By Sam Kyazze
In a business perspective, few people have the courage to invest in hotel business. It’s a tiresome business. But to this fact, the risk-takers are seeing it as a money-spinning business but the fear here is that it takes millions of cash to get started. But relax. Welcome to the land of Hotel Zebra in Masaka situated along Baine Terrace road, Kizungu, Masaka.
Hotel Zebra is a few metres from the State Lodge. Cleanliness, a serene environment and flowers, are what meet the eye here. Reserving African culture is also a key here as a well as promoting traditional African clothing; jewelries, and bitengi.
We meet Mr Deus Tumwine, the hotel manager smartly dressed in a black suit. He says in a few minutes Benon Mugarura, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Hotel Zebra would join us.
Although, his parents died when he was still a juvenile, he’s a master’s degree holder in Business administration, a bachelor’s degree and a diploma in civil engineering which he attained at Makerere University.
After studying, he started imagining a clear possibility of success in his mission to be self-employed which to-date has worked miracles for him. Conversely to business, he deals in: hotel management, road construction, and farming and bakery business.
In general, he’s a merchant, and a risk taker which gives him a true identity of an entrepreneur in Masaka. Those in hotel business, knows who Mugarura is. And today, he has no reason to worry about the present or think much about future.
“Like any business, having a hotel is good. When you’re self-employed, you’re a boss of yourself and it’s more profitable than being employed to be a salary earner,” he said proudly.
“If you go business, it’s much better than earning a salary.” Mugarura assuredly opens up in an exhilarated tone.
Bizarre as it sounds, the hotel started from a family house which was once a state apartment but later bought it in installments at shs.48m in 1990.
Mugarura, also a resident of Kinuka village, Lyantonde District is shy to disclose the number of children he has, but considers that he follows the Baganda’s adage; Omusajja tabala baana, loosely translated as the man doesn’t count the number of his children.
He opted to modifying his house in 2001 on an acre piece of land into a modern day Hotel Zebra.
Initially, it was a fairly built up house with only three bedrooms, a sitting room and the garage where he and the wife used live as they hustle to make ends meet.
The sitting room turned out to be a restaurant and the garage into a bar, and the bedrooms turned out as lodging rooms. Each room would be charged shs.50,000 and started out with only five workers who could help provide services: foods, and beverages.
Afterwards, they were overwhelmed by customers and in order to match up the demand he used his savings, including selling off his cows at the farm in Lyantonde, and his thought of redeveloping it. It became a 24 bedroomed lodging house in 2004; he was able to charge from sh50,000, sh100,000 up to sh500,000 currently.
“The daily customers back then were my friends, workmates and people from Masaka,” he says.
Masaka, as an area had begun to attract a number of immigrants; especially whites, he says. Not even the rentals in the area would help satisfy the increasing population
When the demand persisted still, with many people asking for conference facilities, he bought three more acres of land and today, the hotel expanded to 134 bedrooms, with a well-equipped health club and 3 huge conference rooms accommodating over 500 people.
On average, he receives over 5o guests each day. These utilize different services at the hotel. The local population prefers the mainly the health club, where they carry out physical exercises in gym, and sauna bath at Shs 7000 and 10000 respectively.
He states that services such as a restaurant offers both local and international delicious foods, as well as buffet every day , a fully-stocked bar with a variety of drinks, and open parking for those with cars. Others; DStv, free internet, lovely gardens for those who prefer an open-air atmosphere especially on valentine’s day and wedding ceremonies also makes the place outstanding.
The prices of food; sh20000 to sh35000, according to him the hotel is affordable to all the clients. Many a times, people spend their evenings, and other special days, at the hotel to enjoy a delicious ice cream.
“Managing the hotel is one of those jobs I relish most. Even our clients here motivate us to raise standards and provide them with what they want,”
“Hotel business needs commitment and first-class customer care. We receive a number of people here, but if we had no decent care, customers would have shunned the place. So, we aim to serve everyone like a king,” she added.
Although the level of investment can take him over 100 years, to recover the money because the profit is very marginal yet he is skeptical to give us details, according to him, Mugarura spends shs.10m per month on electricity and water bills plus other incurring taxes to the local government.
This hotel has 60 suppliers. Others offering services indirectly are estimated to be over 100 people and they supply; matooke, chicken, eggs, vegetable, fruits, fire woods and others.
“My passion is to create as many jobs as I can here, and promote tourism from within and outside,” he emphasized.
It’s during peak seasons; especially in February and December where the hotel receives a number of clients, especially from Europe although it operates slightly on about 50% every day.
Away from that, the hotel has offered free seasonal trainings to scholars and over 1000 students majoring in catering.
Currently, they have been helping students in institutions such as; Makerere University Business School, Mutesa1 Royal University and other surrounding institutes.
One of the long-time Hotel Zebra clients Marianna Jensen, 91-years-old, an environmentalist from Copenhagen-Denmark and usually accommodated at the hotel in January before she flies back in late February says, for the last five years, the hotel charges have been reasonably priced and the services delivered are also of a first-class.
“I usually spend a good time with the children I take care of and my friend Lone Wolf. The hotel is ever clean, with ample space where we enjoy the sunshine, and they offer delicious foods,” Marianna, revealed to this reporter via email from Denmark.
However, Mugarura, also the Chairman China-Africa Friendship Association Uganda (CAFAU) founded in 2012 to promote business, and trade between Africans and Chinese, says, he is also mandated to ensure that there’s an increase in balance of trade between China and Uganda as well as technological and scientific transfer from China to Uganda and cultural exchanges to contribute to Uganda’s development.