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Q&A Jacqui Loon, Sabi Sabi

The 'First Lady' of Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve in South Africa and its co-owner, Jacqui Loon is a quietly powerful woman who has been the vision and drive behind the lodges for almost 35 years and shaped Sabi Sabi into the international award winning destination that it is today. Over the years she experienced the excitement of the veterinary fence between the Sabi Sands and Kruger Park coming down, removing the only man-made barrier between the two great conservation areas. She experienced devastating floods which all but destroyed one of the lodges and together with Hilton she envisaged Earth Lodge and its ground-breaking philosophy and design. Loon is also an artist and her paintings adorn some of the lodge walls. Her design touches are evident throughout the four lodges and come with a sense of personal experience and history.

What inspired you to create Sabi Sabi? 
My husband Hilton, and I have always been passionate about the Bush, and when the opportunity arose in 1980 to invest in the Sabi Sabi Reserve, we decided to create  a Safari experience that hopefully would be world class, while conserving and protecting this little corner of the planet for posterity.
 
You have helped shape Sabi Sabi for 35 years. What is the single best/defining thing about it?
Our warm, welcoming, African hospitality - a home away from home. We emphasise genuine, warm service and unparalleled personal attention. The feedback we get most often and of which we are very proud, is that each guest is made to feel special, and is welcomed like part of the family.
 
What is the next big safari trend?
We have identified a wish by some guests to enjoy a more intimate experience in the Bush, so we are designing a sleep-out shelter high up between the foliage of trees, where a couple can spend the night, totally alone under the stars.
Hilton and Jacqui Loon, owners of luxury reserve Sabi Sabi
Hilton and Jacqui Loon
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a safari Lodge is worthy of the 'luxury' tag?
We travel a lot, and are able to measure our standards as compared with those of luxury hotels and destinations worldwide.
Guests should enjoy spacious, beautifully appointed suites, including the best quality bed linen and wonderful bathroom amenities, superb cuisine, unique decor, comfortable safari vehicles, specialised spas, but most of all, genuinely warm, friendly and caring staff , who are empathic to the individual needs of each guest.
 
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a safari Lodge doing the right thing by the animals?
The Sabi Sabi Rangers' rigorous training programme ensures that during game drives, animals are never pressured or compromised by vehicles in too close proximity. We strictly limit and control the number of vehicles at any sighting to prevent stress. Another example of respect -  during the night safari, spotlights are never shone  onto diurnal animals nor when a kill is anticipated, in order not to prejudice either predator or prey.
Can animals and 'luxury' camps co-exist?
Absolutely, as long as one respects the environment and the animals as a first priority. At Sabi Sabi a permanent, professional habitat management team carefully maintains the bushveld, ensuring human impact is minimise as much as possible. A dedicated  ranger training manager ensures that the best safari practices are followed. Game viewing is more successful, and the number of animals more abundant than 35 years ago when we welcomed our first guests to Sabi Sabi.
Little Bush Camp
Little Bush Camp
Luxury Game Reserve in Africa
Bush Lodge
What is the one conservation initiative you long to see come to fruition? 
The eradication of poaching of elephants and rhino for their tusks and horns.
Apart from your own, what are your favourite lodges? (And why) 
I have to plead the 5th Amendment on this one, I am too prejudiced!
Are you heartened or saddened by the present global attitude to conservation?
Both....on the one hand there is a growing awareness of the plight of various endangered species, but on the other hand, not enough effort at government level is being made to alleviate the scourge of poaching, in particular, rhinos.
 
You like to paint - what inspires you most about the African bush?  
The light, vastness of space, and subtlety of colours during each change of the seasons.
 
What is your favourite city to visit?
Cape Town.
Sabi Sabi by Simon Smit
Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve by Simon Smit
What is the one travel experience you will never forget? 
Riding  an elephant into a river in Thailand for its evening bath by the Mahut.
What three things do you never travel without? 
A book, sunscreen, a hat.
What is the most important thing (travel wise) that money CAN buy? 
A journey to a unique, off the beaten track destination
 
What is the most important thing it can't? 
Security checks at airports.
Luxury Link: www.sabisabi.com
Posted 8/1/14
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