By Anomien Smith, Principal and Creative Director, Luxury Frontiers
When lodges require expansion or upgrades to their facilities and amenities, the opportunity to create a positive impact and enhance guest experiences is a critical aspect of Luxury Frontier's comprehensive approach. Post Covid travel is regaining 2019 levels and is set to grow. However, consumers are seeking increasingly enriched, sustainable, and memorable experiences. Redesigning a destination's offering allows the application of improved sustainability measures and materials plus the extension of amenity programming that increases competitiveness in the market.
The challenge when revisiting a site with well-established brand equity and a loyal guest following, is a reluctance to shift away from what works. Each site delivers a unique experience intrinsic to its context and maintaining existing value and equity while revisiting the design is thoughtfully considered. Often repurposing materials on site and introducing expanded facilities along with improved sustainable features refreshes existing clients enjoyment of a favourite destination while providing the opportunity to attract new guests.
Designing to provide spaces for increased immersion in nature– Wilderness DumaTau and Little DumaTau, Botswana
Luxury Frontiers was commissioned to expand, upgrade, and revitalize the well-known Wilderness Destination DumuTau on the Osprey Lagoon in the Linyanti Region of Northern Botswana. The project included adding four smaller, more exclusive, tented suites called Little DumaTau. Oriented toward the northwest, DumaTau's prominent views naturally face towards the breath taking lagoon. Over time however, the team realised that this posed a challenge due to the heat gain from the afternoon sun. Drawing from the name 'DumaTau' meaning 'roar of the lion,' Luxury Frontiers looked towards a lion's love for lazing in the shade for inspiration. Expansive shaded decks fitted with plunge pools were added to the units to reduce the heat gain and allow space for guests to relax comfortably throughout the day, almost swimming and lounging on the edge of the lagoon. To further increase the connection to nature and comfort for guests, the upgraded tents front and back walls are made up of transparent mesh that allows natural cooling and protection from insects while opening up the views and access to the outdoors.
Axonometric diagram of Wilderness DumaTau Family Unit - Copyright Luxury Frontiers
The iconic silhouette of DumaTau's tents was retained, yet a new architectural layer was introduced by adding timber-clad elements juxtaposing the tented façade. Aligned with Wilderness's emphasis on sustainability Luxury Frontiers focused on minimizing waste and strategically refitted and reused existing materials where possible. The existing timber decks could no longer be used for flooring and presented the ideal opportunity to repurpose and reuse this material in a new application as façade cladding. The timber's imperfections were embraced through a ribbed pattern that highlights the beautifully matured panels and adds texture and depth to the façade. Repurposing the timber from the original DumaTau, as well as the transportation palettes, not only plays a key role in limiting the camp's carbon footprint, but also adds a deep-rooted sense of place and poetic nostalgia.
Image: T. Cuniffe
Bringing new guest experiences and a lighter-touch-on-earth sustainable solution to a 15-year-old lodge – Puku Ridge, Zambia
With the design of Puku Ridge in Zambia for the owner Chichele Safaris and operator Chiawa Safaris, the Luxury Frontiers team made use of the gradient of the landscape to provide uninterrupted, panoramic views of South Luangwa National Park. A substantial reconsideration of materials resulted in the older camp being broken down and over forty tons of concrete being removed from the site. The new main lodge and eight tented suites use lightweight Zambian timber, carbon-neutral composite bamboo flooring, and waterproof woven fiber exteriors on a timber base to create a far less invasive structure on the land.
Image: Scott Ramsay
The lodge provides an intimate and private bush experience and feels like an extension of the surrounding trees. Each unit is designed with an innovative two-story observation tower that is inspired by the tower-like shape of a Felumbu, which is what the local Goba people refer to as a grain store. Originally designed to protect the grain from monkeys and baboons, and to withstand the interest of elephants, the clay towers blend in with the environment, are practical and provide safety. Each tower features a 'star bed' for nights out under the African stars and incredible views of the game plains below. The connection with the unique location is further embellished by the use of the contours map of the landscape as engraved detailing on the headboards inside the units and the basis of the shape of the steel balustrades on the multilevel deck.
Image: Scott Ramsay
The raised elevation of the main lounge and coffee bar on the undulating ridge provided the opportunity for a dedicated hide underneath the deck. 'Puku Hide' is close to a water hole at ground level and provides breathtakingly close views of the game and ideal photo opportunities for guests from the comfort of the lodge.
Image: Courtesy of Chiawa Safaris
Re-engaged storytelling for renewed media interest and hospitality listings
Over and above the enhanced guest experience refurbishments such as these bring to an existing destination, they actively contribute to increased marketing exposure. New stories, refreshed programming and revisiting the incredible experience of place with new images are welcomed by journalists in hospitality media along with editors compiling annual listings and awards.
DumaTau and Little DumaTau have been reviewed in publications such as Domus, Architectural Digest, and Travel and Leisure and been listed in four Editor's Choice and Top Hotel listings - the latest being the Elite Traveler Top 100 Suites in the World 2023 listing in which they also received a Gold Certificate for Sustainability. Puku Ridge has been rated by Travel and Leisure as one of the four top camps in Zambia, listed in Conde Nast Traveler, discussed in DesignBoom, and listed as one of the Editor's Top Picks of Hotels 2022 by Travel and Leisure. The monetary value of this editorial coverage is extensive. While the refurbishment is focused on improving the guest experience and destination appeal, the exposure it brings a project in terms of reaching and attracting new clients and even perhaps inviting old clients to return cannot be underestimated.