Steve and Nicky Fitzgerald are the dynamic husband-and-wife duo who built and operated over 60 &Beyond luxury lodges across Africa and India, and delighting top-end travellers for over 30 years. Just when they should be resting on their considerable laurels the two have taken on a new project and created a spectacular new luxury lodge in Kenya. The lodge was the talk of the recent ILTM Africa (International Luxury Travel Market) and may well be the opening of the year.
Together you were at the helm of &Beyond (formerly CC Africa) for 15 years and before that worked with Halcyon Hotels - what is so irresistible about the hospitality industry?
We just love being guests in lovely places so we thought ‘we can do this’ (with not a day’s industry training between us). The crazy thing is though that now we have all these gorgeous beds we actually never get to sleep in them.
I think there’s something wrong with that…
Angama is the Swahili word for "suspended in midair". Tell us about the view?
In a word, it’s heart-stopping (that’s 2 words?) - we are 300m above the Mara Triangle with 180 degree views and we eyeball the eagles as they drift by
The two camps are situated what passes for the Ngong Hills in the movie - we understand you have had your eye on that spot for many years. What is the story behind this?
Well, it’s not the Ngong Hills proper - they are in Nairobi. Angama Mara is on the hills used for the movie because today the Ngong Hills look over Nairobi suburbia. For all those years that we worked for CC Africa/&Beyond we longed to get this site for the company (&Beyond have a great lodge Kichwa Tembo 5km north of us) – and as the Maasai landowners are the same across both companies we happily could nag them for 15 years for the lease until they finally capitulated and gave in. Lucky us.
What inspired you to create Angama?
Probably two things: the first being to build a lodge that feels like what safaris used to be back in the 1930’s when Denys Finch Hatton took the Royal Princes on a photographic safari to the Maasai Mara. We hope our guests will get in spades our approach to good old fashioned, uncomplicated, rule-free, flexible, authentic and charming inn keeping. This owner-run lodge will be staffed only by Kenyans who are undoubtedly amongst the kindest people on Earth. And then there is the Mara – it just delivers extraordinary wildlife experiences every single day of the year. Great people and amazing game – what more could we dream for? Oh, a great location helps too.
What is the single best/defining thing about Angama?
Probably the view … but the game and the people are right up there!
What is the next big safari trend?
A flexible approach in how you deliver the game drive experience – it should be around what the guests want to do and not what works for the staff. And guides should be consummate storytellers – not deliverers of information.
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a safari Lodge is worthy of the 'luxury' tag?
Crikey, but I hate the L word. Every guest’s sense of luxury is so individual that as an industry we should ban the use of it. If anyone uses the L word at Angama Mara they are executed at dawn. Just kidding. When our guests refuse to leave we know we have delivered their L needs in heap loads … and I suppose the litmus test is having a staff so finely tuned in to what our guests are wanting and delivering that in a quiet, un-showy, warm way – that’s success in our book
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a safari Lodge doing the right thing by the animals?
Once our guests have been to Africa and immersed themselves in the glory of its wildlife and incredible habitat diversity and become addicts and advocates and go home and tell our African story about these precious resources to their friends and family who in then use their precious holiday time and dollars to come to Africa – we have succeeded
Can animals and 'luxury camps' co-exist?
Totally - the more the dollar spend the lower the impact (less vehicles thundering around making endless new roads in the bush) and very often high nett worth travellers come, see, lose their hearts and commit to making huge investments in conservation and communities.
But there is room for all types of budgets - just so long as everyone concerned does what they do responsibly.
We employ 140 staff for 60 guests - that’s a serious impact on a rural community where work is scarce.
What is the one conservation initiative you long to see come to fruition?
Don’t get me started - please can there be a solution to the rampant massacre of rhinos before they are all slaughtered before our very eyes.
Are you heartened or saddened by the present global attitude to conservation?
Too much lip service, too many self-serving agendas, too much greed – you try and raise money for conservation development!
Apart from your own, what are your favourite lodges? (And why)
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge - I built it and it nearly killed me so I just have to love it.
Talamati Bush Camp in the Kruger National Park - the KNP runs deep in the blood of all South Africans - it’s our park and we love it. Talamati is run by the park and is great value - only 15 delightful bungalows - self-catering. Wonderful!
Legendary Serengeti Camp (mobile camping) – great operator and having just a flimsy piece of canvas between you and the rest is pretty hectic.
What is your favourite city to visit?
New York without a shadow of doubt. I have to go there several times a year and I just love the crazy energy, gruff New Yorkers, manic pace, gobsmacking food and terrifying subway after midnight - oh, and did I mention the shopping?
What three things do you never travel without?
My Granny Goose down travel pillow, favourite tatty old pashmina and padded eye mask – I fly coach and this is my 911 survival kit
What is the one travel experience you will never forget?
Ooh, one is never enough. That’s not fair. Seeing my first tiger? Summiting Kili? Waking up on the Nile? No, swimming in the middle of the Amazon River …