Tourism Update contacted several Satsa members to get their views on the controversy that has unfolded over the last week.

The unanimous sentiment from those we spoke to was one of support for the current Satsa leadership. Additionally, while most acknowledged that there were issues that needed to be addressed, all felt that tactics employed so far were unfortunate and not in the interest of taking the association forward.

Monika Iuel, CEO of Private Safaris, said: Satsa has always – and certainly over the last couple of years – been a very valuable tourism body.” She says that the CEO of Satsa, David Frost, has opened up the level of dialogue, particularly between the public and private sectors. “It is regrettable that members are tackling their concerns in such a public way, especially a week before the conference. He addressed issues such as the visa requirements and unabridged birth certificates and has given the organisation a voice,” she says.

In terms of the concerned members legal and financial concerns, Iuel says she has always felt the association has been run professionally – especially since Frost took over the reins.

Vernon Wait, Owner of Pembury Tours, says if there are some administrative or housekeeping issues that the current leadership of Satsa inherited, and which go back to 2003, then they should be rectified. “With regard to the other concerns I have read about, I have never had any reason to doubt the current leadership of Satsa and this remains my position. I am unable to attend the Satsa Conference but have given my proxy to a member who will vote in support of the current leadership,” he says.

Rob More, CEO and Owner of More, says he feels the allegations being made are “riddled with hidden agendas” and adds: “We feel the board and CEO have served ourselves and the greater industry with purpose, professionalism and passion for the good of South Africa and our industry as a whole.”

Onne Vegter, MD of Wild Wings Safaris, says: “The Satsa members I know are all industry professionals who add value to tourism in South Africa and share the same passion as we have to promote and increase tourism to South Africa. Their Satsa membership shows they care about their reputation and credibility. Over the years, may Satsa members volunteered their time, skills and finances to further the goals of Satsa, promote our destination, assist fellow members, and liaise with government and other industry stakeholders on behalf of the industry. Our experience is that most Satsa members display a heartwarming amount of goodwill, comraderie and a willingness to work together for the common good.”

He says he has been a Satsa member for 12 years, and in his opinion, the association is being run better than ever before. “Tangible benefits for members have increased. The reputation and stability of Satsa has improved. Membership numbers have grown. Satsa has been a very active voice for the industry in recent years, and campaigned tirelessly on behalf of members on a variety of issues affecting the tourism industry. I have full confidence in the current leadership at Satsa. I have found them to be hardworking, dedicated and always willing to go the extra mile,” adds Vegter.

Martin Wiest, CEO, Tourvest Destination Management, says he has been briefed by Tourvest staff, Suzanne Benadie (who currently serves on the Satsa board) as well as Martin Botha (who previously served on the Satsa board) and is comfortable that there is nothing “illegitimate or untoward” happening within the association.

He says: “It is my personal view that Satsa is more professional that it was before, with more members and financially solvent. Additionally, it has addressed topics that are in the interests of the industry better than anyone else has over the course of the last three years. The current leadership have improved the delivery of Satsa and I would like to see them into the future of the organisation”.

Wiest adds that while he firmly believes in the importance of good corporate governance and accountable associations, he says problems should be solved internally.

Also adding their collective voice to the chorus of support for Satsa’s current leadership is the Travel Smart Crew. “We have all benefitted from their tremendous efforts and we know these always have been undertaken in the best interests of Satsa members,” says Ilana Clayton of the Travel Smart Crew. She adds: “Quite simply, questions were raised and answers were comprehensively given.” 

Dean Cherry, Director of Nhongo Safaris, says in his opinion, the so-called “concerned members are a group of disgruntled members who want to derail the process and the direction that Satsa is busy evolving into”.

“We’ve seen a change in Satsa over the last three years – all for the good – and this is due to new members joining with quite a few from the younger generation as well as dedicated team at head office,” says Cherry. He says he has worked very close with Satsa Chief Operating Officer, Hannelie du Toit and David Frost, and sought counsel with Satsa President, Gavin Courtenay, and has only encountered complete openness.

He says that the meeting that took place in Gauteng on August 3 was a “blatant hijacking attempt” and that this has since continued with the group of concerned members phoning people and ‘friending’ them on Facebook in order to gain a proxy letter in support of their cause. “I will never vote for any of the members included in the circulated proxy,” adds Cherry.

Glenn McKeag, CEO of Springbok Atlas Tours and Safaris, says the company was one of the first members of Satsa and has always valued the importance of the “one voice” it stands for and protects.

“Satsa is most proactive on any issues pertaining to the industry and encourages involvements of all on a most professional basis when addressing issues with government or other bodies,” says McKeag. “We need this national platform to speak on all our behalf and Satsa in the past three-year period has certainly delivered this fulfilment to great satisfaction.” 

Linda Pampallis, CEO of Thompsons Africa agrees that since Frost became Satsa CEO, there has been a new quality to the membership. “This, together with the passionate approach that he brings has lit up what was an organisation which at times lacked dynamism and vision. I fully support David Frost and believe that he does provide the leadership that this organisation requires,” she adds. 

Please note this article has been updated since initially being published. Additional comments from industry stakeholders have been included.