People in the times of the coronavirus crisis – Eyewitness Sabine Blehle from GoVacation Africa in South Africa

As we know life is what happens when one is busy making other plans. And life happened. Unexpectedly. Sabine Blehle grew up on a dairy farm in the South of Germany. She finished a degree in tourism and put her skills to good use at the local tourism office. Wanting to see more lead her to South Africa. All the ones who visited South Africa know that the country is the ideal place to gain more experience in tourism. Forever an admirer of the great outdoors, she planned to stay for one year. Today, South Africa has been her home for 23 years. Not shy of pursuing happiness, Sabine worked her way up all the way to the top. She started out as a consultant and is now the CEO for GoVacation Africa, a full service destination management company, specialising in inbound travel. She loves that she can share the love for South Africa with her clients. Sabine Blehle lives in Johannesburg.

Sabine Blehle from GoVacation Africa in Cape Town - South Africa.
Sabine Blehle - Chapman's Peak Drive

The pandemic is ongoing. In some places, travel is coming back. There are countries where hospitality businesses have been open for months already. Others where cafés and restaurants have been closed for over six months. It all depends on numbers. The coronavirus. We live in complicated and confusing times, and we should remember that it is only a phase and not a bad life. Places get put on red lists; hometowns become risk areas. Things change fast. Some countries are great with the vaccination rollout. Others haven't made much progress. And again others refuse to provide numbers. One thing is for sure, hopes are high that as many people as possible get vaccinated as soon as possible. I keep on following the recommendations given by experts. Physical distancing, hand washing, and wearing a face cover.

Tourism and hospitality businesses guarantee economic stability for many. Businesses are reopening in many places. Sabine Blehle tells us about the situation in South Africa and about how she experiences it.

Tourism frontline workers are to be prioritized for vaccinations

The pandemic has the world in its grip. When I ask Sabine about the current situation in South Africa, she explains "The infection rate in South Africa is currently low and life is almost back to normal. We are on Level 1 restrictions which limit big gatherings and masks must be worn in public places. We can go to restaurants, visit friends, and travel. I think it is important for everybody living in South Africa not to become complacent and continue to follow the protocols of social distancing, wearing masks, and good hygiene measures. One has seen in other countries that flair-ups can spread fast. By continuously being responsible, the impact of a possible 3rd wave can be mitigated or reduced."

The world over, hopes for a fast vaccination rollout are high, it is the same in South Africa. "The vaccination progress is starting to roll out and health care workers are first in line to receive the vaccination. The good news is that the National Coronavirus Command Council has in principle approved for tourism frontline workers to be prioritized for vaccinations. This makes it even more attractive for travellers to return to our shores and to enjoy a safe holiday."

News from the source market

The pandemic drags on, it is important to find relevant as well as trustworthy news. The spread of fake news, especially via social media, becomes ever more normal. How does Sabine Behle get the right information? "I get my news from various sources ranging from local news and travel trade publications. I follow the German news in particular very closely as this is our most important source market. There is plenty of negativity and the current situation, in particular in India, fills me with lots of sorrow and compassion. Whilst we have economic suffering in South Africa, the situation in India is devastating considering the lack of medical infrastructure and support."

How to stay positive in the midst of a crisis

We all heard about the ‘keep calm and carry on’ motivational message published by the British Government aiming to keep morale high. I believe that this is just a bad phase, not a bad life, and I make sure to really see and enjoy the small joys and moments, to be not overwhelmed by this pandemic. Sabine believes in "To stay positive and in good spirit I continue to put things into perspective and count my blessings. I have no influence how the pandemic continues to develop, I however have control over how I react to it and focus on being an uplifting influence for the people around me to help them getting into a positive state."

There is a lot an individual can do to stay positive and relaxed in the midst of the chaos the world is in right now. Sabine has a full range of tips that help her through this time. "Reading a good inspiring book is also one of the best medicines, one of my favourites during the crisis has been the Book of Joy from Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. To keep healthy I exercise almost every day, workouts destress me immensely and I eat a plant-based diet. The crisis has changed my life completely as I’m a global child, I travel a lot, my family, many of my friends and industry colleagues live overseas and the travel restrictions hinder me from seeing the most important people in my life."

A great time for game viewing

Right now, fewer tourists make their way to South Africa. According to Statistics South Africa, foreign arrivals dropped by 71% from just over 15,8 million in 2019 to less than 5 million in 2020. The situation remains uncertain.

Sabine tells me that it would be exquisite to be in South Africa this time of the year. “Our customers would currently experience one of the best times of the year to travel through South Africa as we are just coming out of summer and approaching autumn, which is one of my favourite times of the year. The weather is still warm and pleasant during the day and the nights are slightly chilly, which gives the evening a cosy sense, especially around a fireplace in one of our beautiful lodges enjoying a glass of decadent South Africa wine. It’s also a great time for game viewing as the northern part of the country is through the rainy season which allows for a fantastic safari in the bush. Overall, it is sunny and crisp days that invite to be outdoors enjoying the beauty of nature.”

