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Bheki Dube is Revolutionising Inner-City Hospitality by Telling African Stories in Local Spaces



Bheki Dube. Photo: Fortune Flank, bird story agency

Situated in the creative hub of Maboneng and capturing Johannesburg’s vibrant urban culture with its bike-friendly outdoor spaces, a pool, a bar, a rooftop and a spacious common area for creative and engaging experiences, it would seem only fitting that Curiocity Joburg, the flagship hotel for Curiocity Africa and one of a chain of city hotels, would provide a hybrid offering to appeal to digital nomads, the local startup scene and local and international tourists, alike.

Yet, when founder Bheki Dube created Curiocity Africa, hybrid hotels were virtually unheard of on the continent. Hotels that blend the traditional hotel model with co-living and co-working spaces as well as cultural immersion, where guests can live, work, eat, drink and socialise all in one space were an anomaly. Thanks to his early work as a guide, telling the story of the area, Dube knew there was an opening.

His experience-led hotels blend those beginnings as a walking tour guide, inspired by his grandmother’s love of storytelling, with an intent to highlight significant spaces and people within the cities where the hotels are located.

“As far as I can remember, my grandma would tell all these stories of Africa. And it’s about continuing with that legacy and saying, ‘how do I use Curiocity as a vehicle to share the innate stories of Africa?’” Dube said.

This vision is reflected in the experiences offered at Curiocity locations. Whether in Johannesburg or Cape Town, guests can expect curated activities such as sunrise power hikes, adventure outings, and sound journeys. These experiences are designed to ensure that each stay is unique and immersive.

After launching the first Curiocity in 2013, in Johannesburg, at only 21, Dube faced significant challenges due to his limited business knowledge and foundational support.

He explained: “We’re not typically born into a wealth of intellectual property where our parents are discussing business and deals. I wasn’t born into that. Some people were. Rising above the status quo and developing this intellectual property to engage at a high level is a challenge in itself. It requires studying and applying knowledge systems that inform you on that. Negotiating your terms and existence in such spaces is intellectually challenging. Eventually, when you succeed in those conversations with developers, funders, and others you pitch your concept to, you ask, ‘How do we then fund these ideas and concepts?’”

Bheki Dube. Fortune Flank, bird story agency

Since the Curiocity business model was unique in South Africa at the time, Dube struggled to convince risk-averse funders that it was a worthwhile investment.

“Funding instruments are very narrow-minded. They only want to fund mature products, brands, or markets that have already reached maturity. Raising capital for new markets in hospitality and travel was quite a challenge,” he elaborated.

Ultimately, the standout quality that attracted investors to Dube was his passion. The lessons he gained in his foundational years from his grandmother, such as hard work and showing up, as well as attracting the right investors with his passion, having the right mentors to guide him, and establishing a strong corporate governance structure within his team helped him overcome the initial stumbling blocks to establishing a growing business.

A decade later, Curiocity has grown to include seven hybrid hotels under its umbrella, including Curiocity Joburg and Green Point, along with five managed properties.

In Johannesburg, these properties include Fox Street Studios and The Urban Fox, while in Cape Town they feature Salts and Salty Cracks. All these spaces are centrally located and emphasise the Curiocity brand ethos of experiential stays.

Additionally, Dube and his team are set to open another branded hotel in Cape Town’s trendy hub Kloof Street in July 2024, along with their new head office, which is also located in Cape Town.

Central to Curiocity’s approach is a storytelling element that comes through guided tours, dynamic in-person and virtual experiences, as well as collaborations with creatives that are fused into the experiences and the spaces. Reflecting on that creative synergy, Dube mentioned a mural in the Green Point space, titled Far from Home.

Bheki Dube. Photo: Fortune Flank, bird story agency

“If you look at the mural on the first side [of the property], we worked with a prominent South African artist, Atang Chikare. At face value, you’ll see beautiful artwork, but when you start to read between the lines, the parts you see on the facade represent the roads that lead us home since Curiocity is home to many global citizens that stay with us. It was fitting for such a prominent artist to create meaningful murals with us.”

“When you look at the work, you’ll see that it looks like a map of the London underground or the subway in the US. Different places that have different types of transport systems that connect them together from one neighbourhood to the other. It also looks like a neighbourhood itself. So it’s meant for people to feel like they’re in their own neighbourhood in some way or the other. And Curiocity being a place that is in both Joburg and Cape Town, it was a way to connect them as buildings where people come to feel at home when they are far from home,” Chikare, further commented on his work.

Believing that we are all descendants of African griot storytellers, writers, and poets, Dube’s calling is to connect South Africa and the African continent through experiences, using Curiocity as his vehicle. Thus, the storytelling in Curiocity’s spaces, reflected in the art, literature, and decor, represents the African experience.

“In some of our common areas and rooms, we source literature from Chimurenga in Woodstock. We could have gone to any bookstore, but we chose to highlight significant spaces and people within Cape Town, especially from the Black perspective. When guests pick up a book, they might wonder where it’s from, and we tell them about Chimurenga, encouraging them to visit, buy souvenirs, or take part in their programs. Even our furniture is sourced from local makers to make each Curiocity experience unique.”

Additionally, the brand recently collaborated with the 2024 International Public Art Festival hosted by BAZ-ART to host 20 artists in Cape Town. Dube’s team also participated in activating street art tours for the week-long event.

Bheki Dube. Photo: Fortune Flank, bird story agency

“These collaborations are key to Curiocity’s success. Any hotel can be a hotel, but our partnerships with local creatives and storytellers make us stand out. Curiocity is very experience-led, meaning guests don’t just stay in a hotel room; they immerse themselves in the neighbourhood, guided by local storytellers who share the narrative of the area and the country.”

The upcoming Curiocity Kloof Street will tell the story of its area through murals and artwork, with plans to collaborate with South African graffiti artist, Dekor One. It will feature a variety of room types, including deluxe suites, family units, female-only dorms, mixed dormitories, gender-neutral dorms, and single units, catering to a wide range of guests, from young travellers to executives.

The new space will also have communal areas, continuing Curiocity’s tradition of offering unique, experience-led stays.

Having experienced his challenges connected to limited knowledge of the industry, he believes that tourism in South Africa has often been undervalued as a subject in the education system and aims to change that narrative by highlighting its potential for social change and entrepreneurship.

Looking ahead, Curiocity plans to expand within South Africa over the next five years, with the long-term goal of establishing spaces across the continent. Dube envisions Curiocity connecting key African cities, offering hospitality from Cape to Cairo, Morocco to Madagascar and partnering with like-minded entrepreneurs to unlock regional potential. Focus and strategic growth are crucial for Dube, aiming to position Curiocity as a robust and leading travel brand in Africa.

By emphasising storytelling and meaningful experiences, Curiocity has carved out a unique niche in the hospitality industry, driven by a vision of connecting people and places through the power of curiosity.

As Curiocity’s philosophy states, “every great journey begins with curiosity.”

Story Credit: Phendu Kuta for Bird Story Agency

Star Features