The Equatoria Hotel was the only lodging of its kind operating in what would become the Southern Sudanese capital of Juba when the country's peace accord was signed in January 2005.
Otherwise, the city had little to offer expatriate staff, returning Sudanese or hopeful investors by way of public utilities, restaurants or entertainment.
Six years on, Juba is now host to over 200 hotels, motels and lodges, according to Akur-Mawan Aruai, Deputy Director of Tourism in the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS).
Probably no other industry in the city has witnessed a more explosive rate of growth in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) era than the hospitality sector.
Local restaurants offer a wide variety of dishes from foreign countries as diverse as Japan, Mexico, China, Italy, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, India, France, Morocco, South Africa, Lebanon and Kenya. Their wine lists and beer selection feature prominent vintages and brands from Europe, Africa and Mexico.
The proliferation of hotels has spawned a sharp rise in the number of entertainment options available to their guests. They can belt out their favourite tunes on karaoke night and show off their best dance floor moves on disco night.
Satellite television and live bands have become standard attractions at many Juba hotels. Some offer amenities like swimming pools and gymnasiums or volleyball as well as tennis courts for their athletically inclined clientele.
Nor have movie fans been ignored. In a city that has yet to open its first cinema, a few hotels now screen documentaries and popular films on a regular basis.
Six years ago
What a difference six years can make. When UNMIS Finance Assistant Berhane Zewolde landed in Juba in 2005, he stayed at a modest guesthouse for visiting priests run by the St. Joseph's Catholic Church parish.
Yet he was lucky compared to some of his colleagues, who shared a tent at the riverside Afex Camp. "It was so difficult to find a place to eat or entertain oneself," he said.
In October 2005, the Afex Camp was one of a handful of facilities offering tents for rent in Juba. Spotting an enticing investment opportunity, some enterprising general traders operating out of the Central Equatoria State town of Yei and began to erect prefabricated housing units that could serve as hotel rooms on a property astride the west bank of the White Nile River.
The Juba Bridge Hotel opened six months later. Its 72 self-contained, air-conditioned rooms, bar, restaurant, conference hall, round-the-clock supply of electricity and modern water purification plant set a new standard for accommodation in the city.
Soaring demand for hotel rooms has kept prices high in Juba's hospitality sector, especially considering the quality of service and accommodation available at some locations.
Rack rates for a double room at a three-star hotel start at 400 Sudanese pounds (about $140 US), and buffet meals range from 25 to 50 Sudanese pounds ($9 to $17).
"Prices are very expensive because the number of hotels and restaurants is overwhelmed by the number of people demanding the service," noted Mr. Aruai of the GoSS Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.
But hotel and restaurant managers attribute the high cost of lodging and eating out to their dependence on skilled foreign employees and the need to acquire most foodstuffs and beverages they serve from outside Southern Sudan.
"We still import most of our supplies from other countries, even vegetables," said Juba Bridge Hotel Executive Director Habte Berhane.
Some foreign guests complain about the spotty internet service, substandard plumbing facilities and the shoddy construction on offer at a number of local hotels.
"Most of the hotels here are built with cheap materials that can get broken easily," said Mohammad Shareef, a Dubai civil engineer who works for the Nile Petroleum Corporation. "I assume that many hotels with concrete structures and standard facilities will thrive shortly."
Industry insiders also foresee a bright future for the sector in the post-CPA period.
"The market is there for more to invest in hotels and other hospitality services," said Afex Camp Manager Sienna Wedderburn. "More people are still coming to Juba for different purposes."