The history of SAACI – the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry- began in 1987

Where we came from

The history of SAACI – the Southern African Association for the Conference Industry- began in 1987. Credit for SAACI’s formation can be given to two people:

Nick Stathakis

Keith McCusker

Nick Stathakis, head of SATOUR’s Congress Division, pushed for the creation of an independent association to help SATOUR in promoting conferences. He also headed the conferences division of the CSIR until 1982, when he retired and started a consultancy business. Nick is also responsible for drawing up a constitution and bylaws for SAACI.

SAACI was started up with an interim council headed up by Keith McCusker as chairman. One of the main aims of SAACI was to improve standards in the conference facilities, meeting venues and allied services within Southern Africa to conferences buyers, both locally and abroad

Training was also a priority, this being undertaken by:

 Keith McCusker, an experienced conferences organizing consultant,
 Eugene Marais, conferences and training manager for the Development Bank of Southern Africa,
 Erika Esterhuyse, a professional conferences organizer/administration, and 
 Helen Brewer, professional conferences organizer and conferences facility marketing consultant.



In 1983, the R45-million Cape Sun Hotel brought a new dimension to the field of conferences in the Mother City. In Durban the Gooderson Hotels became Kondotel Inns and the well-known Claridges Hotel was renamed the Tropicale.


In 1984 video conferences were introduced by the Post Office, although this never really took off. The R25-million Hotel Braamfontein opened in Johannesburg and catered primarily for business people, conferences and conventions. 

In 1984 the conference industry was valued variously between R75 and R100 million a year. Alan Gooderson, managing director of kondotel Inns, called for South Africa to change its outdated liquor and Sunday entertainment laws, introduce casinos at main resorts, and end the South African Airways monopoly which prevented cheap charter flights from bringing tourists to the country. He said tourism in South African generated a total revenue of some R2 billion annually, of which approximately R700 million was in foreign earnings. He forecast that, by the year 2000, the tourism industry would be the largest single industry in the world. 

The year 1984 also saw the closing down of the of South Africa’s biggest and most important exhibition area – the Milnerpark Showgrounds, site of the annual Rand Easter Show


In April 1985, the Rand Show moved to the 270-hectare National Sport Recreation and Exhibition Centre (NAREC) at central Johannesburg, a complex which was developed as one of the biggest, most technically-advance show and congress venues in the southern hemisphere. The importance of the National Exhibition Centre to the conference market at the time was that, although the Rand Show would be the main annual event to take place


At the first meeting of SAACIs Interim Council of Management in November 1987, the following office bearers were elected: Keith McCusker, chairman; Erika Esterhuyse, secretary; Bob Newman, of the CSIR, vice-chairman; and Eugene Marais, treasurer. 

At second Conference on Conferences, held in Johannesburg during 1987, an Interim Council of Management was nominated, the members being representatives of various sectors of the conference organizers, conference centres, travel and tours, transport, hotels, companies, public relations, training, publicity associations, publishers and conference promotion.


The earliest members of the council of Management of SAACI were the following :

Keith McCusker (Chairman); Erika Esterhyse (C&E Conferences Organizers); Eugene Marais (Development Bank of Southern Africa); Godfrey King (Editor/publisher, Southern Africa Conference, Exhibition & Incentives Guide); Helen Brewer (Meeting Planners Association); Trudy du Toit (Southern Sun Hotels); Minnaar Smit (SARTravel); Philippa Sparrow (Avis Rent-A-Car); Nick Stathakis (SATOUR); and Shirley Fisher

They were all re-elected in 1988 with the following additions: Peter Thomas (Selected Audiovisual); Carol Arnold (CSIR); Liz Oosthuizen (CSIR); Dr A. Breedt (Public Relations Bureau, University of Pretoria); Halfway House); and Frank Vincent (Durban Publicity Association). Eugene Marais was destined to become the second chairman of SAACI. Helen Brewer was elected vice-chairperson and Minnaar Smit treasurer. The secretary was Lourie Potgieter Eugene was followed as chairman by Helen Brewer, then Godfrey King, Peter Aspinall and Alec Gilbert


In the early 90s, SAACI’s Council of Management was renamed the “Co-ordinating Council” and there was a change in representation, with branch chairpersons now auto balloted members. This now included Robin de Kock, of Speaking Assignments, who was chairman of Western Cape; Truda Swanton, conference consultant and chairman of the Northern Territories branch; and Keith Murcott, of the Feather Market Centre, who was chairman of the Eastern Cape branch.

In 1990 there were some newcomers to the SAACI Council of Management, namely Brian Morris, of the CSIR Conference Centre, as treasurer; Joy Donovan of Lester Donovan Group; and Elaine Lehmkuhl, of Sandoz Products.

Over the years other personalities who have played important roles in the SAACI Council of Management were

Frances Beasley, of Personal Improvement Plan

Carol Knight, of First Impressions

Chamara Pansegrouw, of Overvaal Resorts

Xenia Adamou, of SAA

Cheryl Backhouse, of Karos Hotels

Lyn Baker, of Conference Speaker Promotions

Luke Barnard-Boje, of Gallagher Estate;

Mike Fasulakis, of Travkor

Helen McDonald, of Imperial Car Rentals

Meryl Richardson of Meryl Richardson Promotions

Deline Thackwray, Corporate Conference Co-ordinator

Marge Visagie, Development Bank of Southern Africa

David Mason, of Rosebank Hotel

Brian McDonald, of Global Conferences