BY BRIAN MUGENYI
It’s a very good structure with high quality posturing an international appeal. Garden Courts Hotel along Masaka- Mbarara road.
Free from all kinds of noises, this skyscraper multi-billion hotel is surrounded by green environment situated on a four acres piece of land which the landlord Jjuuko Flugensio purchased for shs.4m, in 1998.
Flugensio, 63, is a qualified Veterinary doctor from Makerere University.
Just like historical entrepreneur and political economist Joseph Alois Schumpeter, also the innovator, Flugensio is quicker like a wink to reveal that his multi-billion hotel turned from innovating his country home.
It was a risk taken after his friend Kisalu Lubega, a whistleblower by then guiding him that the place was fitting for a hotel not a luxury house instead.
“For him; Lubega when he visited me here he saw gold in this place. I remember him saying the place was tranquil and coherent for a hotel business instead, but formerly I laughed him off,” Flugensio narrates. By then, he had a feasible idea of turning the entire site into a farm where he could graze Friesians cows on small scale because his permanent residence is in Bunga Kampala.
Married to Rachael Namirembe- Jjuuko whom they have produced seven children; Flugensio says he later discovered that a farm was very sensitive and once you don’t give it a wholesome attention, you might operate at a loss.
“Eventually, I realized my place was quite with plenty of trees, so I got convinced after a two years survey to settle with a hotel,” he revealed.
Before, the home had four bedrooms and two boys’ quarters. This was designed initially as a sitting room developed into a reception. Thereafter a small-sized guest house started operating with its branded name The bush house.
He named it after bush house sitting; the location had plenty of bush; trees, and in a nutshell, it was surrounded by green environment.
“When the bush house started, my friends, and people around Masaka were my daily clients but later, it caught the eyes of even foreigners,” Flugensio, also the founder of Community Integrated Development Initiative (CIDI) dealing in consultancy work; water, and sanitation, agriculture and health programs says.
With determination, persistence and courage, the bush house started attracting unusual faces of people who also advised him to expand it so that it can as well accommodate conferences.
It was not so late for him. He built up a conference hall which could accommodate 200 people and still, these clients kept on demanding more services such as accommodation.
To him, this meant he had to seek other channels through which he could get money to adhere to clients’ prerequisites.
“It was a struggle. My income was little and even the facility was not selling to banks if they were to get me loans,” he reminisces.
When the volume of people utilizing the place increased; he got the idea of securing the land title and thereafter he sought for shs.20m loan from centenary bank.
After borrowing money from the bank; he says he started up with simple buildings that could fit in his marginal budget; built 12 cottages with double rooms and little by little with the revenues he could get and loans; the hotel started blossoming. Each cottage is charged shs: 150,000.
“The first room was charged 10,000 and the conference hall; shs 100, 000,” he says about the hotel preliminary charges.
Later on, he inquired from his friend John Baptist Ssempebwa, an engineer who helped him to do a topography survey of the entire place fifteen years ago and made different designs and on top of that he also planned and located the cottages and other facilities including shaping of the gardens.
“People who come here appreciate the fact that this place is well planned,” he says.
He says that when accommodation expanded and having serviced his initial loan very well, he was prompted to go back and applied for another loan worth shs.50m to construct the main block.
“I made sure that whichever money I got I put it where it was supposed to be,” he shares.
To him, the place has been built by demands and ideas of people who regularly utilize the place.
He says that today he is happy because he sees a dream come true. The hotel which started slowly, developing on its own pace attracts thousands of clients today which give him a reason to believe.
“I have been able to live to see its success, I thank God for it,” he says.
Being far away from the main town whose territory coinciding Kampala- Mbarara highway was his worrying factor initially. But guess what? He made the determination after realizing that his place could attract hundreds especially those that pass by to go to visit Lake Mburo, and Queen Elizabeth National park.
“I planted all these trees nineteen years ago. They have attracted families to spend their leisure time here and they have made the place cool,” added Flugensio.
Almost all services offered at the hotel are in place but to him Flugensio; for them they go beyond that. They have got well-designed cottages, sitting rooms; fully packed restaurant with loads of drinks and eatables and bedrooms and some apartments including executive suits; so it’s easier to say they have a wider range of services.
The restaurant accommodates over 100 people and three open bars. Having constructed five conference halls; each accommodates 5oo, 200, 100, 40, and 20 people respectively.
It has large gardens; with well-designed flowers which accommodates; banquets, live band music and children’s park every weekend.
As a way of relaxing their clients; they positioned free-wifi-internet, DSTV and they are completing health gym, steam birth as other services to be offered.
The hotel today employs 60 people who offers services such as receiving guests; receptionists, those in restaurants and others.
On a monthly basis; he spends shs.10m to cater for employee’s salary
“In this business, don’t think there’s a ready profit. Profits have not been forthcoming because occupancy rate is still gradual, and I see a difference day by day,” he says.
Regular clients today; come from Masaka, tourists from USA; UK, Indians and those from African continents.
“One of the things that have helped me develop this place is my family. I involved my children to monitor the day today running of this business especially in holidays and weekends,” he opened up.
Among the many challenges today he is facing is the exorbitant payments of electricity and water; shs 2-3m and shs1.5m monthly respectively which he says has drastically discouraged him many a times.
“Whether you have clients or not you must pay for electricity bills and water. The bills are quite killing me,” he said.
As a go-getter however, he says being economical in the way he spends the money and of course utilizing cheap labor especially during the construction phase where he could employ technical students with the guide of compete engineer, he says, has worked miracles for him.
One of his grand memories is when the kabaka Ronald Mutebi opened up; The Kabaka’s main block at the hotel consist of 56 rooms in 2012.
“I felt good and at piece when the Kabaka Mutebi agreed to open this place. All has been rosy since then. The businesses are fairing on well,” shared Jjuuko.