Gisela Piercey is an international tourism journalist and boutique tour operator for Southern Africa (African Twist Travel), with a background in newspaper journalism, copywriting and advertising. She lives in Cape Town and has been involved in Southern African tourism for 24 years, with a deep love for the destination and its people.
When the lockdown brought inbound tourism to a standstill, it was clear to her that she could support the badly ailing local travel industry with her know-how as a journalist and a creative, positive mindset. Sometimes the best initiatives come about in difficult times. A group of South African PR and communication experts formed the PR Collective (traveltosouthafrica.org) to support the tourism industry pro bono during the crisis and to lobby for a quick and safe opening of international tourism. This incredible uplifting collaboration represents South Africa’s most famous word, Ubuntu.
Ubuntu is the recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.
How did you fall in love with travelling?
I grew up in Switzerland in a cosmopolitan family with a Finnish mother and a Swiss father who loved to travel. Every summer we packed up the car and drove 2500 kilometers north, to visit relatives in Finland. These trips were always impressive, especially the ferry experiences in Scandinavia. Already as a child I realized that a big, fascinating world was waiting for me out there!
What kind of traveller are you?
In my younger years I traveled the world alone as a backpacker, which led to great encounters with other people. I find authentic experiences the most exciting. Owner-managed accommodation with an unmistakable charm inspire me. I love activities that challenge me and culinary experiences that make me curious.
What are your top travel essentials when it comes to packing?
Whenever possible, I make sure that I have packed my two children to share the enriching travel experiences with me! I do not need anything else.
Tell us about one of your most memorable trips or travel moments.
Volcanoes attract me like magic. Once on a hike on the Arenal volcano in Costa Rica the earth suddenly began to shake, and the volcano spewed out lava. It was an exhilarating feeling. Also bathing in the hot springs at the foot of the volcano. I really want to visit more active volcanoes.
I experienced the most impressive travel moments on a four-day canoe trip on the Zambezi river border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, with budget camping in the middle of the wilderness. I will never forget the adrenaline rush when hippos chased me and the nightly howling of the lions near our tents. I remember saying to myself back then: If I die now, I will be the happiest person on earth.
How has travelling changed your life?
Travel has always been a part of my life, but there one destination that has changed my life from the ground up: South Africa. When I first traveled to South Africa on business, I immediately felt the unmistakable energy of the country and its people.
It felt like coming home. No wonder, South Africa finally gave me a home. Here I learned everything about life that really matters. To me, traveling means that I am constantly developing myself, learning new things and staying curious.
With African Twist Travel, I would like to pass this love for southern Africa on to my travel customers. “The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.”
What’s the next travel destination on your list and why?
I’ve been living in South Africa for so long that I want to introduce my children to typical Europe, such as Rome with its historically interesting landmarks, the many picturesque Italian coastal villages and the Mediterranean lifestyle.
Best travel advice you can share?
Be curious and open, don’t be prejudiced or fearful. Open yourself to new things and listen carefully when locals tell you stories. The wisdom in it is invaluable
Based on the five senses and thinking about travelling, what do you…
- Like to see: The smiling faces of Africans.
- Like to taste: A new exotic dish.
- Like to feel: My heartbeat on a Big 5 bush walk.
- Like to hear: Peaceful silence in the African bush.
- Like to smell: The air in Cape Town, every time I return.