Sharon Steed Bringing the Amalinda Safari Collection to life

Min Read

1. Sharon, tell us a little about yourself, the “younger years” story, and the memories that brought you to where you are?

My most influential years were spent growing up on my parents’ farm during a war period in our country’s history. It’s definitely those years that molded my sister and I to be more resilient and capable women. My parents taught us to suck it up – both the good and the bad – and that you get up early and embrace the day as if it was your last. In today’s world, I’m thankful for what those years taught me; to be capable of taking on life’s challenges and to roll with whatever it throws at you. When I look back, there is a kind or rare beauty in these struggles and today, it keeps me striving for better but also to work towards a legacy I’ll be proud to leave behind one day

I was not a ‘classroom’ learner at school, and so I would daydream about how I would make an impact and what success would look like. I guess I’m still dreaming. What I have learnt is that it’s not about success. There is no personal gain in that, but more so about the friends and relationships you have built along the way. It’s that which determines one’s wealth.

2. How did the Amalinda Safari Collection come to life?

My family, the typical Zimbabwean and growing up on a farm, always had friends staying over. There was always plenty of food and fun going on, so I guess I was born into it. The word ‘hospitable’ encapsulates a typical Zimbabwean! We are gifted in being naturally warm, friendly, and hospitable – those I believe are some of our traits. Then having my hubby having a degree in Hospitality and Management, it all worked out well that we realised we had the flare of homegrown experience hosting and entertaining guests, combined with his professional experience, and that we could turn these into something special.

So, we started the Collection way back when Sustainable Tourism wasn’t even considered, some 30 years ago, but quickly understood that it was the people, the wildlife, and the environment that needed protecting to continue being prosperous. Without those two C’s – community and conservation – we would have nothing to showcase. My ambition was to ‘own’ the customer throughout his journey on safari around Zimbabwe; so, when we were given the opportunity to develop our footprint in Hwange, I encouraged my family to take up this venture which hugely benefited our collective tenacity

In 2001 that we developed The Mother Africa Trust where we could begin our work in those areas of sustainable tourism ethics. We believe that it’s our responsibility now to pay it forward and protect our industry as a whole. This fundamental ethos of ethics has been placed very firmly on the table in our company.

3. How easy or hard was it adapting to the fact that you were turning a life’s experience into a business concept that is now Amalinda Safari Collection? What is that one thing that has become Amalinda service hallmark as it were?

You know you grow into it I guess; it was never something we sat around the table discussing. There’s a certain amount of ‘hospitality’ that you can learn, and the rest is either in you or not. My dad is one of the warmest, most genuine people I have ever known, and people gravitate towards him. I hope this has rubbed off on all of us – so I guess to answer you; we’ve pitched ourselves at being warm, hands-on, interactive with our guests and we love sharing our space with them. Watching their reactions is one of the greatest kicks we get from it. Our core value is ‘family’, and this is specifically what we bring to the table in our properties. Both for our staff and our guests in camp.

The beauty of Amalinda is that there are multiple options in the way of activities to choose from; this includes, but not limited to walking, and tracking rhino, an activity that I place right up there with the likes of Gorilla encounters. Matopos is a region of immense spirituality – and we offer cultural excursions into the homesteads of the Matabele tribe via vehicle or by bicycle. You see some incredible landscapes here as the topography of Matobo is truly magnificent.

The historical hike to Cecil John Rhodes Grave and Bushmen paintings, touches your soul. The ancient figurines and animals that are etched into these granite caves are one of a kind, and the stories of Cecil John Rhodes and King Lobengula is part of a by-gone era in our country’s history that everyone should learn about when in Zimbabwe.

Hwange is one of Africa’s most prominent wildlife areas; unfenced, untamed. It’s a bucket list for adventurers and wildlife photographers. Game viewing on foot or by vehicle amongst the mega herds of buffalo and elephant combined with night drives to follow the apex predators and witness nocturnal life is epic.

Guests also love going into the surrounding community with us to experience the work we do there and their involvement in our projects is immensely appreciated.

4. Can you shed more light on the Mother Africa Trust? What has become the impetus behind the work you do within local communities?

To try pin down one element of Mother Africa Trust (MAT) is hard because each has its different value aspect. In 2016 Zimbabwe experienced a horrific drought; and together with our Trustees, we embarked on a feeding program which for 6 months fed 926 children. It was extremely successful and seen as the biggest privately funded feeding program in Zimbabwe at that time by a private entity. We measured each child’s weight, arm circumference, academic performance, and school attendance, it was incredibly rewarding to see the positive results of this progress. 

With that, our Girl Child program {empowering young women} elevated our profile to a place where I was awarded Business Woman of 2016 and again in 2017 by Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce.

Conservation is my key focus, and conservation without community involvement is proving to be the most challenging work we’ve embarked on. The rewards are small, some days I feel like throwing up my hands and saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore’! However, I was taught as a child, tomorrow is a new day and so comes with it a new gracious vigor to tackle these hurdles again. It’s an ongoing cycle.

5. Do share with us your love for Africa? What is there to love about our continent in your view and how are we seeing the face of travel to Africa changing in this pandemic era?

Well first – AFRICA gives me goosebumps. I love the romance of Africa and I think that’s definitely the Spirit. People fall in love here…. with everything. It’s the smells, the views, the vast openness, the sunsets, the people, and it’s wildlife – for me that’s the spirit of Africa.

Travel for me is the whole adventure, and when I’m not travelling for work, my choice of places includes only those where there are few people and mostly about environment and wildlife. I believe we have entered a period in this ‘Pan-demic Era” and even post Covid, where space is the new luxury. It’s a term more frequently used. Space is the key element in enriching these experiences.

We are seeing travellers asking for longer stays in one destination. Opulence and grandeur are fading out as people search for more fulfilling opportunities, something more soulful and wholesome. It’s about getting this mix right. It’s a known fact that people wish to travel with family now, with their loved ones or even to meet in these exotic destinations to reconnect with loved ones. Group travel of smaller numbers; that is a maximum of 12, is on trend. We are seeing travellers asking for longer stays, in one destination at faraway places where you don’t see other people.

Why not Africa though? African Safaris are the hottest offerings now in this post-Covid era if we can call it that. It’s a no-brainer; small safari lodges, personal attention, and space. Wide open spaces. As tourism businesses in the safari landscape, we have encapsulated the meaning of ’safari- distancing’. People are more inclined now, post covid to travel with families and spend longer in a single destination, wishing to avoid big crowds. Safaris are just perfect for that.

6. Your top destinations to explore on the continent? 

Top five destinations in Africa would see Zimbabwe placed No 1 (of course, I’m a Zimbo). Zimbabwe’s offering is still so raw and unorchestrated, it’s the untouched wilderness and the ‘less is more’ aspect of the cities which makes it so endearing.

Other destinations in Africa include Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda, and Mozambique simply because of the safari experiences they award travellers. A safari is a life-changing experience, it moves your soul so deeply that we know for certain that you will not be the same person again!

A resort with literally every experience imaginable, Atlantis the Palm Dubai is your enthralling destination for the entire family, confidently guaranteeing an experience you will remember for a lifetime.

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