Marriott eyes East Africans to sample its wonder in the Mara

Saturday June 03 2023
mara lodge,

The Fig Tree Lounge at JW Marriot in Maasai Mara, Kenya. PHOTO | POOL


One of Kenya’s most exclusive hotels in Maasai Mara is wooing rich Ugandans, Tanzanians and Rwandese travellers yearning for a luxurious holiday in the wilderness.

JW Marriott Masai Mara Lodge General Manager Barnabas Wamoto says for a long time, high-earning East African travellers have lacked a variety in terms of exclusive, exquisitely designed lodges offering luxury holiday experiences, forcing them to often vacation in Dubai, South Africa, and the US.

“There are many East African tourists who’ve been yearning for this kind of property. How many of them comfortably travel to the Maldives or Bahamas and pay top dollar to enjoy themselves?” he said.

The Mara lodge is the second JW Marriott hotel brand in Africa after Cairo, but the only one of its kind, which is built in the wilderness, making it attractive to tourists looking for glamorous safari experiences.

The lodge is among the most expensive in East Africa, however, Wamoto says there is demand for high-end holiday destinations in the Mara.

Read: East Africa slowly finds its economic feet


Just two months after its opening, they have hosted royalties, top footballers, celebrities, and politicians from different parts of the world.

“Somebody who’s looking for luxury will look at $3,000 and say, ‘Yes, I’ll pay but what am I getting? If he or she is guaranteed value for money, they go for it,” Wamoto said, adding, “we may not be the only hotel offering all-inclusive services, but we might be the only one that offers premium whiskies and more than 55 wine varieties on the house, sundowners, and have a full-fledged spa in the wilderness, in addition to the game drives. How many lodges take their guests on game drives on open tour vans stocked with champagne and snacks?'' he said.

East Africa is grossly under-invested in upmarket travel. The region counts less than 15 top-of-the-line five-star lodges priced in the range of $2,500 (Ksh345,750) per person per night.

Read: Wonders of Kenya’s first game lodge

Some of the posh lodges in East Africa include Singita tented camps in Tanzania, One&Only Nyungwe House and Bisate Lodge in Rwanda, Semliki Safari Lodge, Nile Safari Lodge, and Trackers Safari Lodge in Uganda, however, most are below the upper-limit price point.

JW Marriott Mara, a 20-tented camp which opened its doors in April this year, hopes to seize the opportunity of the growing African travel market.

According to the latest Kenya Economic Survey, the number of Ugandans staying in Kenyan hotels has grown from 55,900 in 2021 to 159,900 last year.

Tourism numbers also show about 198,500 Tanzanians stayed in Kenyan hotels last year, compared to 32,400 the previous year.
“Most guests fly in with choppers. We’re building a helipad for them,” Wamoto said, who also heads Crowne Plaza Nairobi Airport hotel.