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CityBlue Hotels enters in Kenyan and Ugandan market, eyes Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria by 2017




Dinfin Mulupi


Exactly 20 years after the Rwandan genocide, the East African country has made remarkable progress in rebuilding its economy and attracting investors. The World Bank ranks Rwanda as one of the easiest places to do business in sub-Saharan Africa, an enticing factor for foreign investors.

Dubai-based investor Jameel Verjee launched his mid-market hotel brand CityBlue Hotels in Kigali a year ago and notes that “Rwanda is a very straightforward place to do business”. CityBlue operates three hotels in Kigali, targeted at business travellers, and has just opened one in Kampala, Uganda.

“It has given us a nice bridge to expand to Uganda because there is a close relationship between Rwanda and Uganda,” Verjee says.

Verjee is the founder and CEO of Diar Capital, an investment company focused on the creation of growth businesses. He hopes to replicate the success of CityBlue in Rwanda across Africa.

The UK-born corporate lawyer turned entrepreneur tells How we made it in Africa that using Rwanda as a launch pad into the region has been a “fantastic experience”.

“I am very pleased that we started in Kigali. Rwanda is a landlocked country so shipping products into the country was not easy. Fitting out hotels from inception, training up human resources and executing on our business model in a country… where hospitality is not an established industry, was difficult.”

A gap in the market


CityBlue intends to expand rapidly with plans to have at least 20 hotels in operation by 2017.

“Having opened four hotels in just over a year across two countries, we would like to be considered as the fastest growing hotel group in Africa. We have already signed two further properties in Uganda to open in 2015. I see our growth in Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya initially. We will then actively look at Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. Down the line, we would be keen to have the CityBlue flag in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana. And Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, so it is obviously on the radar.”

“We have had a lot of challenges but overall it has been a fantastic experience because there is a gap in the market, people are very receptive to our work and we have taken what one would call an early mover position. People have been looking at Rwanda for a long time and now [international brands including] Kempinski, Marriott and Radisson are all going in, but we are already there. We are established and we are in prime locations.”

Verjee started the brand to tap into Africa’s growing inter-regional trade and movement. “We saw a space in the mid-market sector in the region.



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