Meryanne Loum-Martin: Building The First Black Woman-Owned Boutique Hotel in Marrakech

Meryanne Loum-Martin

Born in Cote d’Ivoire (a country in West Africa), to a Senegalese diplomat father, and West Indian lawyer mother, Meryanne Loum-Martin spent her early childhood in Ghana, London, and Moscow, before settling in Paris for a career in law. Then one day she decided she wanted to relocate and become a hotel owner in Marrakech, Morocco. Marianne owns and operates an eight-acre boutique hotel named Jnane Tamsna in Marrakech which boasts 24 rooms, five swimming pools, and a clay surface tennis court. Guests that stay at her hotel get to experience the culture and traditions of Morocco. Meryanne’s first degree may have been in law, but her heart has always been in architecture design and the arts. Meryanne is the only Black female hotel owner in Morocco.

In this episode of Millennial Wealth Builders, Meryanne Loum-Martin shares how her love for design led her to becoming the first Black woman-owned boutique hotel owner in Marrakech, Morocco.

This episode was recorded live in Marrakech, Morocco by Acquania Escarne.

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Danielle Desir 0:11
Co-hosted by Acquania Escarne, the host of the Purpose of Money, and Danielle Desir, the host of the Thought Card. Millennial Wealth Builders series is where we share the stories of women of color, building wealth.

Acquania Escarne 0:27
But this isn't your ordinary interview based show. Throughout the series you'll be hearing from women who are creatively

Danielle Desir 0:34
Securing the bag

Acquania Escarne 0:35
Stacking coins. We know what we mean.

Born in Cote d'Ivoire, to a Senegalese diplomat, Father, and West Indian lawyer mother, Meryanne Loum-Martin spent her early childhood and culture of Wah, Ghana, London and Moscow, before settling in Paris for a career in law. Then one day she decided she wanted to relocate and be a hotel owner in Marrakech, Morocco. Marianne owns and operates an eight acre boutique hotel named Thompson in Marrakech, Morocco, 24 rooms, five swimming pools and a clay surface tennis court. This oasis in Morocco is one of the best places to relax and visit. She's had the pleasure of famous guests such as Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Giorgio Armani, and Donna Karan stay at her hotel. While recently visiting Marrakech Morocco, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Meryanne, and learning more about her life as a hotel owner. Guests that stay at her hotel get to take in the rich global and African identity that she has incorporated across the resort to encourage visitors and guests to experience the culture and traditions of Morocco. Meryanne's first degree may have been in law, but her heart has always been in architecture design and the arts. This is Meryanne's wealth building story.

Meryanne Loum-Martin 2:15
Hello, my name is Meryanne. And you're listening to Millennial Wealth Builders.

So I come from a family where we would never talk about money. But we would talk about education and studies. And the key to a good lifestyle. Like fortunately, our parents were able to give us was to study I mean, this was the thing was, it was not even questioned, it was obvious that we would go to university and have a good job and be independent as a woman I was, I never considered that I would count up on the income of a husband. It would I was going to be fearless, fiercely independent. And I think this was my only connection to money. Because you know, you study you have a good job. And you have money. But this is not the purpose. The first thing is to develop your own personalities through education. Well, first of all, I'm an accidental utterly, it was not an objective. I came to being an attorney because I love design and architecture. And I discovered Morocco which was, you know, America, she's three hours flight from where I'm from Paris where I was a lawyer and and I designed to house and then I had to get an income out of it. So by, you know, default it became a hospitality project and then to my own, not how do you say, to my own amazement, it became a project where everybody wanted to go. So things led to another but it was not really planned. I never wanted to go to hospitality school. I never wanted to be you know, to you. But I'm passionate about design, and then I need to have an income. So I turned my design into a hospitality project. Well, you know, I grew up in Paris, and I was always the only black person everywhere. So, being in America, she's different because not only I was the only one, but I'm the first one because when I had the idea to do my first project in the 80s, there was absolutely no boutique hospitality America, she only had big hotels. So I first had the idea to design the place, which would cater to the needs of the people I knew. And the marketing was very spontaneous because The people I knew were all complaining about the way they were spending their holidays, they hated big hotels, they hated rentals where there was no service, no staff, no nice cutlery, whatever. So I decided to create a concept of rental, which would bring in the five star service. But it would be an exclusive rental. And it the success went beyond my dreams. And then one thing led to another, and I ended up doing a boutique hotel years later. But I have to say that it was not premeditated at all. And because it was not premeditated, I think it was a spontaneous niche market. And this niche market continues to exist, because what we were doing was connecting people to culture, to the local culture, we had historians coming to explain them, the history of the city, we had artists coming to speak to them. And this is what I'm interested in doing is creating a link to the reality of a country. So the tourist is not in juxtaposition, just just put there. And then going back home, he is included in what makes the city so special.

