The first site of Curiocity African Hostels is a backpackers in Maboneng in Johannesburg. But Bheki has his eyes on expansion. We chatted to him about the business.
I’ve always had a passion for the inner city and it was a natural progression. I started off doing walking tours out of Maboneng, then worked at the Bioscope in the area and got to know Propertuity, the developers. It made sense to open a backpackers in the most progressive urban neighbourhood in Africa, so I started looking for funding and a space, and we opened on 9 November 2013 – we’re about to turn three!
Why did you choose this area to set up shop?
The area was the starting point for me – and the backpackers just made sense. Rentals are affordable and a lot of young people come to the area. It’s almost like an incubator for many start-up businesses.
Jonathan Liebmann, the founder of Maboneng, and I looked at lots of different places, and finally settled on the current space. I am interested in buildings with historical merit, and this was the Pacific Press, which used to print publications for the Black Sash movement, as well as Fighting Talk for the ANC. It’s even rumoured to have been a hiding place for Nelson Mandela and Joe Slovo – which is why our bar is called Hideout.
Why are they ideally suited to your business?
It was available at a reasonable rate, and allowed us to participate in the regeneration of the city. It also had existing bone structure with big open spaces, which made it possible to convert it into a hostel and play around with different room types.
What’s made us a leading backpackers in Joburg is that we’re in walking distance of bars, restaurants, theatres and a cinema. We have Che Argentine Grill over the road, the Bioscope, Pop Art and Sha’p Braai close by. I don’t believe we’d be as successful anywhere else.
What are the shop rental/sales prices like in this area?
For me, the rental within Maboneng plays a crucial role in the incubator model. I’m paying market-related rates for the area, and I’m happy with that.
How many people go through your store each day?
We host an average of 50 travellers a night, and 20 to 30 people come to our bar – it goes up if we’re hosting a band in our space.
We’ve just expanded down to Durban, and we’ve ignited the idea that we’d like to open 50 hostels across Africa. We’d like all of our hostels to be inspired by the history of the area that they’re in, and we’re looking to open six more next year in collaboration with local entrepreneurs.
Do you operate online as well?
We do bookings online at curiocityhostels.com.
What’s your most popular item?
Our most popular item are our private rooms, and our guests also like our accommodation-and-tour packages.
011 614 0163 / 011 027 5257
Words: Georgina Guedes | Images: Ter Hollman & Supplied