After working for &Beyond lodges for 15 years and building one of the best travel lodges in the world, Nicky Fitzgerald and her husband Steve Fitzgerald saved their best work for last.
The architect couple had wanted to build a lodge inside the Masai Mara National Reserve for quite some time, but they couldn’t find a place.
After they’d gone into retirement, the landlord of the place where Angama Mara now stands reached out to them. His offer that got them out of retirement and brought them back to Kenya from South Africa to build their dream lodge.
“Everyone knew about the site where Angama now stands because it burned down in 2007. When the site became available in 2013, we struck a deal and started working on building the lodge. It wasn’t difficult to come up with beautiful ideas on how the lodge is supposed to be because we’d been in the business for 25 years,” says Nicky.
The first step for them was to raise funds to build the resort.
They convinced investors to give them loans to help in purchasing the products necessary to make their dream a reality.
“We invested $18 million (Sh1.8 billion at current exchange rates) in building the lodge, but the money was worth it because Angama was voted the best lodge in Africa and the Middle East, and the fifth best in the world by the prestigious Condé Nast Traveler Magazine,” says Nicky.
The lodge came top in the Reader’s Choice category run by the luxury and lifestyle travel magazine last year.
“We talked to a couple of investors internationally and sold them on our dream of building Angama. It took us ten-and-a-half months to build our lodge, but it was worth it.”
Nicky admits the first year was difficult, as they struggled to get business. Eventually, though, their investment made an operating profit.
“We invested in winning the hearts of our guests through the services we offer. By the time one is leaving Angama, we want you to feel like a part of the family and your heart will yearn to come back.”
And the strategy paid off. People started coming back and recommending the lodge to their networks.
“With time, our numbers kept growing. Despite all the challenges and political uncertainty in Kenya back in 2013, we made it through against all odds.”
Where we are now
A night at Angama Mara will cost you $1,250 (Sh127,000) during the standard season, and $1,650 (Sh167,000) during the peak season, and this is all exclusive of park fees.
“We don’t have a low season because the animals don’t go anywhere, except during the migration, which attracts more visitors,” says Nicky.
And despite the lodge winning all sorts of awards and being the subject of glowing reviews, Nicky and her team aren’t ready to sit back and bask in their success.
“In the next five years, I see Angama growing in occupancy. At the moment, we have 120 people working for us. Given that we host hoteliers, lodge owners and a lot of other people, our aim is to grow in every way and keep giving back to society,” she says.
“We have built classrooms for the local schools and in future we are looking to not only build more classrooms, but also build schools for the community that opened its doors to us and has kept showing us unconditional love and support.”