Dear Sisa Ntshona,

I would like to start by extending my belated congratulations on your appointment as CEO of South African Tourism, a function that requires a multitude of skills, expertise and courage. I am so heartened by the fact that you are actively seeking engagement with the South African tourism trade and take time out of your busy schedule for webinars and the subsequent written responses to further questions from the trade.

As an environmentalist and keen supporter of sustainable tourism practices, I was even more excited (and many others in the industry with me) with the way you answered the question by Paul Tully from Captured in Africa in a recent webinar organised by Tourism Update. Paul asked your thoughts on the current exploitation of lions and other wildlife in captivity, including activities such as cub petting, activities that are not only unethical, but also reflect badly on Brand SA.

You responded by saying:

Hi Paul. Thanks for raising this point – it is extremely relevant and topical at the moment, and gives us an opportunity to unequivocally state our position. South African Tourism does not promote or endorse any interaction with wild animals such as the petting of wild cats, interacting with elephants and walking with lions, cheetahs and so on.

Our marketing efforts promote an authentic and credible tourism experience to all our tourists, and this includes an authentic wildlife experience to keep it as “wild” and natural as possible.

But we take these concerns extremely seriously and are talking to the Sustainable Tourism Partnership Programme to see how we can work more closely with them to eradicate such practices.

For those who missed the webinar and subsequent publication, you will find a complete transcript HERE.

Statements such as yours are music to the ears of many people who work tirelessly on behalf of the voiceless. Eradication of unethical wildlife interactions, including petting, riding, and walking with big cats, elephants, ostriches and other wildlife, is what many in our diverse industry would like to see happen.

You can hopefully imagine the disappointment when we were faced with this image from OR Tambo Airport only shortly after your statement was released. What a negative message to send to our visitors on arrival in SA. However, I am happy to hear that you are working with ACSA to resolve this embarrassment.

Looking into SA Tourism’s marketing efforts through your own website gave me a real shock though when faced with the promotion of Ostrich farms, including ostrich riding – listed as number nine of your Top 10 activities in South Africa! A little more digging uncovered the promotion of tourism businesses actively involved in captive breeding of Cheetahs, walking with Cheetahs, breeding of lions and tigerselephant interactions and elephant back riding, and the training of marine mammals for our entertainment. The list seems to be endless and this is unfortunately only the tip of the SA Tourism iceberg.

Tourism businesses involved with activities that you claim in your statement SA Tourism neither promotes nor endorses, such as elephant interactions and/or riding, and walking with and/or petting of big cats, are still part of many of your overseas Road Shows.

I think we all agree with the Blood Lions statement below: “If South Africa wants to market itself as a destination offering ethical and responsible tourism, there cannot be any place for predator breeding, canned hunting and the use of lions and other species as our ‘play things’.”

With the global shift towards a more responsible tourism industry, tourism associations across the globe are encouraging their members to stop promoting unethical wildlife attractions, such as elephant back rides. Even our neighbours are actively putting policies into place to make tourism more responsible, like the recent ban on elephant back riding by Botswana. In our own country, Fair Trade Tourism has taken a stand against captive wildlife interactions. It’s South Africa’s turn to stop talking the responsible tourism talk and start walking the walk.

Hence, my questions to you:

  • How will you ensure that SA Tourism will no longer promote unethical wildlife activities through your own marketing channels?
  • What are your short term objectives for SA Tourism to eradicate unethical wildlife practices from our industry?
  • How will you encourage the wider industry to stop promoting these kind of activities?
  • What are SA Tourism’s criteria to differentiate between those wildlife activities that are ethical/responsible and will therefore be promoted and endorsed by SA Tourism, and those that are not?

I look forward to hearing from you shortly and would be more than willing to discuss any of the above issues with you in more detail.

With warm regards,

Dr Louise de Waal
Sustainable Tourism consultant