It would be entirely uncharacteristic for me to not to stick my neck out in the hope that the saga of Shaun van Eck will come to an end and more honourable people will helm Knysna Tourism. I’m also hoping that good folk have come out of hiding and given reasons that’ll assist the Tourism Board in winning for Knysna by achieving his dismissal. Here is a copy of the letter that i sent to the Tourism Board…
The CEO of Knysna can be considered to have failed if he has lost the confidence of the Tourism Board and it’s members. That there’s an attempt at dismissal speaks for itself. With this being the second Board to attempt such only amplifies that more. I, like many Tourism members, have lost faith in him. Regardless of the situation, a failure of relationship is impractical which means that he must go so that the town can be served by a more unified team.
Nevertheless, i expect that a single, realistic paragraph may not hold sufficient weight in today’s modern world of legal technicalities so i provide my experience of him, and consequent opinion, below:
I am the owner of Love Knysna! which is not only a website promoting Knysna for free but also the parent of several websites that share the goal of increasing Knysna’s online presence. One child site is The Knysna Keep which arose as a protest against Shaun van Eck. I have been, publicly, his loudest critic.
The CEO of Tourism, like all leaders, but especially in a tourist-based economy such as Knysna’s, requires skill, attributes and exemplary character. Shaun van Eck has skills but that is insufficient when united with misconduct. To lead others well, a leader must be trustworthy – Shaun van Eck is neither trustworthy nor a leader.
His most telling flaw is deceptive behaviour which does not engender trust. Examples of such are:
1. It has long being strong rumour that there is favouritism with regards the allocation of Knysna Tourism’s budget. Without proof, rumour is a ghost but Shaun van Eck gave it flesh when he ignored repeated requests in 2011 for a detailed breakdown of the budget. Considering that the municipality had given Tourism R3million of taxpayer’s money (bringing that year’s tally to approximately R7million), it should have been a simple request by a taxpayer met with supply. That, as a paid member of Tourism, i was still denied did not inspire faith in his leadership and instead begged questions why.
2. After the first attempt at his dismissal, the chairman and co-chairman of the Tourism Board quit. Again, rumour and opinion came to play when it was said that Shaun had a friendly Board in his pocket. This was given substance when i sent a complaint against Shaun to the Tourism Board and repeated the same requests which was for the past 2 years budgets and details of community projects undertaken and planned. Instead of the Board members that i contacted responding, highly inappropriately, i received an email from Shaun van Eck on June 14 2011. Here is a segment from that:
“You have NO right to demote me from good person to bad person and go on a destructive personal tirade because you do not get your own way. It is an immature and selfish tactic to target a family who are making a positive contribution to Knysna and compromise their lives unfairly. I will NOT put my family through this again and will ensure that every poisoned word you spread is countered with the truth.
You have chosen to assert your destructive victim-tainted opinions on a positive situation with my new Board even before I have had an opportunity to have my first Board Meeting. You have created a sense of doubt that will permeate and limit all of the dealings of this Board and limit my freedom to assist people like you with worthy projects in the future. You will cause wasted energy and time, and handicap momentum because you want to throw your toys out of the cot and make me the bearer of all of your past injustices.
Understand very clearly that I will not allow a dark influence like you to derail all of the good work that we are doing for the entire community of Knysna. I will make sure that the truth and the full perspective is seen far more prominently than your negative ramblings.
You have a choice to make at this stage. You may withdraw the letter from the Board and suspend your hate campaign and I will walk away from the conflict. Should you continue, I will make sure that the TRUTH reaches every ear that you reach, and that further every Tourism CEO and Municipal Manager in SA is warned of your modus operandi. As it did in my arbitration, the TRUTH will triumph and your selfishness will be seen for what it is.”
I seldom threaten, but you are targeting three of the things I hold most dear – my family, my desire to make a positive difference in Knysna, and my morals and life approach based on the example of Jesus.”
