Stanley Tollman, founder and chairman of The Travel Corporation (TTC) passed this week following a battle with cancer. He was 91.
From humble beginnings in South Africa, Tollman grew the company to an international travel group encompassing more than 40 brands, including Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Contiki Holidays, Red Carnation Hotels, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, as well as pioneering the sustainable travel movement through the not-for-profit TreadRight Foundation. Today TTC has more than 10,000 employees spanning 70 countries worldwide.
The Journey of Becoming a Global Tourism Entrepreneur
The son of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants who escaped life-threatening anti-Semitism in Czarist Russia, Stanley Tollman was born in the small South African fishing village of Paternoster in the Western Cape where his parents operated a modest hotel. It was here he developed his work ethic from his family dedicated to hospitality—and thus began his lifelong passion.
In 1954, Tollman married Beatrice Lurie and the young couple used their wedding money to purchase their first property, the Nugget Hotel in Johannesburg. A year later, the Tollman’s invested in their second property, The Hyde Park Hotel, a ground-breaking boutique hotel in South Africa.
It was here that the Tollman name was established as a mark of excellence and catapulted the young hotelier to fame. At Hyde Park, Stanley and Bea worked in close partnership, with Stanley responsible for front of the house while Bea operated behind the scenes, becoming the only female head chef in South Africa at the time.
Their concept for the hotel’s signature dining room, the Colony Restaurant, welcomed international cabaret acts to perform, including renowned artists and celebrities such as Marlene Dietrich and Maurice Chevalier and film crews - including Stanley Baker’s historic film “Zulu” starring Michael Caine. The Tollman Towers introduced South Africa to the first five-star, all-suite hotel.
The first venture into the travel industry came in 1969 with the purchase of Trafalgar Tours. Trafalgar not only expanded Tollman’s holdings beyond hotels but to global travel markets, paving the way for the creation of The Travel Corporation as it is today.
In the years that followed, the company’s hotel and travel portfolio evolved and expanded to include the multi-award-winning Red Carnation Hotels (named after the red carnation Tollman wore in his lapel) and other sector-leading brands including Insight Vacations, Contiki Holidays, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.
Stanley with the rest of his family. Photo: TTC.
After moving to London, Tollman returned to South Africa in 1994 after the apartheid was abolished, where he led in reinvestment, conservation, and celebration of the country’s art and culture.
In 2003 he established the Tollman Award for the Visual Arts, celebrating the development of the arts in South Africa. Since its inception, the award has had significantly advanced the achievement and body of work of its recipients that have included Zanele Muholi, Portia Zvavahera, Mawande Ka Zenzile, and Nicholas Hlobo, whose work has been exhibited in prestigious locations such as the Tate Modern and the Venice Biennale.
A Pioneer of the Sustainability Movement
In 2008, Tollman established and chaired The Travel Corporation Conservation Foundation (TTC-CF), one of the travel industry’s first sustainable organizations focused on community empowerment and conservation partnerships. Through the TTC-CF, which was renamed The TreadRight Foundation in 2012, Tollman challenged the travel industry to measure tourism’s success beyond bottom-line growth.
Today, TreadRight supports over 55 projects worldwide, has developed a five-year sustainability strategy aligned with United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and requires all TTC brands to embed measurable sustainability efforts across the business. In 2020 TreadRight was recognized in a Harvard University Case Study for its measurable sustainable tourism development. Its consumer-facing “#MakeTravelMatter” campaign engages travelers in TreadRight’s efforts, raising awareness of tourism’s global impact and encouraging consumers to make more responsible travel choices. Through TreadRight, TTC has ambitiously pledged to go carbon neutral by 2030.
Remembered by Travel Industry Leaders
Sir Geoffrey Kent, founder, co-chairman, and CEO of luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent said: “One of the most amazing figures in travel and tourism has left us. His name is Stanley Tollman. I have known him and his lovely wife Bea since I met them for the first time in 1972 in the Tollman Towers, a brand-new hotel they had just build in Johannesburg in 1970. Our travel paths have been closely linked over the years. Stan and his lovely family were always on the cutting edge in the travel industry and continually creating new products run with consummate style. They made so many people so very happy.”
“We in Ireland are eternally grateful for the lasting impact and legacy of Stanley Tollman,” said Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland. “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 cannot be overstated.”
Rick Mazza, CEO at TRAVELSAVERS, said that the industry "has lost a giant."
"Mr Tollman was a true pioneer and fierce advocate for the travel industry, as well as a loyal preferred partner and a gentleman. TRAVELSAVERS and the Mazza family are proud of our long-standing relationship with the Tollman family and we extend our deepest condolences to Mrs Tollman, Brett, Gavin, Victoria, Toni, and the whole TTC family during this difficult time. The industry mourns together with you, he has left a tremendous legacy that will not be forgotten."