I feel very fortunate to have visited South Africa many times. Late last year, I was speaking at a couple of travel events there, and added some personal time to explore. It is one of those rare destinations that not only has something for everyone; it excels at making every experience rich and memorable.
There are hipster-gentrified neighborhoods in Johannesburg, teeming with one-of-a-kind shops and galleries; bustling shopping malls and fancy boutiques abound in Pretoria. You’ll find espresso perfection and café culture in Cape Town, along with breathtaking scenery, including the nearby Cape Winelands that easily rival Napa Valley’s best.
There are natural wonders here, including Table Mountain and the endless pristine beaches around Cape Town. Of course the crown jewel is the spectacular wildlife in the bush and on lovingly protected reserves. These are just a few examples.
I have never left South Africa without looking forward to going back, and I always leave with memories of a lifetime. On this trip I added a new experience to the collection: zip lining in the mountains near Cape Town with Cape Canopy Tours.
The activity itself was fantastic, but the actual experience created by a remarkable man, our guide Jerry, was a valuable lesson for travel consultants everywhere. While I am sure it was unintended on Jerry’s part, it is a lesson in becoming a master of experiences.
Upon our arrival, Jerry introduced himself and took plenty of time to get to know each member of our group. He asked about our expectations and desires, our fears and hesitations, and our past experiences. After determining that all but one person was new to zip lining, his mastery of experiences kicked in.
His presentation shifted from focusing on the wild and crazy exhilaration of zipping across a canyon, to pointing out the numerous safety systems and redundancies in place. He made sure that each individual not only understood, but also felt comfortable and secure.
During the extra bumpy ride to the top of the mountain, he instinctively knew that some people would become anxious. He eased the tension by making jokes about receiving our “complimentary Cape massage” in the truck while pointing out interesting sites, vistas, plant life, and animals along the way. By the time we reached the top, it was clear this was not just another zip line tour, but a beautifully personalized and immersive experience.
Before hiking to our first cliff-side platform, he again inspected the equipment, harnesses, and safety connections. His mastery was in asking each person individually if they felt safe and secure enough to have fun, adding: “You’re about to experience something magical that you’ll never forget.”
“Trust me,” he said, “you will always be grateful you pushed yourself to do this.”
If Jerry were guiding a more experienced group, his approach would likely have been quite different. He probably would have focused on the high-adventure, daredevil fun! His skill was demonstrated by understanding the unique needs and desires of his clients.
As we approached our first platform, Jerry told us, “I know some of you are nervous so I won’t ask for a volunteer to go first. Instead, my co-guide will be the first across and I’ll explain every step to you once again while he’s doing it. Then, he’ll be waiting on the other side to safely guide you in.”
As the co-guide zipped across the wide, deep canyon, Jerry instructed: “Just imagine seeing these incredible sites like nobody on the ground could ever see!”
Then suddenly, it was my turn. As Jerry double checked all the connections and redundant safety lines, he looked me in the eye. “Don’t be afraid my friend. When you step off that platform, you’ll be flying like a bird for the first time in your life. Once you fly, you’ll wish you never had to walk again.” And then, I was off!
Jerry was the last to cross our first of many canyons, waterfalls, and mountains to come. He congratulated each of us, shook our hands, and even hugged some of us. With 13 crossings and 3 hours to go he said, “From this point you can still turn around and go down the mountain in the truck. If you come with us on this next crossing, zip lining will be the only way down. It’s OK to take the truck or you can come with us. Either way, now you know how to fly and you’ll never see the world in the same way again!”
Everyone decided to fly!
At the end of our 4-hour adventure I asked Jerry how long he had been working as a guide for Cape Canopy Tours. “Since we started operations! I personally installed many of those zip lines you just used. I hiked up the mountain, climbed the cliffs, and helped build the platforms.”
Then I asked him how he maintained his enthusiasm every day and made it so magical. After all, since he started, he must have guided the same tour hundreds of times. His response was something we all need to heed:
“I love what I do! I love these mountains. I love this beautiful country. I want to share it with as many people as possible! Most of all, I love that I get to make people happy every day by doing something they may never have imagined and may never do again. It’s the best job in the world.”
And he’s right. Don’t believe me? Take a look