To be honest, i had provoked the “hornets’ nest” with my blogs which were an attempt to pressure Shaun and others into providing the requested information. But, to be cynical, wouldn’t Shaun’s Jesus, or at least a broad-minded, sensible CEO have instead answered with the information. To date (Oct 16 2012), the information has still not being made public. The real “TRUTH” was never delivered.
3. If there’s nothing to hide, why hide it? My own experience of Shaun’s possible crony-ism and lack of credibility occurred whilst setting up the Garden Route Summer Concert which was held in December 2010. Knysna Tourism was a partner and sponsor.
Like all organizers, i sought the best ways to use funding and investment. With regards design, one of my best friends, a graphic designer, offered to help me by designing the flyer and poster for only R500. When i approached Shaun with this, he turned me down and said that he would only follow through with that sponsorship if it went to 2 Heads Design. Naturally, i concurred but, if i recall correctly (please verify), 2 Heads was paid R4500. Please note that i make no innuendos at 2 Heads – they are talented and business is business but i do wonder, in the broader picture, as to how many times savings were ignored and if some companies benefited more than others (it’s a recession so i would expect that a responsible Tourism could assist the town more if budgets for biggies such as advertising and design were spread across more companies).
[I haven’t discussed the next 2 points publicly as it was important for me to have my criticisms undiluted by Shaun or his supporters who may have (actually, they did anyway) said that my motivations were personal rather than pure – although i would possibly hold a different definition of “personal”]
4. A CEO needs a bigger vision that can also switch to detail. Shaun van Eck failed to achieve this with my Garden Route Summer Concert. There was no written deal but the fact that Knysna Tourism was a partner gives gravity to their obligation to the event. The date was particularly chosen, in consultation with Shaun, so that it would not interfere with any event and vice versa.
Earlier in the week, it rained, resulting in the postponement of the Beach Festival at Buffalo Bay and the Street Party in the centre of town. Instead of moving the events to a non-conflicting day, Shaun was complicit in agreeing with the municipality that they move onto the day of my event, December 18. A responsible CEO would have foresight. Even if the decision wasn’t his alone, he should have advocated a better plan that benefited all the organizers involved. Instead, i wasn’t even informed, let alone consulted, and only found out the day before.
Knysna is too small for 3 main events in peak season let alone the week before the tourist rush. The consequence was that the Beach fest began first and then both my concert and the Street Party, the latter resulting in the main road being closed for 6 hours…with me (and 10 bands) on the other side. With a set-up for 1500 patrons (and sound for 2000), the damage resulted in only 230 patrons. Not only did i inherit R40 000 debt but months of work became unpaid.
5. Early 2011, i was given the opportunity to run an eventing workshops at Knysna Tourism. I compiled a booklet which aimed at helping event organizers, especially people from disadvantaged communities, run better and, especially, legal events.
I had been initially apprehensive, questioning the value of many workshops, considering them to be BEE window dressing rather than practical. I told Shaun that i would love to do it but only on condition that we gave the best students follow-up training at events such as Oyster Festival. With the course, work and and a reference, participants stood a better chance of running their own, successful events and consequently generating more income.
The first workshop was met with great response by the participants so i was booked for 2 more and asked to lead a discussion forum tackling the questions and challenges of, and from, the aforementioned, disadvantaged communities.
Even though the third workshop had been asked for, the participants gained, and the date chosen in conjunction with a very pregnant Glendyrr Fick and Marlene, her soon to be temporary replacement, it was cancelled the day before my deposit was to be paid. Not only was i upset at the lack of professionalism, the fact that the effect of the workshops would be seriously diluted, but also the loss of income. Shaun van Eck became unavailable to my queries for many weeks.