We cannot wait to welcome tourists back to our beautiful country

If I look around Berlin, it is pretty different to how it usually feels. There are fewer people around, and the town (overall) feels sort of like a ghost town. It is so quiet. Sabine experiences this in South Africa too. “People in South Africa are very hospitable, and we miss being around people terribly. It’s like the rug has been pulled from under us not having international tourists in the country. It is our purpose and fulfilling to create lifetime holiday experiences and we yearn for the sound of different languages, diverse cultures, the international vibe. We cannot wait to welcome tourists back to our beautiful country.”

Human beings can achieve so much

When I ask Sabine whether she came across something rather unusual which would probably never have happened under 'normal' circumstances, she tells me "What has really amazed me is the resilience that South African people have to adapt to crisis. This is of course not the first crisis the country has had to endure but the flexibility people have shown in the shortest period of time has been fascinating. One example is working from home, under normal circumstances this would have taken months if not years to get going. In a push situation it was done within a week. This is a huge learning going forward that human beings can achieve so much more and hopefully we will not only achieve amazing things under pressure."

Hopeful with the vaccinations going ahead in full steam

One big question is when will the situation for international tourists looking to visit Southern Africa normalize? Sabine answers as sad as she is sceptical. She points out one great advantage of the African continent. "Due to South Africa being a high risk and variant country, there are still strict quarantine measures in place in most of our source markets on return and the summer season has been non-existent. We are very hopeful with the vaccinations going ahead in full steam overseas that we will receive more bookings from June / July for travel in the fourth quarter. This will however be on a small scale as international tourists might first cautiously travel in their own car i.e., short-haul and within their own country or close to their own borders. We should see some nice increase in arrivals in 2022 as Africa lends itself as an ideal travel destination with its vast and open spaces."

Consumer behaviour will most probably change the way of travel

Having talked about that human beings can achieve so much under pressure and in times of crisis, I wonder what GoVacation Africa plans to do differently once the coronavirus crisis is over? Sabine is convinced that "We will change the way we work, fixed office desks are a thing of the past and we will have hybrid office set-ups to alternate between working from home and from the office. This allows GoVacation Africa to be more flexible and reduce fixed costs."

Consumer behaviour changes fast under normal conditions anyway, and Sabine feels well prepared and ready to cater for people's expectations. "We predict that the consumer behaviour will most probably change the way of travel. The choice might be to travel more by car, book apartments instead of hotels and have more staycations. Bookings will be short notice and the lead in times will change. All these changes require us to be more adaptable and flexible. Our focus will be on customer service and satisfaction as travellers will have great insecurities when taking their first holidays again. There is nothing more comforting then having a partner on the ground in the country that takes care of every need and concern, and in the travellers home language."

Vibrant city life, culinary delights, and quaint towns

I believe that adventure awaits the curious mind, and I know that dreaming keeps me going. I can name so many places I would love to travel to in South Africa. I over and over imagine that there would be no coronavirus crisis and (even better) that there has never been one. As I ask Sabine to tell me about her personal dream trip, she knows exactly which places fuel her wanderlust.

Mountain range, red and white lighthouse, and a row of colourfull houses.

South Africa cushion. Flowers. Rooibos Tea in Enamel Cup. Red Flowers. Green Plants.

“As we can travel already within South Africa and Africa, my dream holiday is not so much about places but about the experiences and who to have them with. It’s about the friends and family to hug, to laugh together, to wine and dine and to do all the things we have been deprived of. A road trip exploring the beauty of the Western Cape would be my dream holiday. Starting with the vibrant city of Cape Town, enjoying a walk up Table Mountain, a jog along the twelve apostles and indulging in the culinary delights of the local cuisine. Thereafter I would travel along the coastline to explore the little quaint towns of Gordon’s Bay, Pringle Bay and Betty’s Bay and visiting the real southernmost point of the African continent - Cape Agulhas. On the way I would hope to catch the sight of some whales and proceed further inlands to the area of the Little Karoo. This is a fascinating semi dessert region with some impressive mountain ranges. This region is home to lesser-known wine farms and offer wonderful opportunities for wine tasting. I love this rugged and authentic part of South Africa.”

Celebrate and enjoy life

Before Sabine Blehle goes, she shares a message with new and old friends and customers. “A crisis allows to take stock and to re-evaluate, it set us back but it is exactly that set back that allows us to go even further, to get better and to be more appreciative once we are allowed to fly again. I cannot wait to welcome friends and customers back to our country, to celebrate, to enjoy life, to engage in person and to appreciate so many things we possibly took for granted before the crisis.”

More about Southern Africa

Zambezi Region: Road Trip South Africa - Namibia - Botswana.

Travel South Africa. Knysna Travel Guide for First Time Visitors.

Travel South Africa. Cape Town Travel Guide for First Time Visitors.

Creative South Africa. Beautiful things you would want to buy on vacation in Cape Town.

Travel South Africa: 8 magnificent things to do in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

From Berlin with love