years -- a victim of the push to market scenic Marrakesh, with its growing links to European airports, as a year-round destination to a broader range of tourists.

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"If the walls could talk, they would surely have some stories to tell," La Mamounia’s brochure reads.