Elewana Sand River Masai Mara recently won Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Award as the top property in Kenya, #26 in the World and #7 in Africa. We spoke with Stephen Miinge, Sand River’s Assistant GM, about the latest accolades and this stunning property.
Interview with Stephen Miinge, Assistant GM, Elewana Sand River Masai Mara
Congratulations on the win! What do you think makes Elewana Sand River Masai Mara stand out as a property to guests?
This win affirms the trust and loyalty we have established with our esteemed guests. The global recognition has come during an unprecedented time of minimal travelling and showcases the huge effort the camp has put in to ensure that every aspect of the guest experience is carefully taken care of.
From the first moment to the last, every aspect of a guest’s experience is tailor made. We aim to not only make them feel at home with us but also to exceed their expectations. This begins early with the booking process. We have an excellent reservation system which ensures our reservation team delivers every last detail of a guest’s preferences and expectations, allowing us to deliver on our promises.
We strive to make a guest’s stay as memorable as possible so that they never want to leave. We take into consideration our guests' varying cultures, their preferences and any special occasions they might be celebrating. For repeat guests, long stayers and those celebrating special events like birthdays, honeymooners and anniversaries, we have special Elewana signature elements which could be a gift from the gift shop, a cake, a bottle of sparkling wine or a special dining experience just to name a few.
What makes your staff stand out?
Our staff are passionate, professional, flexible and have a can-do attitude. An American songwriter once said “Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate". Guests feel our enthusiasm every time they meet a member of our staff, as our team genuinely enjoys and loves the work that they do. You have to love to be in this industry as it has its tough moments, but the resilient and charming characters we employ shine through in these moments. Our service design is flexible and curated so guests who travel from all over the world feel at home.
What do you think are the property’s strongest selling points?
Thankfully, Elewana Sand River enjoys a beautiful secluded location to view the great wildebeest migration. The camp is unfenced which means we are at one with nature. You never know what you will see in the camp! This makes your stay here a little more exciting. The tents are all located next to the Sand River, making for incredible views not only of the river and its ever changing water, but also views of the Serengeti plains and the Tanzanian hills. We are known for our unique sightings within camp and the area we are based in has very few to almost no other game vehicles, hence the feeling of absolute exclusivity.
What is your favourite part of the property?
It would have to be the Little Sand River deck. Every day here in camp is different and comes with its own challenges, so in the evening you can easily find me seated in a canvas chair overlooking the plains and taking in the views, unwinding with my favourite sundowner. The view relaxes me and energizes me for another great day.
At times, I can spot hippos or a gorgeous sunset and as an avid photography fan, I like to take some great shots and post them on my social media pages.
What do you consider to be the best aspects of your job?
I meet travellers from all walks of life who have different beliefs and cultures, which is wonderful. This requires a good amount of flexibility and empathy for people who need different types of service. My goal is to make a guest’s stay memorable.
What are some unique experiences that guests can have while on property?
There are quite a few! We can organize a poolside dinner under the stars with lanterns and a bonfire to keep you warm or a ‘wine drop’, which is a unique sundowner in an exclusive romantic setting where guests, especially couples, enjoy a bottle of wine and light bites while watching the sunset. We also like to organize special barbeque dinners featuring local cuisine for small groups.
What changes have been implemented since the reopening in August?
Along with implementing our new company-wide policies and enhanced personalized attention, we now offer afternoon high tea and snack service at the bar with a butler who takes orders for guests favourite tea and snacks while they relax.
Any interesting/exciting wildlife experiences in the months since you’ve reopened?
Most of our guests always ask to see the Sand River and Black Rock lion prides. It’s interesting to learn about the dynamics of these two different prides around the camp, given that lions are highly territorial. Right now, it seems the prides have new males taking over. We have seen the Sand River pride split and the females have been seen in the last month around camp with their cubs, which has been very special. We also had a pair of leopards mating which guests saw for almost a week consecutively, which was incredible.