Sunday,  November 28, 2021  1:22 am

TTC Chairman & Founder Stanley Tollman passes away at age 91

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  •   09-30-2021  6:02 am
  •   The Travel Corporation

TTC Chairman & Founder Stanley Tollman passes away at age 91
Stanley Tollman, chairman and founder of The Travel Corporation (TTC), has passed away at age 91. (TTC)
The Travel Corporation

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. 

A much-beloved patriarch, Tollman closed the final days of his life in France surrounded by his close-knit family.

Tollman was Chairman and Founder of The Travel Corporation (TTC), his family owned and led business which celebrated its centenary in 2020. 

The Travel Corporation is one of the most innovative and respected privately held travel companies in the world. 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 the over 10,000 employees working within TTC’s portfolio of 40 award-winning brands operating in 70 countries worldwide, and the travel industry at large.

‘We in Ireland are eternally grateful for the lasting impact and legacy of Stanley Tollman," said Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, in a statement. His vision, positivity and values left a positive influence on us all. The investment of Red Carnation Hotels into Ashford Castle has meant Ireland continues to punch above its weight on the world stage. The consequential impact on rural Ireland can not be overstated. Our thoughts are with his wife Bea and entire family at this time."

A man from very humble origins

A man from very humble origins, Stanley Tollman was born in the small fishing village of Paternoster in the Western Cape in 1930. 

His pioneering spirit and love for hospitality were rooted in his first home - the family’s modest hotel in Paternoster, where the lavatories were outdoors and a young Tollman roamed barefoot.

At the age of eight, Tollman’s family moved to Johannesburg where his parents acquired another hotel. 

This early, evolving exposure to the world of hospitality shaped Tollman’s work ethic, curiosity, and a passion for all things culinary, embedding itself into an ambition to become a hotelier himself, and ignited his lifelong passions.

In 1954 Stanley Tollman married Beatrice Lurie, beginning an extraordinary love story, and partnership that has lasted almost 70 years. Their journey in hospitality began right away, when in 1954 they used their wedding money to purchase their first business venture, the Nugget Hotel in Johannesburg.

As a young hotelier, Tollman worked tirelessly. He was driven by his relentless pursuit of perfection and a hunger to have an impact in South Africa and, if possible, the world. Never one to overlook any detail or take for granted any customer, the tenet ‘driven by service’ was embedded in all aspects of his business’ delivery of guest experiences. 

This approach would become a hallmark of his life’s work, which grew beyond hotels to all facets of the travel industry.

With this ethos in place, the young Tollmans soon became some of the leading hoteliers of South Africa. Their Hyde Park Hotel put them on the global stage by being the first to bring world famous artists to South Africa in the mid 1950s. The hotel was to become the go-to-choice of famous visitors to South Africa including Marlene Dietrich and Maurice Chevalier. The Hyde Park would also become the home base for film crews at the time, including Stanley Baker’s historic film “Zulu” starring Michael Cain. Live entertainment at the hotel night club, The Colony, brought top-flight entertainers to Africa for the first time.

This was elevated further when the Tollmans created the first five star and all-suite hotel in South Africa, the Tollman Towers, raising the bar for the South African tourist industry to new highs, with a signature ‘Tollman’ quality of guest experience.

Simultaneously, the evolving interests of Tollman across segments of the tourism industry and global travel markets came together with the creation of The Travel Corporation, which included the purchase of Trafalgar Tours, a pioneering business and brand that defined Tollman’s love of international travel.

As a man of values, Tollman was unable to accept the racist apartheid policies being enforced in South Africa at the time. He was one of the first to boldly invite black guests and performers into his luxury hotels despite the ruling government’s policies. Importantly, he championed a program of training promising young black people in the hospitality business, unlocking employment opportunities until then reserved for whites. 

Providing opportunities, giving back and promoting from within, would continue to be an important and enduring practice in all Tollman companies. Sadly, government policies forced Tollman to shift his focus beyond South African borders, and together with his wife and four children, Tollman left South Africa in 1976.

Rebuilding in England and then the United States, Tollman’s influence and impact continued to expand in the travel industry over the decades. Tollman’s influence can literally be seen on roads, waterways, and historic landscapes across the world, with a portfolio of 40 award-winning brands such as Trafalgar, Contiki, Insight, Cullinan, Luxury Gold, African Travel, Costsaver, Uniworld River Cruises, Red Carnation Hotels, and the Bouchard Finlayson Vineyards in South Africa, amongst others. Tollman’s travel businesses pre-pandemic carried over 2-million travellers annually worldwide.

A leader with a unique ability and courage to identify and activate opportunity, Tollman has built a successful organization in Canada over the past 53 years, establishing the country as the third largest travel market for TTC. 

He had a special affinity for Canada and his first trip abroad as a young man was to visit his relatives in Hamilton, Ontario. 

