“Now the real work starts” – SATSA Animal Interaction Initiative kicks off

The development of a definition, ethical framework and self-regulation “by the tourism industry, for the tourism industry” around the contentious issue of Animal Interaction has finally been given the green light after months of preparation, which included a lengthy and transparent process to appoint an independent consulting firm, as well as the forming of a partnership with South African Tourism to fund the initiative through Tourism Business Council of South Africa’s (TBCSA) Collaborative Fund.

The voice against tourism experiences that include animal interactions has grown so loud that many tourism businesses are feeling the impact of these changes – irrespective of how ethical their approach to animal interactions may be. The impact has also filtered through to how South Africa is being perceived as a tourism destination.

Discussions at the August 2017 SATSA Conference indicated the vast range of opinions on the matter and resulted in a mandate from members to SATSA to form an Animal Interactions Board Committee and appoint a firm to:

• Define the types of entities that fall within the ambit of animal interactions including standardising definitions and terminology
• Develop an ethical framework to evaluate operations that involve animal interactions to underpin the debate and establish the principles upon which the ethicalness of animal interaction operations may objectively be evaluated
• Develop a set of guidelines for the self-regulation of animal interaction tourism experiences

Animal Interactions Board Chair Keira Powers says, as a member-driven body, SATSA had to take up this member-driven request. “It’s going to be a long process and fully consultative in the time we have at our disposal. I encourage industry stakeholders and companies to participate fully and vocally throughout the consultation process, which will be held across the country.

Keira explains that a thorough, transparent process led to the appointment of an independent consulting firm to conduct the study and compile the guidelines. The committee received 17 applications from the widely publicised advert which were individually & independently reviewed and scored by the entire committee before a shortlisted top 3 presented to SATSA. These were then again independently scored with Grant Thornton eventually appointed having attained the highest final score.

“We’re now able to move forward on our mandate and will begin immediately with the desktop research for South Africa and internationally. We feel that although there are other and European guidelines already in existence, these cannot simply be superimposed on us.”

This will be followed by robust stakeholder consultations with “interested and affected parties” – tour operators, product, organisations involved in animal welfare and conservation both in South Africa and globally, tourism associations among others on a long and thorough list. Workshops will be run across the country and, if required, online surveys.

The aim of the Animal Interaction initiative is to develop guidelines for animal interactions in tourism, including:

• A long-term vision of where the SA tourism industry would like to be with regard to animal interactions in tourism
• An ethical framework which will form the basis of all discussions, guidelines, frameworks developed for the industry
• A tool that could be utilised by the industry to assess tourism experiences that incorporate animal interactions.
• High-level suggestions of key areas for legislative intervention and regulation.

“As we progress with this initiative, we ask all SATSA members to keep an eye out for invitations to participate in the consultation process, either through attendance at workshops or participating in any online surveys. If you would like to be heard on this undoubtedly hot and emotive topic, you need to engage with us during this consultation process,” concludes Keira.

The Board Committee on Animal Interactions comprises:

Keira Powers: Spirit of Africa; Chair and SATSA Board member
Andrea Ferry: Sustainability Consultant to Singita; with PhD thesis in sustainability
Brett Mitchell: Loxodonta Management, & Elephant Reintegration Trust; ex-CEO of Pilanesberg Elephant Back Safaris – the first elephant operation to successfully rehabilitate trained elephants into the wild
Gavin Reynolds: Immediate past CEO of Mankwe Gametrackers, Airtrackers and Letsatsing Reserve; eMBA with special interest in the rigour of the study and envisioned ethical framework
Peter Dros: Fancourt Sales & Marketing Director; history in game ranging and sales/marketing at Mala Mala
Hannelie Du Toit: SATSA COO
David Frost: SATSA CEO

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