Sabine Lehmann
Founder & Chair, CURIOSITAS @CityBowlKid
The woman, the art, and the science behind Cape Town's tourist attractions
If you have visited any of Cape Town\’s major attractions – iconic landmarks or tourist sites – chances are that Sabine Lehmann has had a hand in shaping your experience.

She probably has an accurate idea of what you ordered in the restaurant or where you posed for that selfie. Lehmann has a unique understanding of the consumer’s experience of an attraction. “My passion is attractions management,” she says. “I believe in the incredible power of attractions – they are the number one reason why people travel.”

Lehmann has worked in tourism for more than 20 years and served as CEO of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway for eight years. This iconic, high-volume tourist site sees more than one million visitors a year. She is a director of the Cape Wheel, a board member of the Groot Constantia Trust, and chaired the Board of Cape Town Tourism for three years. She is currently COO of Cape Town’s newest premier destination, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA)

Lehmann feels that managing attractions is an art and a science. “People travel to see attractions, whether paid or unpaid, a beach or a museum, and their experience of these is crucial to the tourism industry. Attractions need to be well managed and well-staffed,” she says, simply. “A well-run attraction is good for everyone”.

The art of attractions management lies in shaping and facilitating the visitor’s experience, but Lehmann also understands the science of operating attractions. “It’s so important to understand this holistically, it’s not just about the product, it’s about the user and staff experience.” Lehmann explains, “attractions are a 365-day a year business – how you communicate, keep everyone focused and function as a team, when you are rarely all together at one time, is a huge challenge which demands good leadership”.

Lehmann credits the skills she gained from her MBA, which she obtained from the UCT GSB in 2001-2002, for preparing her for her leadership roles. “I wouldn’t have been able to do the work I’ve done without the MBA. It gave me confidence in myself, and gave others confidence in me. An MBA makes you less afraid of things you don’t know. 

“To lead in this industry, you need to have a strong generalist background. As CEO I needed skills in finance, strategy, HR, change management and leadership, all of which I got at the GSB.” 

One of the highlights of Lehmann’s tenure at the Cableway was driving the successful international three-year campaign to have Table Mountain voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. “I had to persuade South Africans that their own natural wonder was worth voting for. It required selling a larger vision, getting buy-in and creating a call to action,” she says.

She is also, she says, glad to have had the opportunity to play a critical role in the set-up and launch of the Zeitz MOCAA, Africa’s flagship contemporary art museum. She joined as COO in May 2016, and the museum opened its doors in September 2017. “We started an institution from scratch, and I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved. Starting with a zero-based budget is every financial manager’s dream, but in reality, it’s a huge challenge as one needs to think through all possibilities. Just one month after opening, we already have so much more information as to how the visitor interacts with the museum.”

In 2013, Lehmann founded the Attractions Africa conference, which aims to “share case studies and learnings with fellow attraction managers to raise the benchmark for all,” and attracts over 120 delegates annually. She is also a research associate for the Institute of Futures Research and is a contributing author for the book Managing Tourism in SA.

When asked about her hopes for the future, Lehmann says, “I joined Zeitz MOCAA to set up an institution, and now that it’s set up I’ll be moving on to new interests, one of which is understanding the tourism and attraction consumer of the future”. She believes “attractions need to be future-fit to be successful,” and adds that “attractions are capital intensive to build and run – making them future-orientated safeguards that investment”. 

Curiositas Tourism Futures
& Attractions Consultancy

+27 (0)82 305 9019

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