Authentic Travel Experiences with Lydia Nzayo & ROAR AFRICA

segera retreat photo roar africa lydia nzayo empowered women empower interview

Join us for a peek inside the empowering world of Lydia Nzayo, Director of Guest Experiences of ROAR AFRICA, an ultra-lux bespoke safari brand. “You’re still alive, so you can choose values of love or values of hate,” says Lydia. A woman who, despite hardships, chose love. A love for humanity, a love for empowering, and a love for her African home. Today Lydia works with ROAR AFRICA to provide life-changing, authentic travel experiences in Africa. While wholeheartedly sharing the brand founder Deborah Calmeyer’s belief that “If African Women Thrive, Wildlife Will Thrive”. Read on and be inspired by Lydia Nzayo in this edition of the Lh Empowered Women Empower series.

Be Empowered by Lydia Nzayo, Director of Guest Experiences of ROAR AFRICA

Lydia Nzayo director of client experiences roar africa
Lydia Nzayo, ROAR AFRICA

Love Happens: As our name and the tagline of our publisher, KOKET, denotes, at Love Happens, we are firm believers that you cannot achieve any level of success without love. When did your love affair with hospitality begin? How did it make you feel?

Lydia Nzayo: My love for foreign languages, travels, and discovering new cultures brought me hospitality. I spent ten incredible years at the luxury international hotel brand Ritz-Carlton in Spain. First as an intern, then as a waitress at the bar, then as a supervisor in the conference department, which would host worldwide global events of up to 1,300 people.

Later I became a conference manager and sales manager across the European, Middle East, and Asia Pacific markets. I learned so much in those years and made great friendships I hold onto deeply today. Some of my past directors are still my mentors, and I often seek their guidance and advice.

In 2019 I boldly decided to move to my native country, Rwanda, and contribute to its rebirth and development by opening and managing Singita Kwitonda. It was a life-changing experience that I loved every day. Those years shaped me into the professional I am today and the one I want to be.

Lh: Tell us a bit about your past and what led to your current role as the Managing Director of Guest Experiences for ROAR AFRICA.

Lydia: My childhood was spent crisscrossing the globe, living between Russia, France, and Italy with my diplomat parents. This lifestyle ended abruptly with the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. My father lost his job, and my family fled to Kenya before seeking political refugee status in France.

After completing my studies and moving to Spain and then back to my homeland Rwanda, I encountered ROAR AFRICA in my capacity as GM of Singita Kwitonda, a world-class lodge guests would stay in on The Greatest Safari on Earth.

Over the years, ROAR AFRICA founder Deborah Calmeyer and I built a great relationship anchored in trust and mutual respect. As time passed, I felt that I needed more travel, more exposure, and more of my footprint on this earth. I wanted to discover more of Africa and create the ultimate world-class experiences for travelers. I started wondering what this would look like professionally and ultimately found my way to ROAR AFRICA.

A magical view in Botswana | Photo Courtesy of ROAR Africa
A magical view in Botswana | Photo Courtesy of ROAR AFRICA

Lh: How do the stories of your past inform your present role?

Lydia: My past and life experiences have imbued me with optimism, compassion, and grit. I try to bring that optimism and compassion to work with me every day and strive to share the magnificent experiences my home continent offers with our guests. I want to share Africa, with all its glorious complexity and fierce hope, with as many curious, open-hearted people as possible.

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Lh: How do you maintain the true nature and essence of Africa in every guest experience? 

Lydia: Well, I am African, and I’ve been fortunate to travel far and wide across this magnificent continent throughout the last several years of my career, so sharing the true essence of Africa comes naturally, but it also pushes me to be creative and highly conscious of the impact this can have on people.

Making the right decisions and partnering with like-minded suppliers aligned with our ultimate goal brings me a profound sense of purpose. Each country, culture, and wild landscape is so distinct. We have our own all-African, local, on-the-ground team in every destination we operate in, whether Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, etc., which brings a level of local knowledge and authenticity to each guest experience that is unparalleled in this industry.

Photo Credit | Singita Kwitonda Volcanoes National Park Vegetable Garden / Courtesy ROAR Africa
Women in the Singita Kwitonda Volcanoes National Park Vegetable Garden | Photo Courtesy of ROAR AFRICA

We introduce guests to our friends and the people and places we’ve built lifelong relationships with—this level of access is highly unusual. It is so appreciated by those who trust us with some of the most precious moments in their lives.

Lh: What influences your work?

Lydia: In our industry, people are not used to seeing a female holding a high management position, let alone a Black woman. Paving the way forward and being a good example influences every decision I make and every interaction I have in terms of work. And, of course, Africa influences me hugely—I’m always pushing to elevate the experiences we offer, hoping that every guest leaves with the magic of this continent embedded in their memory forever.

Lh: Can you tell us a little about your efforts in women leadership? 

Lydia: Women need representation. They need to feel that they are in a safe place where their ideas matter and are valued. I’m fortunate to work for a company that is led by women and is firmly committed to shattering the glass ceiling that is so pervasive in a fundamentally patriarchal safari industry.

Employing women but not allowing them to have a voice is meaningless. If you hire a woman but do not allow her to express her opinions, what is the point if you don’t put forward her ideas? Women should never be made to feel that recruiting them is doing them a favor because of their gender. They should feel valued for who they are and what they can bring to an organization.

If we start there, then we are already making great progress. Our annual ROAR AFRICA Women’s Empowerment Retreats drive home all these ideas. Ultimately, it is our moral duty to continue paving the way. But again, women do need representation. They need to be empowered. They need people to look up to.

Female Anti-poaching Agents in africa empowered women empower
Female Anti-poaching Agents | Photo Courtesy of ROAR AFRICA

Lh: If you could give one bit of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Lydia: Humility is a value that speaks to so much of a person. Remember where you have come from and where you are heading. Remember that you are paving the way—people will look up to you, and you want it to be for positive reasons.

Lh: What empowers you most?

Lydia: Encouraging all women to pursue their dreams and chase what deeply matters to them is empowering. Life was never meant to be easy, but nothing is as powerful as seeing that you have gone against your comfort zone and achieved what seemed impossible. Hard work pays; if you are motivated, consistent, and brave, you can achieve a lot in life.

Lh: Do you have any mottos or favorite quotes you like to live by?

The only limitation in life is us.

Lh: What is next for Lydia Nzayo & ROAR AFRICA?

Lydia: I want people to understand what traveling with a purpose means. I want people to experience a connection to the pristine landscapes this magnificent continent holds. And, I share ROAR AFRICA founder Deborah Calmeyer’s vision and breathless urgency to preserve the wilderness spaces we have left. We’re both fully committed to transforming the trajectory for women in the safari industry and believe that “If African Women Thrive, Wildlife Will Thrive”.

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Lydia Nzayo | Photo Courtesy of ROAR AFRICA

Learn more about Lydia Nzayo and ROAR AFRICA at

Feature Image: Segera Retreat | Photo Courtesy of ROAR AFRICA

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