Meet Mariana Kathini – Manager, Mahali Mzuri
What inspired you to join the industry?
I loved cooking, so my choice after school was to either study hotel management or accounts being that Math was my favourite subject in school.
I applied to Kenyatta University College, Technical University and Kenya Polytechnic.
The latter responded first, but called me to pursue Information Technology since they believed that my qualifications were high for hotel management. Utalii College too called me for accounts, but I refused to go there.
As I waited, I got a casual job with Kenya Airways in 1986 in the accounts department and worked with them for a year and a half before Kenya Polytechnic called me to study Hotel and Institutional management course in 1988.
After school, I did my attachments at Aga Khan Hospital and Leisure Lodge Diani, and also just before I finished school, I was one of the chosen four picked to open a wellness club in Westlands, where I was for a while before I saw an advert in the newspaper that a new lodge was looking for staff.
It was Mpata Club and even though I had applied to be in the kitchen, they gave me the guest relations manager position in 1992.
Meanwhile, Block Hotels got the news that I was around and I was given a job as the guest relations manager at the Lake Naivasha Country Club in 1996.
After 18 months or so, I was transferred to Amboseli to work at the Oltukai lodge in 1996 and then I was transferred to Samburu Lodge same position a year later.
While there, I got promoted to camp manager for Lauren’s Camp and afterwards, I moved to Treetops in 1997.
One of the MDs of Block Hotels was moved to Heritage chain of hotels and requested me to join him at Mara Explorer in 2004 where I worked for seven years.
I didn’t know how to manage such a small camp as I was used to big ones, but I ended up enjoying the place.
I worked with them till Asilia Africa came knocking and I worked in Zanzibar before returning to the Mara at Rekero in 2011.
That’s when Mahali Mzuri called me to join them, making me the first black manager in the camp in 2016.
So, how easy or tough is it being a manager?
At first, it was very tough, as we still had the old generation of staff who were mostly men and were not happy taking instructions from a young woman.
But with time, things improved with new generation seeing many women in big positions, and I thank God I also have interpersonal skills.
As a woman, you have to constantly prove that you are capable. But also being a woman is an advantage for small camps as you bring in that homely touch that men can’t think of doing.
How do you feel now that your camp was ranked the best in the world?
I was ecstatic because of the news. We work as a team and it’s just the best. Being the first black manager, it makes me happy since the award means that locals are capable of doing a great job.
Definitely, this is no mean achievement for Mahali Mzuri, Virgin and Kenya as a country, for the industry and magical Kenya.
What’s special about the place?
You can have a hotel, but without the right staff, it’s nothing. So, apart from the warm staff and personalised treatment, we also have the best location in the Mara, best for game viewing all year round whether there is migration or not. Our tents too are unique.