It is with sadness that the industry heard of the death of Francois Grove – owner of Safaris Direct, Board member of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) and Chairperson of the Mpumalanga Satsa arm, colleague and friend to many in the industry.
Grove, who lived in Hazyview in Mpumalanga, South Africa, passed away from post-surgery complications at the age of 59.
The sentiment of friends and colleagues who knew Grove was that he played an important role in the eco-tourism sector, and had a deep sense of belonging in the industry as well as with his family.
Tourism Update asked the industry to share some of their memories and sentiments about Grove.
David Frost, CEO of Satsa: “I am very saddened by this news. I first met Francois during my Tourvest Inbound days 20 years ago. He was an immense person. He was such a special piece of Satsa’s – and the industry’s – jigsaw, and we’ll really miss him. I was privileged to work intensively with him on the OSV self-regulation project, to which he committed not only time and energy, but also his knowledge and passion. Francois leaves us with a great legacy and he will be sorely missed.”
Martin Wiest, CEO of Tourvest Destination Management: “The first time I met Francois was in the late ’80s – I was a bus driver, and Francois a game driver at a lodge called Tshukudu in Hoedspruit. Time moved on, and Francois later joined us at Welcome Tourism Safaris, where he ran operations in Johannesburg. When we decided to open our Hazyview office, he and his wife, Katinka, became the management couple down there, looking after the business for us – which we consequently sold to him, and that’s how Safaris Direct was created, through a management buyout by Francois and Katinka.
When I look back, Francois and I had a 30-year business relationship – he was a colleague and supplier; we had a personal friendship as a result of our common past, and I rate him very highly in terms of the difference he made to sustainable eco-tourism in the country. He was immensely passionate about the bush and eco-tourism and had a very great sense of family and belonging. He also had a great sense of friendship and partnerships and was a phenomenal dad. Francois was a ‘larger than life’ person and could party very hard, and it really is a tragedy that he passed so early. He will be sorely missed.”
Bradley Brouwer, Head of Global Trade for SA Tourism: “I served on the Satsa Mpumalanga Chapter with Francois for a number of years – about five or six years. I got to know him in that time, and he was really a great guy. He was always so committed, to the industry and wasn’t afraid to try new things all the time. He was always willing to help, and his son, Marc, has grown up to be a great young man. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family - Francois was a great man and an asset to the industry and will be sorely missed.”
Hannelie du Toit, Chief Operations Officer of Satsa: “Francois was such a big influence in the whole Satsa structure: he was a Director on the Board, Mpumalanga Chapter Chairperson, and was on the steering committee of the open safari vehicle self-regulating project. For me, that project is part his legacy – Francois was one of the first operators, almost 24 years ago, to go into the Kruger National Park when it was first allowed to operate private open safari vehicles in the Park. Even before the project started in 2015, there was a year’s worth of tough negotiations – Francois attended every single meeting. He was so passionate, diligent and ready to make it work – all he wanted at the end of the day was something that works for everyone. He really had a massive impact on the whole of Satsa. Also, having worked in the industry for so long, he is such a well-known figure. From our side, it really was a shock. When we have our next Board meeting we will feel his presence missing; it’s going to be very strange for all of us going forward. The Mpumalanga and South African tourism industry, in general, has really lost a very committed, loyal, and passionate person in the industry.”
The industry mourns the loss of a man who greatly influenced his sector and shared further comments on his Facebook page.
Grove's "celebration of life" will take place on Thursday, May 23, at the Numbi Hotel Chapel in Hazyview, at 11h00.