Sabine’s work focuses specifically on the visitor attractions industry and the future of how people will engage with leisure time. This has always afforded her amazing opportunities for travel. As Managing Director of Table Mountain Cableway for 9 years, she had a great amount of fun visiting other cableways, mainly in Switzerland, to learn how they run their operations. Then, after she championed and led the campaign to have Table Mountain nominated as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, Sabine had the immense privilege of being invited to visit some of the other wonders: Puerto Princessa Underground River in the Philippines, Komodo National Park in Indonesia and Iguassu Falls in Brazil/Argentina. As COO of the Zeitz MOCAA, she used the opportunity to engage with other museum directors in Europe.
She is always a keen visitor to art museums, but this time she could also engage with their leadership teams for some behind-the-scenes insight.
As Sabine always says, working in the tourism industry, any part of the industry, affords opportunities to visit amazing places whether local or international. Unlike someone who has to do factory visits, those within the industry get to visit sites that are interesting and often incredibly beautiful.
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LinkedIn: Sabine Lehmann
How did you fall in love with travelling or start working within the industry as a career?
I worked as a part-time tour guide to pay my way through university whilst completing a 4-year BSc Logopaedics degree at UCT (a degree in speech therapy and audiology). Although I only ever guided very locally in Cape Town, I loved the fact that every day was different, that I got to see the beauty of the area and meet interesting international tourists. This was infinitely better than being in a therapy room all day with patients… and I realised that I actually do not have the patience for the work for which I was studying. I completed my degree but then worked full time as a tour guide and have stayed in the industry ever since. (And that was 30 years ago!)
What kind of traveller are you?
I am very much an unplanned traveller. I choose the destination but make few plans beyond that. I don’t like 5-star travelling as I find it too restrictive. My ideal travel accommodation is rustic but comfortable and even better is a road trip with a roof top tent or campervan. That way, I can stay as spontaneous and flexible as I like. I love the availability of Airbnb as this allows me to find places to stay that are unusual and gives me reason to visit local markets for grocery shopping.
My travel tastes are either big cities for the art and museums (New York, London or (dream destination have not yet been there – Japan), or wide-open spaces (Kalahari, British Columbia and, recently, Chilean Patagonia).
Tell us about one of your most memorable trips/travel moments. Where and why?
For my 50th birthday, I wanted to visit the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. I met my aunt there and we spent 4 days in a gorgeous Airbnb on the central plaza. I visited the Guggenheim every day in the morning, had a daily afternoon siesta and then tasted a range of local tapas and wine at night. It was perfect.
Last year, my husband and I completed a dream trip to Chilean Patagonia. We rented a campervan for 6 weeks, and had nothing booked. We just followed our noses south and camped wherever we wished. The highlight was a 10-day trek through the Torres Del Paine National Park. It rained for 80 km of the 110 km hike, but the views and the people we met made up for all of that.
And finally, every alternate year, we plan a safari with friends and go off the grid for 3 weeks. We have seen much of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa – and, of course, we have invested in lots of equipment. Simple comfort in the bush with an ice-cold G&T on day 12 of a safari gives me enormous satisfaction.
What lessons have you learnt from your experience during COVID – both personally and in your business?
- Patience – the industry is in crisis and we cannot assume things will go back to the way they were.
- Gratitude – for how much I have already travelled and seen.
- Curiosity – for what travel and tourism will look like in the future and for what there is to be discovered in my back yard.
Based on the five senses and thinking about travelling what do you…
- Like to see: Provocative art – especially outdoor installation art.
- Like to taste: Something from a local market. I rarely eat in fine dining restaurants when travelling. We have better ones in SA and at a more affordable rate.
- Like to feel: Cool, fresh water as I jump into a mountain lake for an end-of-day swim.
- Like to hear: Foreign languages being spoken.
- Like to smell: The fresh pages of my destination guide book. I am old-fashioned and prefer a hard copy guidebook.
Suggestions on resources for travel and tourism stakeholders that you enjoy. Any websites, publications, podcasts, thought leaders you can recommend or newsletters we should sign up to?
I always buy at least 2 guidebooks for any destination to which I travel. I also research any major art exhibitions that may be taking place during my visit.
I subscribe to the Financial Times Weekend because their travel section highlights interesting alternative destinations. I found the Carretera Austral (1000 km scenic Patagonian road trip), as well as a campervan rental agency and a Jeep with a roof top tent in British Columbia (Canada) through their articles.