Former tour guide turns his grandma's teachings into a booming business

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For Dube, Curiocity is the manifestation of his grandmother's teachings, namely that everything starts with a story.
For Dube, Curiocity is the manifestation of his grandmother's teachings, namely that everything starts with a story.
Carin Smith, News24
  • Curiocity is a network of nine properties, including in Johannesburg and Cape Town, founded by Bheki Dube.
  • This local SME was hosted by SA Tourism at this year's ITB Berlin trade fair, one of the largest in the world.
  • Nomasonto Ndlovu, chief operating officer of SA Tourism, says the fair provides an opportunity to reposition SA to the travel industry and says the country is open for business.
  • GOOD NEWS DAY IS BACK! News24 celebrates the people restoring pride in our country. Read their stories here

Curiocity - a network of nine properties, with nearly 500 beds and employing some 70 staff - is the dream of a former tour guide who was inspired by his grandmother to tell local stories differently through tourism.

As owner and CEO Bheki Dube explains, the company offers "African accommodation designed with style and soul for the curious traveller", he tells News24 on the sidelines of the ITB tourism trade show in Berlin.

His company is one of the small businesses hosted at the SA Tourism stand this year.

Curiocity's network includes properties in Johannesburg and Cape Town. It currently has about 480 beds and employs 67 people directly. 

Dube grew up in Troyeville, Johannesburg. Once a tour guide, he saw a gap in the market for so-called "hybrid apartment-hotels, luxe backpackers, upscale wellness retreats, and coastal boutique accommodation". The hybrid aspect means digital nomads will also have co-working spaces available.

"We connect our guests to what's exciting, inspiring, and real around them when they stay with us. Our spaces are designed creatively to suit both local and international travellers," says Dube.

"We tend to choose destinations outside the expected tourist areas, giving guests a local experience of the destination by partnering with local businesses and designers to make every Curiocity experience unique."

For him, Curiocity is the manifestation of his grandmother's teachings, namely that everything starts with a story. That is why he is rewriting "the story of our neighbourhoods, our country, and our continent". 

Curiocity in Cape Town
Curiocity in Green Point, Cape Town, offers premium suites, medium shared rooms and large shared rooms.
Supplied Curiocity

"SA deserves a true narrative. One that is about more than just old statues and an image of cities breeding crime, and tourists warned not to explore city spaces. With Curiocity we look deeper, unlayering and shifting the perspective and narrative about what these spaces and people are really about," says Dube.

"What sets us apart is that we do not just offer a place to come and stay and then leave, but to come and immerse yourself in the neighbourhood. Our clients are young-at-heart travellers whom we connect with the entrepreneurs, movers and shakers, and artists shaping the communities where they are staying. We offer curated programmes, taking our guests on a journey at a local level in our neighbourhoods."

According to Dube, this concept is better known overseas, and he thinks Curiocity has been working on establishing this hybrid model in SA, including catching the interest of locals who want to "explore their own backyards". 

"Digital nomads can work from anywhere in the world. We see them come not only for seven days but staying for a month or more. Curiocity has the facilities they need. There is a massive shift where travellers do not just want to be 'tourist rubbernecking'. They are not just coming to be tourists in the boring sense of the word," says Dube.

For him, the future of tourism looks bright and offers a lot of low-hanging fruit in the segment in which Curiocity operates. He sees potential for the company to grow not only in SA but in other African cities as well.

Nomasonto Ndlovu, chief operating officer of SA Tourism (SAT), tells News24 that ITB - taking place in person again for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic - provides an opportunity to reposition SA to the travel industry and to say that the country is open for business. 

Curiocity in Johannesburg
Curiocity Maboneng is situated in the heart of this culture-filled neighbourhood of Johannesburg.
Supplied Curiocity

"We are showing that SA is a destination that offers diverse travel experiences, catering to every type of traveller. Yes, we are about wildlife, culture, food and wine, but what touches travellers the most is their interaction with our warm and welcoming South Africans," she says. "And we are offering them new things to do as part of our successful Live Again global campaign."

Monika Iuel, chief destination marketing officer for the Western Cape's destination marketing agency Wesgro, says, apart from scenic beauty, tourists are attracted to SA's diversity of world-class offerings. This includes authentic community-based "tourism stories" in every neighbourhood.

She says sustainability is another big theme at ITB and very important for the German source market, for example.

"So it is important for us to continue demonstrating that tourists do so much good by coming to SA, helping to uplift communities," she says.

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