With over 25 years’ experience working as both a professional guide, and lodge manager at &Beyond, our amazing new manager at Elephant’s Eye Aaron Njovo is an infinite treasure trove of knowledge, compassion, and service excellence – with an ample supply of fireside tales of adventure in the African bush! Already a firm favourite with staff and guests alike, Aaron’s management style is all about adding that personal touch. Our digital marketing manager Bridget Fogarty sat down with Aaron to find out little more about his drives, dreams and inspirations and to welcome him to the Hideaways family. Read on for the inside scoop…
Bridget: Tell me how you got into the safari industry?
Aaron: I was born in Kariba, but moved to Victoria Falls when I began to work as a driver. I got to know a few guides in the tourism industry and realised that my childhood experience of human-wildlife conflict was wrong and that the wild animals actually mean life to us and for future generations. I was so inspired by one of the Botswana guides, he gave me books and taught me to ask the right questions and learn about the bush. When I was ready, I sat for my guide’s license and began doing overland trips.
Bridget: Why is the bush special to you?
Aaron: Before I learned about how people and animals could live together, I was doing a transfer to Botswana to collect guests from the airport, and about 20km from the border I saw elephants crossing the road ahead. I was so nervous of them that I stopped about 1km from them and was so scared to go through them that I was prepared to turn around and drive the 50km back to town to tell them that I wouldn’t be able to get the guests. But I couldn’t let my guests down so instead I drove as if I was a racer all the way to the border and when I arrived I was still shaking! So it took a long time for me to slowly learn to love animals the way I do now. I began to ask myself if other people are not afraid then why not me? So I learned to hold snakes and chameleons that are usually very superstitious in my culture. I try to share these understandings with my family and children to teach them to love the bush.
Bridget: What do you enjoy most about hospitality?
Aaron: I loved guiding, but when I got into hospitality, I soon learned that I really enjoy working with different guests and going the extra mile to try to make their stay extra special. My favourite is arranging little surprises and thoughtful touches to make their day, special moments for the guests that is different to what they would usually expect. Like instead of providing honeymooners with champagne in their room, I like to liaise with the guide so that when they are on a game drive, they come across the ice bucket with a bottle of chilled champagne and glasses suspended from a tree in the middle of nowhere. You can get quite creative with small ‘delights’ and when you see a guest moved to tears, then I know I have done my job.
Bridget: What do you hope your guests take away with them from their visit?
Aaron: I think of all my guests as my students and try to share interesting wildlife facts and stories with them. I enjoy joining them in the evening around the campfire and listening to their experiences, and always try to add new insights where I can so that they can take the knowledge home to share with their friends and families.
Bridget: Are there any principals that you live by?
Aaron: I believe that even when I am in the office and can’t spend time with guests one-on-one, that my attitude affects them. You will never see me shouting or angry with my staff because then my mood will rub off on them and make them angry which will impact the guests. So I always try to be kind and fair even when there are no guests around so that it sets a good example for my staff.
Bridget: Do you have a favourite animal?
Aaron: Yes. Baby elephants. They are so funny when they are still learning to use their trunk properly. I could watch them for hours.
Bridget: Tell me about one of your best guest experiences?
Aaron: One of my favourite times was a few years ago when I was still guiding. We were going out on an early morning game drive but one of the guests was late for breakfast. So he had grabbed an orange to eat in the vehicle, which I hadn’t noticed. A bit down the road came across a herd of elephants and turned off the engine to watch them. One of the bulls walked right towards us and everyone was enjoying the good view. But he didn’t stop and kept coming closer and closer until he was touching the bumper of the vehicle. Then he reached his trunk over the windscreen and sniffed along the dashboard until he found the orange. He ate it and then looked for a second one. He sniffed all over the guest who had brought the orange and even touched his face, but there were no more oranges. I think the guest got more than he expected that day. And I learned to always check my guests for food!
Bridget: You have worked at many fine lodges and camps, what do you think is special about Elephant’s Eye, Hwange.
Aaron: There is definitely something special here but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think it is the people, they are like a family and make you feel very welcomed and at home. It’s very special.