By Hans Pfister, President of the Cayuga Collection of Sustainable Luxury Hotels and Lodges in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
In August 2013, I had the great opportunity to spend four days with Jochen Zeitz at his Segera Retreat in Laikipia, Kenya. We had been in touch with Jochen for a few years as he had visited us at Lapa Rios Eco Lodge on the Osa Peninsula and offered for us to be a founding member of the Long Run Destination, a collection of leading eco lodges and eco resorts around the world. Back then, he was still a very successful CEO of the Sports and Fashion brand Puma. We met again at the Conde Nast World Saver’s Award and visionaries Ceremony in New York City in the fall of 2012. Jochen was honored as a visionary for his work on environmental P&L Statements at Puma and we received our second award for poverty relief from Conde Nast after 2010.
The trip to Kenya was an incredible learning experience for me and besides the great wildlife viewing that I was able to do at Segera, it was a great benchmarking trip in terms of sustainable hospitality. First of all, the wildlife experience I had at Segera was epic. No words will describe the feeling of being in the bush not more than five meters from four grown male lions or the hood of our Safari vehicle being touched by a curious elephant. I won’t go into too much detail, but if you are looking for an authentic wildlife experience in Kenya that is not a ” fenced in” refuge, Segera would be my first choice.
I was lucky to be at Segera with Jochen but also with some other interesting guests. A couple of professional wildlife and life style photographers from South Africa that were taking pictures for the next version of the retreat’s website, a young Harvard professor, who did some work with Jochen on sustainability consulting projects, a former German colleague from Puma, who was helping with the financial management of the project and a wonderful couple of very well-travelled guests from Italy that made Segera their final stop after visiting the Seychelles and the Kongo!!!
The service experience was impeccable. The concept of the perfect ” host” that was always there, always suggesting, always anticipating one’s needs (even before I was aware of it) was amazing to observe. Jens Kozany, the resort manager fulfilled this role in a very natural manner and I have been talking to my managers ever since about the need to take on more of a role as a host, rather than manager.
While I was not particularly impressed with the food in Kenya in general as I felt it was lacking the authenticity and creativity of Latin American cuisine, at Segera though, it was all made up for by the freshness of the ingredients that mostly grew or were raised right on the ranch and the passion of the locally trained chef. I ate the freshest vegetables ever, free range eggs for breakfast, Segera beef for dinner and Segera lamb as a special highlight the night we had dinner with the journalists that flew in from London for a couple of days to do a report on Jochen on CNBC (should be airing this month). I also really liked the fact that almost every meal was served in a distinct setting and location. The wine cellar is spectacular and well worth splurging a bit.
The efforts of sustainability at the Segera retreat are admirable. From the water collection and purification system to the sun farm creating its own electricity the technological investment is state of the art. The work with the local community by supporting education, providing high quality employment and of course protecting some of the greatest wildlife in Africa is equally impressive. There is a level of opulence and luxury that might not fit with everybody’s idea of sustainable tourism (most strikingly the Rolls Royce Convertible and the Land Rover Vintage car parked as decoration in one of the villas as part of the de’cor. But the enormous overall positive impact of Segera on the community and conservation are much more important than those details.
I learned a lot about attention to details in service and how we can get better in that aspect at our hotels and lodges. We are already implementing some of those details and it is fun to me to see how inspired some of our staff has been of my Segera stories and ideas. In summary, the Segera Safari experience and the Cayuga Collection Experience are compatible and complimentary in many ways. We hope to share many guests in the future. Thanks to Jochen and the Segera Team for this great experience.