Tollman recognized the wanderlust nature of Canadians, opening TTC’s first Canadian office in Toronto in 1968, beginning with the award-winning guided tour brand, Trafalgar. 

He travelled across the country, personally hosting the most engaging travel presentations and visiting valued Travel Advisor partners. 

With the success of Trafalgar, Tollman later purchased and brought the world’s leading youth travel company, Contiki to Canada in 1989, followed by premium guided tour brand, Insight Vacations in 1994. 2003 saw the acquisition of the Canadian-based Lion World Travel, unlocking the opportunity of Tollman style travel to Africa to the Canadian market. He was also

instrumental in bringing Uniworld, the most awarded luxury river cruise line to the Canadian traveller market in 2004.

Throughout his life Tollman remained a humble hotelier at heart. His signature red carnation lapel pin – the symbol of his international boutique collection of luxury properties – remained until his final days, as did his love of animals, sharing his passion for wildlife, nature and beautifully curated experiences with his many friends and family. 

He is renowned for his generosity, sense of humour and master of the one-liner.

Stanley Tollman. (TTC)

Tollman was a larger-than-life bon vivant character, a true statesman with a dedication to his family and business that is deemed exemplary by his peers in the industry. Though never one to court the spotlight, he counted global figures, such as politicians, movie stars and prominent business leaders as some of his closest friends. 

Over the years his brands garnered numerous awards from prestigious publications such as Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast Traveller. 

In 2015, he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by Travel Weekly.

A true innovator and entrepreneur throughout his career, Tollman was continuously on the search for bold new ideas and initiatives in both travel and hospitality. 

This can be seen in his sponsorship of art and culture in South Africa through coordination of the first international tours of foreign artists to South Africa. His footprint in bringing an understanding of local Indigenous people in countries visited, by partnering with them to enable guests to have a deeper authentic understanding, is an important pillar that was pioneered by Tollman’s TTC brands. 

In 2003 he established the Tollman Award for the Visual Arts, an initiative in the development if the arts in South Africa. Since its inception, the award had significantly advanced the achievement and body of work of its recipients. 

Past award winners included, Zanele Muholi, Nicholas Hlobo, Portia Zvavahera and Mawande Ka Zenzile.

Tollman was a champion for sustainable tourism long before ‘sustainability’ became a global, industry-wide call to action. 

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 across the business, and is championing a traveller-facing campaign (MAKE TRAVEL MATTER®) to raise the awareness and engagement of travellers in more responsible travel choices.

Under Tollman’s leadership as Chairman, TTC has become one of the most renowned and respected family owned and run travel businesses in the world. Tollman’s objective of TTC globally remains consistent with his first days of hotel. 

Central to the success of TTC is Tollman’s determination to keep his business portfolio privately-owned and financially independent, enabling the company to take a long-term vision and strategy to its brands, with an ethos of attention to detail in all aspects of its business.

Tollman carefully oversaw TTC maintaining an uncompromising commitment to offering the highest standards. Internationally, each brand is strategically positioned and is clearly differentiated in its market sector. 

From an employee growth and development perspective, across TTC’s Brands and businesses is the ethos first and continuously lived out by Tollman: genuine care for the people of TTC, their clients, partners, and staff.

Even in his final decade of life Tollman was providing his family and company with inspiration to create hospitality guest experiences that redefined global standards.

Ashford Castle Hotel in County Mayo, Ireland was re-opened in 2015 following Tollman’s bold transformation of the heritage property into what many consider the best hotel in the world. In 2020, both Xigera Safari Lodge, in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, and the five-Star 100 Princes Street hotel, formerly the home of the Royal Overseas League, which overlooks Edinburgh Castle, were brought to life despite direct challenges to development programmes as a result of the global pandemic.

The Tollman family’s success with TTC has always been driven by the entrepreneurial and industrial spirit of the patriarch. 

Tollman has been unwavering in his insistence that family bonds must never compromised. 

From the beginning, his partnership with his wife Beatrice, known universally as Bea, to whom he has been married for 67 years, has provided Tollman with the love, support, confidence, and complementary expertise needed to courageously venture out into the global tourism world. 

Three of the Tollman’s four children - Toni, Brett, and Vicki - are today central to its operations, as are Gavin, the son of his late brother Arnold and Michael, a nephew. Beyond them, grandchildren are now forming part of the fourth generation of Tollmans within the expanding operation.

At one time or another, Tollman has lived and travelled around the globe, but his heart, however, has always been in Africa. 

Although forced to seek his fortunes away from his homeland, once apartheid was abolished, he returned to the land of his birth, reinvesting heavily in South Africa and South Africans.

Tollman’s life has not been without its struggles, as revealed in his 2012 autobiography “Recollections of a Lucky Man”.

According to Tollman, his greatest legacy had been his family. Today, three generations of Tollmans are involved in the business. 

The family remains strong, united, and tirelessly committed to building on not only the business and brand foundations put in place by Tollman, but the bonds between them all.

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.

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