Antigone Meda on Managing
an Island in Africa
5 Questions for the Thanda Island General Manager
who views her job as “a blank canvas”
Born and raised in Kenya to Italian parents, Antigone Meda is Thanda Island’s General Manager and ‘Head of Magic.’ Only 8 hectares in size, a stroll around the shark-fin-shaped speck of land takes 15 minutes. Located in the Shungimbili Island Marine Reserve, a marine protected area between the Tanzanian mainland and the Mafia island archipelago, Thanda Island is an exclusive destination rented as one unit to families and small groups of friends.
You and 45 staff members are in charge of a private island. What do you recommend to women who aspire to become the head of a luxury hospitality operation?
Be assertive. The hospitality industry is male-dominated, particularly in East Africa. Therefore, women have much more to prove. In my personal experience, I have found that being assertive, having confidence in what I am doing, and believing in my abilities, have served me well. Naturally, working with a great team is vital, and I try to be the best leader I can be.
What’s your single most powerful strategy to get things done?
Failure isn’t an option; it only seems impossible until the task is done.
Does life on an island ever get boring?
We joke that there is “never a dull moment on Thanda.” I have at least as much fun as the guests. Being in charge of an island feels like running a small country with a tiny army of people. Fortunately, I have been given a blank canvas for creating whatever guests request. We rarely do something twice, listen closely to what our guests enjoy, and then create experiences for them.
I have the freedom to be as creative as I can be. It comes naturally. I am a trained artist. We’ve surprised guests with a sandbank breakfast, only reachable via helicopter, on an island that would be taken back by the sea hours later. Placing an aircraft in an impermanent place like a sandbank can be a big deal.
We’ve also curated a Peter Pan treasure hunt for little guests and went all out—the entire team in custom outfits and in character, from the helicopter pilot to the butler.
We often explore untouched virgin places to kite with guests, have them join us and make underwater sculptures to grow corals, or surprise them with new dining experiences in unexpected locations.
Operationally, working on an island can be an enormous challenge. We’ve transported 2.5-ton machinery on an Arab dhow from mainland Tanzania to Thanda Island, planted 500 coconut trees, and curated Arabian nights, including jewels and gourmet food on the beach. The list is endless.
I am a part of the incredible Thanda company with multiple community development projects in Tanzania and across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. When I visit neighboring Mafia Island, I see people change and grow, and it’s deeply inspirational. It is impossible to get bored here.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you are on the island and have a few hours off?
I have developed a great interest in plants and am looking for ways to introduce new species to the island’s vegetation. Swimming in the ocean also never gets old.
What’s the most surprising aspect of living and working in a marine reserve?
A marine reserve is an incredible ecosystem; living here, I witness daily how fragile a small island is. A minor action can impact this speck of land and its surroundings. Living in a pristine marine environment comes with great responsibility, and it has taught me to be incredibly conscious of my contributions and my decisions’ impact.