A brand that has long understood how important the overall guest experience is and how this ultimately impacts brand reputation is the Thornybush Collection. Offering a total of 12 lodges, 11 of which are located in the Thornybush Private Nature Reserve situated close to Hoedspruit and one in the northern region of the Sabi Sand, the Collection has long prided itself on offering an outstanding bush experience and sets as its objective the aim of consistently exceeding guests’ expectations.

Previously a closed reserve, last year the 27km fence separating Thornybush from neighbouringTimbavati Game Reserve was removed, allowing animals to freely migrate from the Kruger National Park, through Timbavati and into Thornybush.

The removal of the fence opened this previously restricted reserve to the Greater Kruger National Park and has made for a much more exciting and far less predictable game experience. It was not long after the fence had been removed that a number of Kruger’s large tuskers wondered into Thornybush along with increased lion activity.

One of the last remaining fences to come down around Thornybushwill be the western fence with Kapama Private Game Reserve, once an existing road has been suitably diverted.

Open access between Kruger and private game reserves in the region has been championed by the Peace Parks Foundation which has a vision to create large conservation areas extending beyond the borders of neighbouring countries to allow animals to once again adopt their traditional migratory routes.

Allowing animals greater freedom of movement has significant advantages for the local private lodge industry, including the Thornybush Collection which currently offers a total of 178 beds.

Later this year the Collection plans to mothball an existing tented camp and replace it with the 20-bed, 6 star Saseka (the name means ‘beautiful’ in Shangaan) tented camp, situated on the banks of the Monwana River which flows through the Thornybush Reserve.

Currently under construction, no detail has been overlooked at Saseka with guests’ comfort factored into every element of the design of the camp. Each double unit consists of a canvas, wood and brick structure with its own viewing deck and swimming pool. A key consideration during the construction phase has been to ensure that no trees are removed which will ensure excellent opportunities for bird watching from each unit’s private deck. Similarly each unit will have uninterrupted views of the meandering Mowana River which attracts animals in search of water throughout the year.

Saseka has been designed in such a way that it allows for a camp within a camp with two tents slightly differently configured so that they can be independent of the main camp for guests looking for greater privacy and independence of the main camp.

A R40 million investment by Thornybush Collection, this new camp is in response to the growing demand for luxury tented camps in game rich areas offering guests unparalleled game sightings and an authentic bush experience. As such the staff to guest ratio will be high with around three staff to every guest.

Thornybush Collection has traditionally marketed itself as a mid-value four and five star lodge offering. There is little doubt that in the mid-value bracket it excels in terms of value for money proposition and guest satisfaction.

Its consistent focus on exceeding the expectation of guests has required finding the right people to run its lodges: individuals with a passion for the bush coupled with an ability to put guests at ease while at the same time proactively anticipating their every need. Feedback on traveller websites such as Trip Advisor has long been a source of great pride amongst the Collection which has been awarded a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence for consistently outstanding customer reviews, largely as a result of its long term focus on ensuring friendly and efficient lodge staff who go out of their way to ensure the comfort of each guest and trackers and game rangers knowledgeable and passionate about the bush.

The challenge for the Collection with the introduction of this new six star offering will be to differentiate its four star offerings from its five and six star offerings. The likely solution will be to market the Collections premium offerings, including Saskeka, Thornybush The River Lodge and Simbambili in one high-end premium category adjacent to the Collection’s classic category of lodges with different sales people allocated to each category.

One thing that won’t be changing is the Collections consistent focus on exceeding the expectations of its guests. More than 75 percent of guests to its lodges are first time visitors to the bush, a hugely advantageous factor given that close encounters with the Big Five and other game tend to have a humbling effect on most visitors who leave with a greater awareness and appreciation of nature. Couple this intimate safari experience with luxuriously appointed accommodation, high quality cuisine, attentive staff and little touches like hot water bottles on early morning game drives combines to create a truly memorable guest experience.