Churchill's Moroccan Oasis on Sale in Privatization Push

(Bloomberg) -- Morocco is counting on Alfred Hitchcock and Winston Churchill to help it raise money.

The government plans next year to sell a 51-percent stake in La Mamounia Hotel, a former Marrakesh palace-turned-five-star hotel that has, for decades, welcomed leaders such as Charles de Gaulle, as well as Hollywood elite, according to two people familiar with the plan. They declined to be identified because the sale has yet to be formally approved by the cash-strapped kingdom’s cabinet.

Churchill's Moroccan Oasis on Sale in Privatization Push

The government is expected to fix a minimum price and invite bids sometime in 2019, one of the people familiar with the plan said. 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.

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

"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 favorite 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 euros ($684) per night, while suites can climb to around 5,530 euros nightly. A riad, or traditional Moroccan villa, goes for around 6,500 euros 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.”

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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 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.

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

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.