Far Out

Far Out

I was supposed to be in Paris with my wife celebrating our 50th anniversary. I’m in Dublin where I’ll be writing more about this interesting, unexpected journey due to Covid in later days. But today I just gotta write about Marriott!

Marriott is pleased as puddin pie that it’s opening a luxury camp in Kenya’s Mara. “The location and surrounding landscape will … create harmony with the natural world … drawing inspiration from the elements: earth, wind, fire and water.” Not sure about the fire.

While the announcement was made nearly a week ago, it didn’t get the attention of the press until late last week.

Marriott’s vice president, Bruce Rohr, and chief development officer for Africa, Jerome Briet, signed their names to this press release which is as laughable as revealing that they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.

“Between June and September, the reserve is also host to the annual great wildebeest migration, when more than 10 million animals travel a distance of 1,800 miles from the Serengeti.” As one who has never exaggerated in his life, I am appalled at this level of factual misstatement.

There is at most 2½ million animals involved in the migration, and that is staggering and beautiful. Marriott’s quadrupling of reality just might parallel its retail pricing, expected occupancy and even delivered services.

“During their stay, guests will enjoy the immersive, holistic approach to wellness while being mindful of the environment and their impact on the land.”

I’d start with the facts and develop wellness thereafter.

The most any wildebeest or zebra on average travels on the migration is 950 miles roundtrip, with notable years pushing 1200. Another unnecessary exaggeration of an amazing phenomenon sets guests up either for disappointment and/or fantasy.

Perhaps the clearest indication that Marriott really does have no idea what it’s doing was the opening paragraph of its press release:

“Marriott International, Inc. today announced it has signed an agreement with Baraka Lodges LTD. to enter the safari segment in Africa.” I’m not wondering about the “segment” but about Baraka Lodges.

If you’re lucky enough to read this before Marriott and/or Baraka Lodges rereads its own mistake, you’ll be able to click here to examine that Baraka Lodges is one step above hostel. Its few, unsuccessful properties are today selling for $20/room/night.

No foreign company can just come into East Africa and build, like they can for example in most of Asia. In East Africa you must have a partner, and for good reason. It’s helped African tourism develop itself in a way that far-ahead Asia doesn’t require.

But come on, let’s make that idea work. Choose any of dozens if not hundreds of established, excellent local companies in Kenya that could truly contribute to the “wellness” of the project. Right now, Baraka doesn’t even have a property in Kenya (only in Tanzania and Uganda).

But as crass as true, Marriott executives didn’t even fact-check their own “partners” or at the very least they would have whipped up a better image and better website before issuing this statement.

Marriott is not the first of global chains to dabble in the East African safari market. The first was actually Sheraton, years ago in the Serengeti. Then Fairmont, whose respectable Mara Lodge still exists and is profitable. Even Kempinski tried and failed several times, and currently Four Seasons has a peculiarly beautiful property in a very remote and peculiarly animal-absent part of the Serengeti.

All of these have storied histories that I’ve often written about, cluttered in politics, money laundering and just fool-heartiness.

But few started out as blind-folded as Marriott. I’d be cautious booking them for a while.