One on One With The Founder& CEO of CityBlue Hotels Jameel Verjee


The Times sought an interview with the founder and Chief Executive Officer of CityBlue Hotels, Africa’s fastest growing local hotel chain Mr. Jameel Verjee .

This is what he had to share with us:

“CityBlue is an African born brand that I started ten years ago initially in Kigali then we opened in Kampala then we opened in Mombasa then we took over the former Best Western, then we opened in Livingstone in Zambia then we opened Skynest Residences by CityBlue.

We are this month opening in Kampala again, Daresalaam and Juba. So we are considered to be the ninth fastest growing hotel chain in Africa. Our head office is in Nairobi, Westlands where we have a 24 hour call centre a full revenue management team, for finance team, for sales and marketing team and for our operations team. And that team manages the entire African region on the Eastern side.

Next year we will be opening in Accra, the two properties in January 2024 and we will be opening a similar office in Ghana to support our West Africa growth plans.

We are Africa’s fastest growing local hotel chain , so as a local hotel chain we compete against Marriott, against Accor, against Radisson, intercontinental and all these other groups but at the same time we are also humbled to understand our roots, we started as a small group initially in Rwanda.

Our head office of the parent company is based in Dubai and that’s where we create a lot of our hospitality talent , our skill set, SOPs, and we are very very heavily focused on Africa.

We believe that the next 20 years of growth will be unprecedented in this continent and the numbers today from the Economists Intelligence Unit and all the other economists have borne that out as well.

Africa presents an array of opportunities firstly because it’s a very vast continent, of 54 countries and if we include the Diaspora which is 100 million people, it’s 55 countries. That’s a significant gap that needs to be tapped in terms of technology meeting travel, meeting hospitality. Also a lot of the big groups come in the five star space, we have focused primarily on the mid and the upper mid-scale which is where we think the largest gap is. By 2040, something like 500 million Africans will be living in urbanised environments. And most of those are aspiring middle class. And if they are in the aspiring middle class they will be seeking middle to upper middle accomodation.

They can’t naturally be looking at five star accomodation, so the gap is extraordinary but the good thing we just celebrated our ten year anniversary of doing business here, and ten years of experience, ten years of team building, ten years of morale, ten years of culture, ten years of celebrating diversity, all of that means we are ready for this growth.

Lessons from COVID

That everything is fragile and that’s something you need to have at the back of your mind, a plan B and a plan C. And you have to work ethically with conscientious leadership. Because leadership is not about profitability alone when you are running a business. Leadership is about your stakeholders, your team, your people, your suppliers, your partners, your financing institutions.

So all of that is very important when you are making a business decision. So fragility is something that is built into us but the COVID pandemic expedited our understanding of what that meant. But having been through it, we are even stronger than we were before.

The other thing that we learnt about COVID, the Big lesson, that our hotels that we were depending on international air traffic, were no longer doing business. So what was our market? It was our domestic business. Our regional business. We have to act on where the real growth is and that feeds into your question about the next ten years. Because the next ten years have to be about Africa.

It’s not just about waiting for the travelers from Europe, or from India or from China to come or from the Middle East. It’s about recognising that this is the era that Africans are finally traveling within Africa. And Rwandese are traveling to Tanzania, and Kenyans are traveling to Zambia and Ugandans are traveling to Ethiopia for the first time. They are seeing their own continent because air traffic has created that network. So we have to present a hospitality business driven by technology, supported by affordability, prided on service and present that as an African born solution.

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