One of South Africa’s youngest hoteliers: Q&A with Bheki Dube, founder of CURIOCITY

BHN spoke to Bheki Dube, a 27-year old hotelier who has opened the first hybrid hotel in Cape Town under the brand CURIOCITY.

What is CURIOCITY and why it is suited to a boutique audience?

“CURIOCITY is a growing chain of African hybrid hotels designed with style and soul for the curious traveller. Currently, CURIOCITY has hostels located in Johannesburg and Durban and we have just opened up a brand new design-led hybrid hotel in Cape Town”.

“We offer guests a local view in each destination they are in , and an opportunity to go beyond the typical tourist spots and really get under the city’s skin. We tend to choose locations outside of the expected tourist areas, giving our guests a local’s experience of a place. We partner with local businesses and designers in each city to make every CURIOCITY experience a unique one”.

“We are all about creating an inclusive community which allows travellers to connect with their fellow guests as well as locals and discover our South African cities”.

Tell us about your journey so far. What have you learnt?

“From a young age, I had a vision to reshape the way people travel in Africa. Starting out in Johannesburg with my tour company MainStreetWalks at the age of 16, I wanted travellers to be able to experience the city on foot and hear stories from the entrepreneurs and creatives who live here so they can get a true sense of our identity. My main aim was to show tourists the authentic side of Johannesburg’s inner-city districts”.

“Five years later, I opened my first hostel at the age of 21 and the CURIOCITY brand began. CURIOCITY Joburg played a key role in the regeneration of the inner city’s Maboneng precinct and became a popular place for both locals and travellers to visit. We also continued on our mission of breaking the negative connotations that surround ‘the City of Gold’ by taking our guests out on locally-led tours, away from the typical tourist spots”.

“Three years later, we opened a second site in Durban – this time, transforming a 1930s landmark heritage building into a luxury design hostel. We seek to provide our guests with an affordable yet luxury place to stay. In terms of travellers experiencing the city, our aim remained the same – to enable people to truly get under the city’s skin and show them hidden places that even the guidebooks don’t know about”.

“It’s been a huge learning journey for many reasons. Firstly, I’ve learnt to never compromise on design and quality – I design spaces based on my own personal need and wants and I think when an owner can do that, a place ends up having real soul”.

“Secondly, the people brought in are key. From local designers to front of house staff, I’ve brought in exciting, young entrepreneurial talent to create a team who are passionate and want to grow with the brand and that’s really important”. 

Disregarding profitability, why is location important for CURIOCITY sites? 

“Location is absolutely key to CURIOCITY. When we are looking at sites, we try not to be in tourist traps and instead choose exciting, up-and-coming neighbourhoods. At the first site in Johannesburg, the hostel played a key role in the regeneration of the inner city’s Maboneng Precinct and became a popular place for both locals and travellers to visit”.

“It was a similar story in Durban as we chose the Rivertown neighbourhood which has a lot of exciting new places opening. In Cape Town, it is ideally located for wellness activities as guests can walk out of our hotel and straight into Green Point park. It is sandwiched between the city centre and the coastline but we have also created a destination ourselves, especially with the artwork of Atang Tshikare who has created the mural on the facade of the building”.

“We always look for buildings with some kind of architectural merit and our design reflects the heritage of the area. I’m interested in locations that are accessible to the city and that allow travellers to explore places like a local. Across our sites, guests can walk straight out of our doors and into a neighbourhood that really reflects and represents the city they are in rather than being in a touristic area”. 

How does CURIOCITY cater to the modern traveller? What specificities is the brand appealing to?

“I’ve tried with all three sites to put myself in the position of the traveller walking through the doors. I think if you are able to put all five senses into a place then you can tick a lot of boxes for the modern traveller so that is what we have tried to do”.

“Our shared spaces include facilities like a bar and chill-out areas which are visually appealing, but also set up to make it easier for travellers to meet each other. In terms of our rooms, our dorms have practical individual charging facilities so travellers can stay connected to the online world. Across all of our rooms, our mattresses have 5-star ratings – travellers don’t have to choose between affordability and comfort when staying at CURIOCITY”. 

How will hotel spaces evolve in the coming years? 

“I think what we are going to start noticing – and really, it’s already happening – is the introduction of more shared spaces in terms of co-working and co-living brands. We can see that the hotel industry is learning a lot from the hostel industry and a merging of these two concepts is happening – CURIOCITY is at the forefront of that in Africa”.

“Also, the innovative use of technology within the industry is becoming increasingly more common. At CURIOCITY, we are cautious about this as while of course we want to provide a great guest experience, we always want to maintain our personal touch. The personal greeting on arrival is important to us and I don’t think it can be replicated by a screen to check-in”.

As the first hybrid property in Cape Town, what is your vision for CURIOCITY?

“My vision for the future of CURIOCITY is to grow within the South African landscape and create accessible, well-designed spaces that truly reflect Africa. These spaces will go in-depth into the history of the area and this will be reflected in the context of the design of our properties. I want to build a network of affordable, safe properties that people can travel between”.

“In the long term, I want to expand across the African continent. I’m also interested in creating a hospitality fund which will help young, black newcomers enter the industry and create great products”.

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