Nyungwe Forest Lodge General Manager shares the secrets to creating a world class property
Mr. Jerry O. Were is the General Manager of Nyungwe Forest Lodge. Located in the South Western Province of Rwanda, within Nyungwe Forest National Park, it is the only 5-star lodge in Rwanda.
Jerry was hosting some guests at the lodge when he received amazing news: Nyungwe Forest lodge had just been nominated “Best new safari property” in CNN’s prestigious 2015 Safari Awards. Dubbed ‘The Oscars of the travel Industry’, the awards are the highest honour for any hotel.
We sat down for a chat with Jerry and he shared with us the secrets that make Nyungwe Forest Lodge tick.
TEM: Let me start by congratulating you on Nyungwe Forest Lodge’s nomination for the CNN Safari award…
Jerry: Thank you so much. We give the glory to God!
TEM: It seems to be award after award for Nyungwe Forest Lodge. How do you do it? What is the secret recipe for your success?
Jerry: Actually, ours is simple. We take care of the basics. At the foundation of our structure is a 4-pronged approach, which a lot of people may not be willing to accept as an official strategy, but it has worked for us: First, the investor did a great job in making sure the property is top-notch. Next are the structures: you must have the right structures in place to enable you to get excellence. Third is your staff- treat your staff like Kings and queens, and they will treat your clients like royalty. Finally, put God first in everything.
TEM: After taking care of the basics, how can one stand out enough to be recognised as extraordinary?
Jerry: Pay attention to the small details. It is the smallest things that make the biggest impression. In the area of service, a good way to do this is to anticipate the guest’s needs even before they ask. For instance, say it’s at the restaurant: if someone orders fries, they don’t have to ask for salt, ketchup, mayonnaise etc. These are things that should be thought of and provided with the food. Other ways you can make the experience memorable for the guest is to be courteous all the time- smile, and remember their names, their order preferences and so on. The best part is that these are habits that you can make a part of the procedure as you train your staff, until they perfect the routine.
TEM: Tell us about the facility itself. Is there anything about Nyungwe Forest Lodge- the physical property itself- that makes it a must-see destination?
Jerry: A number of things. Actually Nyungwe forest lodge should be at a disadvantage because we are located in one of the remotest parts of the country, in the middle of nowhere; I mean we are in a mountain-forest!- but we have people lining up to visit the lodge all year round, because the lodge itself is an experience!
One unique thing about us is, we are an eco-lodge; and with the current emphasis on environmental conservation and being green, this aspect of Nyungwe attracts many people. Everything in Nyungwe Forest Lodge, from construction to management is eco-friendly. In fact we are the only lodge in East Africa that is Greenleaf certified. Secondly, the way the project was conceived allows for some memorable experiences. For instance, we’ve created the rooms in such a way that from your balcony, from your bathtub, you can enjoy a view of the forest. Something else you may find attractive: you come to our tea lounge, and the chandeliers themselves have been made from tea sieves! The attention to detail is simply amazing. No wonder guests have nicknamed Nyugwe Forest Lodge “Rwanda’s Garden of Eden!”
TEM: What is the most memorable experience guests to Nyungwe Forest Lodge will carry away? What will they rave about to their friends and relatives back home?
Jerry: The unmatched encounter with nature. 100% natural experience, no filters. You will see birds here that are nowhere else in the world. From your balcony the monkeys will come so close that you can observe and try to identify over 14 different types of monkeys.
But most memorable of all is our Tea-ceremony: Nyungwe Forest Lodge owns a tea plantation that is run by the locals as part of our Corporate Social Responsibility. They look after it, harvest it when it’s ready and take it to a nearby tea factory and get paid; all the money from the tea goes direct to the local residents’ pockets.
Now, at some point during your stay at the lodge, you will be given the opportunity to take part in a unique ceremony. First you will be given a kit and taught how to handpick the tea; after that you will take it to the factory and then in the evening we have a tea ceremony where you can sample the tea you picked. Understanding how it all came about from start to finish makes it such a powerful experience. For most of our guests this is the highlight of their stay.
TEM: OK, say you’ve won us over. We want to visit the lodge. What is the best way for a guest to “arrive in style” at Nyungwe Forest Lodge?
Jerry: (laughs) Arrive by helicopter. We have two helipads, and a chopper, so the most stylish way you can arrive in Nyungwe is to be choppered in.