Celebrating The Life And Legacy of Stanley Tollman, Iconic Leader And Advocate for South Africa’s Tourism Industry
Photo Cred: Supplied | On File

Stanley Tollman was a larger-than-life character with a dedication to his family and business that is deemed exemplary by his peers in the industry.


Johannesburg, South Africa (04 October 2021) – Celebrated as one of the architects of the global tourism industry and a devoted philanthropist, South African born Stanley Tollman has died at the age of ninety-one following a battle with Cancer. The patriarch closed the final days of his life in France surrounded by four generations of family.

Tollman was Chairman of The Travel Corporation (TTC), his family-owned and lead business, which celebrated its centenary in 2020. Admired for his visionary leadership, innovative approach to travel experience development, innate understanding of excellence in hospitality, and commitment to employee care, Tollman’s death will be felt across not only the over 10,000 employees working within TTC’s portfolio of 40 award-winning brands operating in 70 countries worldwide but the industry at large.

With a portfolio of award-winning brands such as Trafalgar, Contiki, Uniworld, Red Carnation and others, Tollman’s travel businesses pre-pandemic carried over 2 million travellers. Yet despite the exceptional growth of TTC, throughout his life, Tollman remained a humble hotelier and proud son of Africa at heart. His signature red carnation lapel pin – the symbol of his international boutique collection of luxury properties – remained until his final days his cachet.

Tollman was a larger-than-life character with a dedication to his family and business that is deemed exemplary by his peers in the industry. To understand Tollman’s scope and scale of dedication to the global travel industry and his homeland of South Africa, one needs to go back to the beginning and understand his relentless pursuit of perfection in creating pleasure for others.

From humble beginning to South Africa’s first five-star hotels

A man from very humble origins, Tollman was born in the small fishing village of Paternoster in the Western Cape in 1930. As a young man, Tollman was driven by his hunger to succeed and have an impact in South Africa and, if possible, the world. His pioneering spirit and love for hospitality were rooted in his first home – the family’s modest hotel in Paternoster.
Fast forward a few decades, Tollman and his wife, Beatrice (universally known as Bea), who he married in 1954, began their life of hospitality together when they used their wedding money to purchase the Nugget Hotel in Johannesburg. Tollman took on the role of managing the front of house of the hotel, taking care of guests, the bar and restaurant and financial operations, while Beatrice managed the back of house, which included decoration, housekeeping, purchasing, and all the cooking for the restaurants and functions.

After transforming the Nugget Hotel, they went on to buy the Hyde Park Hotel, with the renowned Colony super club, the first to bring world-famous artists to South Africa in the mid-1950s. Live entertainment at the hotel nightclub, The Colony, brought top-flight entertainers to Africa for the first time, including Petula Clark and the French singer and actor Jean Sablon.

From these early days, Tollman provided South Africa with its first five-star hotels, thereby bringing the South African tourist industry to a then still unknown high level of guest experience.

His many initial achievements in the hotel industry culminated in their first grand hotel, the Tollman Towers, a landmark of Johannesburg’s social life and the first five-star and all-suite hotel in South Africa.

A man of ethics, Tollman was unwilling to accept the legalised oppression of his countrymen under the apartheid system. Although Tollman and his family left South Africa in 1975, he maintained strong ties with his nation of birth, continuing to visit and invest in the country to this day. Just prior to leaving South Africa, Tollman boldly adopted the policy of allowing black guests and performers into his luxury hotels despite the ruling government of the time’s efforts to consolidate the prohibition of such activities under apartheid. Importantly, he also championed an extraordinary program of training of promising, black people in the hospitality business, unlocking numerous employment opportunities until then reserved for whites, including black positions being created in roles involving direct guest engagement. Sadly, government policies increasing in pressure forced Tollman to shift his focus and energies beyond South African borders.

Since early days, TTC has stood proudly as a highly successful international travel group with substantive business interests. This includes in South Africa, where some of Tollman’s flagship properties can be found, all direct reflections of his continued commitment to the nation of his birth.

Celebrating The Life And Legacy of Stanley Tollman, Iconic Leader And Advocate for South Africa’s Tourism Industry
Photo Cred: Supplied | On File

Stanley Tollman’s re-investment into his beloved South Africa, a democratic nation

Although forced to pursue his hospitality and tourism ambitions away from his homeland, once apartheid was abolished, he returned to the land of his birth, reinvesting heavily in a democratic South Africa and South Africans from 1995.

In 2002 Tollman purchased the Twelve Apostles Hotel in Cape Town. Under the Red Carnation Hotel Collection brand, in true Tollman style, a decomposing property deemed a blight in the national park was re-imagined, restored, and re-opened to become a location of high appeal and local pride, crowned by World Travel Awards as Africa’s Leading Luxury Hotel in 2019 and one of the ‘World’s Best’ by Travel & Leisure. The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa in Cape Town remains internationally recognised as one of South Africa’s most popular and famous hotels and prestigious landmarks, appreciated and supported by the local community.

2002 was also the year Tollman bought out the major shareholder of Johannesburg-based Cullinan Holdings. Entity includes some of South Africa’s best-known tourism names, including Thompson’s Tours, Thompson’s South Africa, Pentravel travel agencies, Kruger National Park based Indaba Safaris, and Manex yachting equipment. Through his purchase of the controlling share of Cullinan, Tollman showed his immense commitment to South Africa and Africa per se, accelerating job creation and social cohesion opportunity for South Africans through tourism, providing a broad base of tourism-related assets and facilities for the average traveller.

