Travel Pros Beks Ndlovu and Bheki Dube on Changing How People Experience Africa
To commemorate Black History Month, Robb Report is publishing a series of conversations between Black designers, thinkers and other creators whose work is shaping the luxury sector across generations. This is installment three.
Zimbabwe-born Beks Ndlovu founded African Bush Camps 17 years ago, after working as a professional safari guide himself. He runs a portfolio of luxury tented camps across sub-Saharan Africa, including in his home country and Zambia and Botswana, as well as a namesake nonprofit. At least 2.5 percent of his company’s revenue is allocated to the African Bush Camps Foundation each year, which has underwritten more than 70 community projects in the areas where he operates.
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He admires as an upcoming tourism force, the entrepreneur Bheki Dube. Dube was just a teenager when he began working as a tour guide in Johannesburg, and was only 21 when he started his own hospitality company, Curiocity. The high-end hostel chain intends to fuse affordability with design, while also introducing local programming, connecting travelers more closely to the communities in which it operates—whether through standalone guided experiences or as part of a stay at one of its locations. Currently, Curiocity has multiple sites in both Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Beks Ndlovu: Where did your journey actually begin?
Bheki Dube: For me, it begins with the story. And I think it starts with the narratives that my grandma used to share narratives of Africa, stories that shape our communities, our neighborhoods—in my life, I go and start doing these walking tours. Johannesburg is a city with great history and heritage—why not experience it at grassroots level? It’s a manifestation of my grandmother’s teachings, a neighborhood story, a country’s story, and eventually, an African story. When I was 21, I made a conscious decision that this is something that I’ll do for the rest of my life. You know, it will evolve over time—and it has. At 21, I was doing that backpacking thing, but now it’s evolved to include wellness retreats, apartments, hotels; the community I started off with has evolved and grown with me.
BN: And what is Curiocity—why did you choose to focus on this particular niche and where do you see it going?
BD: I call it a disruptive accommodation and experiences platform—we really want to let design lead, and have experiences be at the forefront. I saw there was a missing gap as I traveled around South Africa; most of the spaces I was staying in were really mom and pop, so I came back to my own neighborhood to create something of my own. We’ve grown across South Africa, we’ve got about 90 different properties, ranging from urban social hubs, all the way to wellness retreats in the cradle of humankind. Hopefully soon, maybe in other parts of Africa.
BN: What’s your bigger vision?
BD: I think there are a lot of parallels to your story, and you know, I look up to them a lot, with you as a reference point. We wanted to create a network that makes traveling in Africa accessible, and allows the guest or the locals to really deep dive into the neighborhoods we’re in. We want the local youth working in these premises of ours to be able to share the narrative—encouraging them to take part in the tourism and hospitality sector ticks quite a few boxes around employment. We let nature lead. In a country like South Africa, where youth unemployment rates are radically high, employment is at the forefront. And it’s about activating that entrepreneurial edge within these youths, the ones that want to be part of Curiocity.
BN: How do you consciously ensure that you’re practicing tourism in a way that reduces your footprint, and encourages those who participate to do the same thing?
BD: We don’t take on a blanket approach around sustainability. So if you look at, you know, some of our urban settings we are upcycling, recycling—flipping old buildings to become Curiocities, rather than coming and rebuilding from scratch. And if you look at Farmhouse 58, there we’re encouraging people to take part in the regenerative, upskilling local communities.
BN: Connecting your guests to the place has been a huge part of what you do. Tell me about that.
BD: What is a city? What is a place? It’s the people and the stories. We’ve learned that people spend, on average, only five hours in our rooms. The others, they’re out exploring, learning about street art, visiting an artist’s studio or tapping into local cuisines. We’re able to become a pair of holding hands to take people into these spaces—it’s not rubbernecking, but going in-depth and underneath the city’s skin.
BN: What are your goals for the future?
BD: For the longest time, tourism and hospitality has always been an afterthought. You know, if you don’t do well in math and science, what do you do? Tourism. But it’s about shifting that perception and encouraging the next generation to see an opportunity within this segment, and unlocking entrepreneurial collaboration with other youth.
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