Acquania Escarne 6:23
I was reading an article where you said wealth is in our culture and our differences. And that's what makes us all special. What did you mean by that? How is culture?

Meryanne Loum-Martin 6:35
Well? Well, you see, so I am a black woman of West Indian and a Senegalese descent, but totally Parisian at the same time. And I always and all the other people I meet who are looking like me, whether they're American, or from Africa, what I find quite remarkable is that education is Western education was designed for white people and by white people. So all of the entrepreneurs, all of the people I meet, went through this education, it means that they have mastered, what white, occidental education is about. And not only they go through that, and they achieve, and they have good degrees, but on top, they bring in their own individuality, they bring in their culture. And this is why I think it's a big wealth, because you have many layers. You know, when I think about a project, I think about creating a hotel, I think about all sorts of things which come from Western values. But then I think about what I expected to be and what I expected to be, is the essence of culture, the essence of diversity. And I think this is where the wealth is, because without making any effort, we bring something different. Because all of the Western values, this is what we had to learn and to go through to school. But on top, we bring our own personality.

Acquania Escarne 8:16
What can guests expect when they stay at john Tom Thompson.

Meryanne Loum-Martin 8:21
So what they can expect is that you know, so we have 24 rooms, you might have super famous people who are they're totally anonymously, mixed with people who have been maybe saving for years to go on holidays. But what they have in common is that they like our kind of lifestyle. And there's nothing more, you know, I would say fulfilling for me, because I know my guests because many of them are repeat guests to see. So there's nothing more fulfilling for me, then to see all these people who in fact are coming from often, different backgrounds just blend into the kind of house party of the property where everybody has their own space. But when they come out in communal areas for drinks, it looks like if they were invited at friends for drinks or dinner, and what they can expect is a staff who has been here for 20 years, who is professional and taking good care of the guests without being overly friendly. what they can expect is organic food because we grow our own food. A hotel which looks like a house with books and magazines and scented candles and flowers and you know vegetables pick the morning for lunch or dinner. It's a whole lifestyle, which we have designed the way we like to live ourselves.

Acquania Escarne 10:00
So tell me more about actually building a hotel. How long did it take? What were some of the challenges that you face?

Meryanne Loum-Martin 10:08
Well, I think a bad example here, because I built this place in 11 months and three weeks from scratch. And it's like, unusual. We had this land, which had only a few palm trees. And I had accepted clients before building the place, because I sort of had 18 months ahead of me. And things happen in life, the planning concern took more time. And then the contractor I was planning to work with went bankrupt, and I had to look for another one. And then Ramadan started, and I didn't want to, and to put too much pressure on workers who are fasting, we broke ground on January 6 2001. And the guests were coming on 27th of December of the same year. And we were ready. So why were we ready is that because I never changed my mind on any thing. I had designed all the blueprints, and I knew that this room was going to be blue, it was going to have this kind of art, and this kind of curtains and it's kind of bedspread, and this other room was going to be green and have that that that. So because everything was very well organized. In my mind, we could go very fast. Everything which is conceptual, I did myself, and then I had people working for me. But no one gave any idea. Because you need one Captain on the boat. Because it's a small, it's a small scale place 24 rooms. If I was working on an 80 bedroom hotel, it would be a team. But because it's a small place, and I wanted it to look like a house. I was the only Captain on the boat for the interiors and my husband designed the garden.

Acquania Escarne 11:59
How are you choosing to build wealth? Do you invest in any other than hotels or real estate?

Meryanne Loum-Martin 12:07
Not really, because I think that both hotel and real estate, especially hospitality, I would say are fulfilling the my needs of doing things which can turn into sustainable growth for other people. What I'm really interested in doing is using inequality, luxury, to interrupt the cycle of poverty. And the problem is that for many years, first of all, very often, luxury is just investors who don't have the same concern that I have, you know, I come from five generations of activists. And as a lawyer, I had pro bono cases where I could fulfill this need of being useful. And through hospitality, I have the possibility of creating jobs in a creative and sustainable way for people who have not had the chance to go to Western schools, not even Arabic schools, because the people I'm working with our new projects, they don't know how to read and write in Arabic, which is our own language, but they have gold in their hands, in the sense that the men know how to farm organically because this is they never had access to this chemicals. And the women know how to weave and do textiles and embroideries. And what is missing for the women is the connection to an international market and understanding the taste of this international market so they can create products, which have a clientele. And I understand the taste of this international market. So what I want to do is that for my new projects, we have collections of home accessories and linens and a lot of things that can be produced in the communities around the land where the hotel will be, and that it gives a permanent source of income to women, because not only we will have the collection of the hotels to produce, but there will be some real estate and houses to furnish. And then we hope that they will start doing their own company and that hopefully their children who might not have gone to school very much but who are all like computer genius. We'll be able to manage the little family business. So this is what I really want to spend a lot of time doing from now on.

