Interview with Singita’s Mark Witney
Singita was founded with the opening of its first luxury safari lodge in 1993 by Luke Bailes – whose grandfather bought the land back in 1925 – and his childhood friend Mark Witney. Before becoming the COO of Singita, Witney worked as a guide, manager and bush pilot – so who better to quiz about the entire Singita experience?
What makes Singita different from other camps in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania?
“Singita has an uncompromising approach to every element of the guest experience. We develop lodges in the best, iconic conservation areas; we contract top designers and architects; we employ staff who reflect the values that are so important to the culture of Singita and we believe in excellence at every guest ‘touch point’.”
Singita is known for taking its environmental responsibilities and the idea of ‘giving back’ very seriously. How exactly do you make your camps and lodges sustainable?
“20 years ago luxury lodges were Singita’s unique selling point. Today we focus on being a leader in sustainable operations. Our newest lodge, Singita Mara River Tented Camp, is entirely solar powered. We are in the process of retrofitting our older lodges with more solar power and actively reducing our dependence on the national grid. By the end of 2014 we will have no plastic bottled water in any of the Singita lodges.”
We know Singita does a lot for supporting local communities; can you expand on how you do this and why it’s important to you?
“It is an often repeated fact that conservation projects cannot succeed without robust, sustainable community involvement. We work with communities to understand what projects will bring long term improvements to their quality of life. Education is always a priority.”
How do you choose where to build your lodges and camps?
“We do not accept ‘second best’ locations. All of our lodges are in or adjacent to areas recognised as iconic wildlife destinations.”
How do you feel luxury accommodation compliments the safari experience?
“Luxury accommodation is not negotiable for experienced, high net worth travelers. In the safari context it must be sensitive from an environmental point of view and appropriate in design.”
What is your stand-out safari memory?
“After 20 years with Singita there are so many memories. I will never forget a night about 18 years ago when I was taking guests for a game drive in the early days of Singita Sabi Sand. An impala, chased by lion, jumped toward the vehicle. In the dark and confusion I thought it was a lion and the guests were greatly amused by the terrorised expression on my face.”
Which of the Singita camps and lodges is your personal favourite?
“I love our Singita Explore tented camps. They move with the seasonal movements of game and there is nothing to compare with a night under canvas in a remote part of Singita Grumeti in the Serengeti, Tanzania.”
What do you see for the future of Singita, and for safari in Africa in general?
“‘Space is the new luxury’ is fast becoming a clichéd expression, but it is so true. As the world population grows, cities become more crowded, noisy and thick with the smells of vehicle exhausts. The luxury of open spaces, clean air and quiet will be ever more sought after. Singita will continue to look for opportunities to conserve large pieces of wilderness in Africa before they are lost to future generations.”