In 2004 Tollman went on to purchase Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Centre in the Western Cape’s Cederberg region as part of RCH. Ongoing property upgrading to put emphasis on the reserve’s unique open-air gallery of over 130 carefully preserved rock art sites created by indigenous San people, some as old as 10,000 years. Awards soon followed Bushmans Kloof’s 2010 reopening, including being the first South Africa property to win #1 in T&L World’s Best and TripAdvisor’s Hall of Fame for achieving the Certificate of Excellence for the fifth consecutive year. 2018 the resort is awarded Best Spa in Africa & Indian Ocean by Global Spa & Wellness Awards.

Of great significance, Bushmans Kloof Rock Painting Landscape was given National Heritage Status by the Government of South Africa in 2019 and is currently in the process of securing nomination for UNESCO World Heritage Status.

In 2006, another landmark hotel was purchased – the famous Oyster Box Hotel, in Umhlanga, once the most famous and distinguished hotel in KwaZulu-Natal – a new icon within the RCH portfolio. Notably, the hotel was the location of Stanley and Bea’s first dinner date together in 1952, fulfilling a promise of one day owning such a grand hotel as the Oyster Box. Purchase was followed by two years of extensive restoration, Tollman once again showing his strength of vision – never shirking a challenge or adventure, turning the hotel into an iconic property once again.

From re-opening in 2009 the hotel became a ‘must be seen at’ social spot. In July 2011, the magnificent Oyster Box Hotel proudly laid out the red carpet for Monaco’s royal honeymoon couple as Prince Albert, and Princess Charlene celebrated their recent nuptials at the much-loved iconic property re-emphasising the hotel’s place in history and superior standard of luxury offering the world over.
The hotel continues to top African hospitality awards, including Travel + Leisure ‘World’s Best’ Awards No. 1 in Top 5 Resort Hotels in Africa in 2020.

Further investment during this decade of focus on South Africa included purchase, in 2000 of a small, respected vineyard in Hermanus – Bouchard Finlayson, which has grown in fame and appreciation to become one of South Africa’s leading wineries, internationally renowned and successful for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Despite all his remarkable achievements and the exceptional contribution he has made to his nation of birth, Tollman has always maintained a low profile. The breadth and width of his achievements are generally unknown.

Reflecting on the impact of Tollman, Alan Winde, Premier of the Western Cape of South Africa, had this to say: “Stanley Tollman – an inspirational entrepreneur and global business leader, a man of impeccable integrity: a loving husband, father and trusted friend. I am grateful for Stanley’s advice and encouragement in my own journey, and I know he played a similar role for so many people across every continent of the world. I am mindful of how many people he touched through his passionate leadership in the tourism industry.  Whether directly or indirectly, there are millions around the world whose lives and memories have been enriched because of Stanley and the Tollman family. Tracy and I are so grateful to have known this wonderful man. We celebrate his life and immense legacy.”

Committed to making a positive social, cultural and environmental impact

During TTC’s years of step-change expansion, Tollman was unwilling to focus purely on business growth. Acutely aware of the need to protect the people and places visited by his portfolio of companies, Tollman set up and chaired The Travel Corporation Conservation Foundation (TTC-CF) – a not for profit focused on activation of community and conservation projects and partnerships. This was a unique move as few if any, tourism industry leaders had sustainability and responsible travel on their radars. Renamed The TreadRight Foundation in 2012, today TreadRight supports over 55 projects worldwide, has developed a 5 Year Sustainability Strategy directly aligned to the UNSDGs (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals), directly engaging all TTC brands in measurable efforts to embed sustainability in across the business and is championing a traveller-facing campaign (#MakeTravelMatter) to raise the awareness and engagement of travellers in more responsible travel choices and behaviours.

Maintaining focus and commitment on South Africa, Tolman has ensured that the TreadRight Foundation supports programmes on the ground aimed at making a sustainable difference to the lives of South Africans in need. This includes funding social development projects activated by the Amy Foundation, a non-profit in the Western Cape that offers development and empowerment programs for over 2000 children and youth aged 5-35 daily, living in at-risk communities. Furthermore, Tollman, through the TreadRight Foundation, supports The Make A Difference (MAD) Leadership Foundation, which provides leadership development opportunities through education and mentorship to inspire a better future for South Africa. By focusing on identifying, supporting, and developing future leaders, the foundation provides a comprehensive, personal and long-term scholarship program that allows students to focus on achieving their dreams.

In addition to his proactive efforts around sustainability within the travel and tourism industry and supporting local communities, Tollman had an immense passion for the artists of South Africa, which inspired the annual Tollman Award for the Visual Arts, established in 2003. The Tollman Award for the Visual Arts, a critical initiative in the development of the arts in South Africa, is an acknowledgement of the family’s commitment to the extraordinary creativity of South Africa art. Recipients are awarded a grant in the amount of R100 000, which is given directly to young artists who has received critical recognition but is hampered by finances in realising the potential of their work. The artists may choose to spend the award as they wish; to produce new work, travel, study or produce a publication. Having become a means of enabling young artists to achieve otherwise unachievable global exposure and support, the award acts as a powerful platform to uplift the arts and artists, of South and Southern Africa.

Celebrating The Life And Legacy of Stanley Tollman, Iconic Leader And Advocate for South Africa’s Tourism Industry
Photo Cred: Supplied | On File

Family at the heart of it all, his heart ever in Africa!

Internationally, under Tollman’s leadership as Chairman, TTC has become one of the most successful family-owned and run travel businesses in the world.

As a son of Africa, Tollman was always drawn back to its wisdom. An old African proverb says that when an old man dies, a library closes. For some people, that may be true, but Tollman readily shared with everyone he met and to whom he spoke a seemingly inexhaustible supply of anecdotes, wisdom and comment from a long life well-lived. As the world suffers the loss of an iconic leader, while the library may be gone, one can only presume Tollman’s books are all out on loan.

Sources: University of Pretoria 
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Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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