6. Shaun’s unavailability had become infamous to many but of those that i spoke to, who had experienced it, none would raise objections as they feared it would lessen their chances at future sponsorships. Shaun never responded to many of the ideas i had sent him e.g. South African Rock Awards, Garden Route Olympics, Kid’s Day etc.<
7. A leader must be fair-minded and a forward thinker which means treating all people in Knysna fairly. With this point i return to the question of fair, racial presentation. One of my objections was that all of the elected Tourism Board members, at that stage, were White, an anomaly considering post-apartheid South Africa and the fact that the overwhelming population of Knysna, maybe as much as 85%, are Black and Coloured. This unequal representation was extremely apparent in the Pick ‘n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival with little regard or support given to the majority of Knysna’s citizens. What is Pick ‘n Pay mandate for the poorer communities? These issues had also being contentious, sometimes heated points during the community forum i’d hosted. The requests for an analysis of the effectiveness of past workshops and an annual plan for the forthcoming ones has never been answered.
8. Further, regards Pick ‘n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival, how could the brand of Knysna be properly fought for and looked after if Shaun allowed Tourism’s head PR, Nicci Rousseau-Schmidt, to also receive managerial income from Pick ‘n Pay’s management company, Worldsport? The brands need to work together but it cannot be in Knysna’s interest if one party represents both.
9. There have been many unanswered questions. A good CEO would answer them if valid. A bad CEO, worthy of dismissal, would not. To those reading this support for his dismissal, you must determine the validity of my questions so far. Here are more to ponder, simultaneously asking yourself if Tourism members are in the dark, is Shaun a good CEO?
It is important for a leader to take a position. What is the Tourism’s position on the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe? Is it for it or has it been decided that the matter is no longer practical to pursue? What is Tourism’s position on the intended bypass? For or against?
Is Shaun engaging the Knysna Municipality regards retaining the town’s character and controlling overbuilding of holiday homes etc.
What is being done to gain domestic tourism from nearer towns as well as targeting of the emerging, black middle and upper class?
What percentage of marketing costs is spent on overseas versus domestic tourists?
What is being done to increase Knysna’s online presence?
What is being done via advertizing to target tourists (e.g. Germans) in their own language?
How many holiday homes are there in Knysna?
What is Tourism’s marketing plan for 2013?
The biggest claim to success is the charity amount raised during Oyster Fest, a ‘vindication’ of sorts that the disadvantaged may not participate but are provided for. What follow-up procedure is there to ensure that charities receive their donation from Oyster festival organizers and then spend it appropriately? What is the legacy?
How does Tourism gain patronage figures for events such as Oyster Festival?All we hear about every year is that Oyster fest got bigger (even though shop owners say it was less successful).
How are service providers determined? How is the best deal gotten? How much is being paid for websites, sound etc.
Do any of the current Tourism Board members, or did any of the past, or their immediate families, gain sponsorship from Tourism for events? We’re a small town so it’s possible, and justifiable, for this grey area to occur. What is important is that there is a process to prevent abuse and encourage fairness.
If consultants and contractors are being utilized, what are they paid in relationship to what a permanent staff member or a less costly contractor would earn?
Who is second in charge at Tourism, with authority to make decisions, when Shaun van Eck isn’t available?
10. My rights as a member were also trampled when i was removed from Tourism’s mailing list and, despite requests to be reinstated, that was only done, by a Board member, during Shaun’s current suspension. Hindering my ability to post (and repost) tourism news at www.loveknysna.com served him and not the town of Knysna i.e it lacked sound judgement.
11. I realize the irony and dig in this final point. If Shaun is doing a good job at marketing, with a massive budget behind him, then how come relevant search terms (such as his name) have my websites, run on no budget, as prominent search returns.
The role of Tourism CEO is one of the most important for Knysna. It’s a position that is integral to determining our future. The questions that need serious answers are whether or not Shaun van Eck has fulfilled that role with honesty, transparency and with vision?
Most importantly, does he earn enough respect from his co-workers, peers, tourism members and Board so that success can be earned through unity and thus warrant his retaining the CEO position.
My answer is, “No.” Shaun van Eck should be dismissed.