Accor to manage Mbano Hotel: are global brands opening doors to Vic Falls again?

Accor, the French hotels group, has announced a deal to manage and brand the new Mbano Manor Hotel in Victoria Falls. 

Built by Zimbabwean businesswoman Matifadza Nyazema for US$8 million, the luxury property, which opened in 2020, will be rebranded under the Mantis Collection in June 2023.

“Accor and Mantis are delighted to establish a presence in Zimbabwe, particularly in Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world – and particularly here at Mbano Manor Hotel – created by a remarkable woman and bold entrepreneur,” says Paul Gardiner, CEO, Mantis Collection.

“We are honored to be entrusted with supporting and continuing Doc Mati’s dream of offering this one-of-a-kind hospitality experience,” he adds. 

Accor is a major hotel operator, managing 5400 properties across more than 110 countries. 

Says Nyazema: “This means that our guests will continue to benefit from local management and ownership, while enjoying the added value of global hospitality.”

This is the first time in years that an international brand has announced a deal in Zimbabwe. Could the new deal signal renewed interest in Victoria Falls by international brands?

“Accor coming in does confirm the strong interest that we’ve been seeing, for the first time in a while, from international hotel brands. They’re looking at us as an investment asset,” says Graham May, a tour operator. “We have an awful lot of work to do to upgrade our facilities, and new capital is welcome.”

Accor’s last investment in Zimbabwe didn’t work out. The company bought into Rainbow Tourism Group in 2000 and agreed a management contract. But the deal was dropped in 2006.

The Kingdom Hotel in Victoria Falls is currently vacant after African Sun left the property after failing to agree on a new lease with property owners. The Kingdom is owned by Makasa Sun, which is co-owned by the Barclays Pension Fund and First Capital Bank (FCB). 

FCB is considering an international tender for a new hotel brand to manage the hotel, according to the bank’s CEO Ciaran McSharry.

Among possible new tenants, industry officials say, is the Avani Group, an international brand that owns a resort on the Zambian side of the Falls. 

Zimbabwean tourism operators are looking for new investors, as they recover from the damaging COVID-19 period, which cose the sector virtually all its earnings in 2020.

That year, the government issued a guarantee for CBZ’s Z$10 million loan to Mbano Manor. The loan was part of the Z$500 million bank guarantee facility issued by government in 2020 to tourism players as stimulus to help them recover from impact of COVID19. 

There has been some recovery since then.

In 2022, total investment into tourism facilities was US$306 million, up 239% from COVID-hit 2021, according to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority. Its CEO Winnie Muchanyuka says the investment went into new facilities in restaurants, hotels, lodges, safaris and game parks dominating. 

More recent properties in Victoria Falls include the Palm River Lodge, a US$24,6 million investment by Old Mutual and Spencer Creek, which also runs Ilala Lodge.