CASSIA LODGE CELEBRATING 10 YEARS
The first time Johan Van Hecke came to Uganda in 1996, he was still an active European politician. Far from the entrepreneur he is today. 24 years later, Johan is the proprietor and Managing Director of Cassia Lodge. After leaving politics, he made up his mind to do something; he claims he was too young to retire “As a member of the EU-parliament, I visited almost 30 countries in Africa. Uganda impressed me the most, especially the people.
“Cassia started very much as an idealist’s dream. Convinced that Africa needs more than aid to lift it out of poverty, my wife and I decided to invest our savings in a lodge, thus creating employment opportunities for young Ugandans, markets for farmers and fishermen, and generating taxes that pay for social services. It was our modest contribution to the development of Uganda, in the hope that this example could give confidence and inspiration to other investors. The fact that the government was offering incentives like import tax exemption for hotels that helped accommodate the CHOGM delegates in 2007 was an extra encouragement.”
10 years later, Cassia Lodge has established itself as one of the best places in Kampala to have a good time from. And, as with every other business, that can’t come easy; there are various challenges. “The Genesis was not that smooth because we encountered a number of problems of which the first was to make it really African because the kind of market we were looking at was not the Hilton and Sheraton feel.” Johan explains.
CASSIA LODGE HAS THE BEST VIEW AND IS THE MOST ROMANTIC PLACE
For a country (Uganda) that barely has a major school for lodging and whatnot, Johan has faced a lion’s share of setbacks regarding lack of skills. He says, to counter this problem, he gets consultants from abroad to train the staff.
Having encountered such a problem on his hands, Johan is now working on his last project. With the support of 2 famous horeca schools in Belgium and the Uganda Tourism Board, he wants to set up in Fort Portal a hospitality and training school using international standards.
Over the past 10 years of Cassia Lodge’s existence on the Pearl of Africa, various clients have walked in. Like a revolving door, they walk in and out; clients from all around the world, all races. Johan says people that eat from Cassia Lodge are mostly Africans, and then in the rooms, there are mainly Americans and Europeans with frequent guests from Belgium and the Netherlands. Cassia Lodge creates an atmosphere where people meet, talk and discuss. All races are welcome at the lodge. In fact, one of the selling factors for Cassia Lodge, in its 10 year existence, has to be its warm reception. They don’t segregate; they serve everyone equally regardless of race, religion or political affiliation. And Cassia Lodge’s lengthy existence here has seen Johan, the M.D, experience various special moments. For a Lodge of such stature, you are bound to go through memorable experiences that stick with you for a while.
One of the notable experiences remembered by the former Member of Parliament is certainly the Congolese one. “I remember that after the war in Eastern Congo with the M23 rebels, peace talks were held in Speke Resort Munyonyo. One day, the leader of DRC government delegation, Bishop Malu Malu, had called me to reserve a table for 8 persons. They came and installed themselves at the popular balcony. One hour later the reception informed me that the rest of the Congolese delegation had arrived. I went to the Bishop to inform him that other members of his delegation came but said that they did not have other members joining them. Surprisingly, the other guests who had arrived were members of M-23 rebels, who by coincidence had also come to Cassia Lodge for dinner.” “As we were almost full, we had no other option but to sit them on a table just behind the one of the DRC government delegation. First the atmosphere was tense but three hours later, both parties merged their tables. The beer was facilitating the conversation.
Around 3 am, they reached a draft agreement which was formalized the following day at the negotiations table. “Cassia as the meeting place where people reconcile. This is unbelievable”. Its Cassia Lodge’s stunning view, with the sparkling blue waters of Lake Victoria in the background that makes it such an iconic place. It is a view you not only keep in your phone, but at heart as well. It’s the warm reception that makes it tick. It’s the welcoming nature of its people that warms your heart.
To more years of great service, toast!