'It was unnecessary': SA Tourism CEO returns after 9-month suspension

After about nine months on suspension, SA Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona told Fin24 he has "mixed feelings of anger" as he heads back to his old office again next week.

Fin24 reported at the beginning of April 2019 that Ntshona was surprised when he was informed by the board of SAT that they were investigating allegations against him and that he would be placed on precautionary suspension. It was never publicly announced what these allegations were.

Ntshona himself said he was only informed of their nature after some time.

The allegations had been received via SAT's anonymous tip-offs reporting mechanism and the board felt the precautionary suspension was necessary in order to enable it to conduct a free and fair investigation. Sthembiso Dlamini became the acting CEO.

In mid-December, SAT announced that the investigation cleared Ntshona of all charges and that he would return immediately.

"The Board welcomes back Mr Ntshona and looks forward to continue working with him as we seek to grow tourist arrivals in our sector and to build a stable organisation," an SAT statement said at the time.

'This has set us back'

"Many people ask me how I see the period I was suspended. I have mixed emotions of anger. This set us back as a tourism sector and tarnished my reputation. It was unnecessary, but now I to look ahead on the path and see how we can deliver to the country what we promise as SA Tourism," Ntshona told Fin24 on Monday.

"I look forward to delivering to SA and to the tourism industry. Key for me is to get up to speed with what is going on in the sector as soon as possible."

His aim is to hit the ground running and spend time speaking to those involved in the tourism industry - both in the public en private sector. He plans to meet with various tourism bodies and agencies on both a local, provincial and national level. He will also meet with the various airlines to get a sense of their activity levels.

"I want to get up to speed in a couple of weeks and want to hear from the tourism industry itself how they see things and how to get some energy going. This is because the key thing is to pick up momentum and quicken the pace on some important issues to work on so that the tourism industry can continue to contribute to the South African economy," he said.

In his view the industry is going in the right direction with the changes to the unabridged birth certificate requirement and a pilot project on e-visas.

"I now want to see the impact of these changes on the industry. The world is not standing still, and we have to keep up the pace."

Asked how he intends to "sell" SA as a tourism destination to the world, Ntshona said it is about "sharpening our communication to the world and making sure we can reflect all that SA has to offer".

Asked about the negative impact of safety and security incidents, he said these are unfortunate events that happen - as it does all over the world - but that it is about how quickly the industry can react and address it.

"SA offers such a wonderful opportunity and something for everybody, from safaris, beaches, relaxation and culinary experiences. We need a serious re-energising campaign for the industry," he said.

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