Why is this interesting? - The Monday Media Diet with Lydia Nzayo

On hospitality, Rwanda, and the magic of the mountain gorillas

Lydia Nzayo (LN) was recently promoted to General Manager of the Singita Kwitonda lodge and Kataza House at the edge of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda (which, for those not in the hospitality world, is basically like being on the starting team of the New York Yankees). A Rwandan by birth, she has spent most of her career elsewhere and had made her return as part of a small (but thankfully growing) trend of female leaders in African travel and hospitality. She was part of the property’s pre-opening, responsible for training a diverse team of staff, including several Rwandans, to the highest standards of hospitality and conservation. Here, she shares some of her background, inspirations, and also an awesome photo of a rare elephant. -Colin (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in Italy, France, and Russia. I did a master's degree in Business Management specialized in Spanish speaking countries. After, I worked in Barcelona, Spain for 10 years with the Ritz-Carlton Company holding several management positions. I have always loved traveling, meeting people, and discovering new cultures. I love being able to discover different cultures by chatting to guests. It opens one’s mind and gives you such a different perspective on life. I believe that hospitality enriches people’s minds and hearts. 

Though Rwanda is my home country, I have only been living in Rwanda for two years. I fell in love with this beautiful country, its people, and its landscape, which I discovered for the first time four years ago in 2016 during a holiday trip with my family. 

The story of resilience of Rwanda, makes all Rwandans want to put all our energy to making it a difference in the entire world. It’s encouraging to see the perception that the world has of Rwanda now. We are a small yet huge country, striving for conservation of our land. 

Describe your media diet. 

While on social media, I spend most of my time on Twitter and Linkedin. I tend to follow very few people, only the ones who inspire me. I get my inspiration and motivation through some people. It doesn’t necessarily have to be famous people, this can as well be friends or people I don’t know but they are individuals who make me see the future brighter and want to make the world a better place. For instance I follow: The Female Lead, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Successparty, Upworthy, etc. 

What’s the last great book you read?

I started the diary of Anna Frank at the beginning of the pandemic. During this time of lockdown, it gave me a totally different perspective to read about this young girl’s journey. She too was forced to stay at home during a long period of time with her family, although for completely different reasons. Yet, she was able to stay positive and make the best out of this time. Her story of resilience encouraged me during these months.

What are you reading now?

I started reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. Michelle Obama is one of my greatest inspirations. Seeing her determination, hard work, courage, and humility is a model I want to follow and which makes me strive to give the best of myself every day. Through her story we understand that anyone can become who they want to with perseverance and passion.

What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?

I always read the back cover of books and get inspired first before I actually start a book. I have to hold myself not to read the last page when a book captivates me. When reading magazines, I often flip pages and get captured by the pictures which accompany an article.

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

The bible is the most inspiring book for me as it tells the story of people who have been empowered to achieve extraordinary things in life. It is mentoring, encouraging and at the same time counseling and a source of hope. It brings me joy, courage, strength, while showing the way true leaders have to be: patient, kind, empathic but firm and consistent.

What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone? 

Does ‘camera’ count? I love taking pictures, especially of the people who surround me. I often take pictures of animals and birds which I find captivating in a completely random moment. I believe that all memories have to be captured constantly.

Attached is a picture which I took some weeks ago. An elephant is grazing outside our suite at Singita Kwitonda Lodge. I am really glad I had my phone ready as this is a very rare sighting indeed. It is estimated that there are less than 50 elephants in Volcanoes National Park, so seeing him grazing outside of one of our suites just confirms Singita’s great conservation purpose in Rwanda – increasing natural habitats for wildlife. It was a very special moment!

Plane or train?

Definitely plane. That’s the quickest and most comfortable way to travel. I tend to take a minimum of 6 planes a year and I always enjoy the flight. Traveling has become so easy and planes are always more comfortable, with good food, good movies, and if you carry an interesting book and music the journey becomes very short and pleasant.

What is one place everyone should visit? 

I would say, any place where you would be connected to mother nature. I have been fortunate to travel a lot in my life, between Africa, Europe, America and I can say that few places took my breath away: Having a face-to-face encounter with endangered Mountain Gorillas. To think that some years ago, this beautiful species was about to be extinct makes me realize that we really need to strive towards conservation. If we all do our part, the world will be a better place and our children and great grandchildren will be able to experience the same beauties which surround us. That’s really what drew me to Singita – the 100 year purpose to protect and preserve large areas of African wilderness for future generations.

Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into. 

While I was in South Africa on a safari at one of our lodges, I desperately wanted to see Lions as it would have been my first time. The trackers and guides did a tremendous job to try and please me and all of a sudden, we were surrounded by 10 lions; cubs, females and males. My heart shrunk and I became completely paralyzed. It was the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen in my life, yet the most scary too. I was so afraid to become the lion's lunch, but fortunately I am still here to tell the story. I believe they found something more interesting and tasty.

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Lydia (LN)

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