Acquania Escarne 14:42
What do you want to be most remembered for? What is going to be your legacy?

Meryanne Loum-Martin 14:47
cnn said that I was the first one to do this. And this wall street journal said that I was the first one to understand the expectation of the Western society about traveling So what I would like to be remembered for is someone who have used luxury as an agent of change. For people who didn't have opportunities in their life before. That is really what I would like to be remembered for. Because you know, you have hospitality is about luxury experience, boutique, hospitality is about experience very much. But experience cannot happen in an authentic way, if it's not connected to the culture of the place, and the culture of the place. The custodians are people who very often did not have the opportunity to go to school. So what I'm interested in is creating an ecosystem where tourism will not be any more something totally superficial, where people fly in fly out, and what the support is just, you know, the salaries of someone working in a hotel, but if this person has an accident, or lose his job, I mean, his family's left who's nothing, what I'm interested is in creating permanent and sustainable opportunities for all the people revolving around the experience that tourists have.

Acquania Escarne 16:24
Have you ever been asked to be a mentor to other women who want to create their own hotel brands?

Meryanne Loum-Martin

Well, I'm regularly contacted by people who want to create their own boutique hotel. And I have to say that I realized that I've been very lucky in what I did. Because I'm probably the only black person who went to a country, which is not hers, she doesn't speak the language. And I was I was building, you know, it's not like, if I was investing in a place, but manage, I was building designing, then managing I was doing the whole thing from A to Z. So in an in a country where you know, it's not my country, and I don't speak Arabic. So my experience is very different from what other people could have. But every time I'm contacted, and it's quite often the case, by young women who said, Oh, I read about you, I'm dreaming to have a boutique hotel, would you suggest? And I always say what do you do now? Have you evaluate evaluate the risk? Either I was a lawyer in Paris, you've ever seen one wrong? I could have gone back to being a lawyer in Paris, it's, there was a risk, for sure. But it will, what these women are telling me is like, they're ready to abandon everything to do this. And I always tell them, Well, have you evaluated the risk? And when I started, there was no social media, for example. So I always tell them, what about checking on Instagram? If people like what you do, why don't you create a virtual place, a virtual brand, with a very strong sense of style and what you want to achieve, and see how many followers real ones you can get an engaged with. Because maybe the day you have a lot of followers because they like what you are creating virtually, you could go and speak to investors, this is what I did out of nothing. And you have to have land to yourself and find access to a land would you know because I think that a lot of people are a bit naive about the imagine that it's just like having fun. Being a hotel, it is not an you know that it can be very stressful. When I started my hair was pitch black, and now it's all white. So it is a very people always see like the tip of the iceberg. But there's a lot of things behind you know, and you like we've been empty for one year because of COVID. You know, it's not because we're offering the wrong product is just because the whole word stopped living. So it is not an easy job. It's very rewarding when you like what you do, and I am totally blessed by the fact that we have a big, amazing guests coming to our place. But what I say to people when they keep on when they asked me can you mentor me? I'd like to do this and I always tell them start virtually because there's no risk. And I often find those intuitive nifty in the way people approach the concept. There's a lot of people want to get to become creative, but they are in businesses which have nothing to do with creativity. And and they say Should I go to design school Didn't it for me, everything I do is totally spontaneous. You know, like you have people who are gifted into in singing or drawing or whatever. I'm very blessed to be naturally a designer. So it is easy for me to design a place. It's the easiest part. But then after you have to put it into a source of income, and this is complicated, so if people don't have this kind of instinct for design, or fun, ask them to be prudent be prudent.

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In this episode Meryanne Loum-Martin shares:

  • What money was like growing up for her.
  • How she became an accidental hotelier through her love of design.
  • What guests can expect when staying at Jnane Tamsna.
  • How she overcame challenges building a hotel in Morocco from scratch in 2001.
  • How she is building wealth as a hotel owner.
  • What aspiring hotel owners should do before investing in their first property.

Connect with Meryanne Loum-Martin:

Watch this video and take a tour of Jnane Tamsna in Marrakech, Morocco.

Listen to more hotel-ownership episodes of Millennial Wealth Builders 

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