TORONTO — The travel industry has lost a true visionary and innovator with the recent passing of Stanley Tollman, Chairman of The Travel Corporation (TTC).
A much beloved patriarch, Tollman passed away in France, surrounded by his family, following a battle with cancer. He was 91.
Under Tollman’s leadership, TTC, which celebrated its centenary in 2020, has become one of the most renowned family-owned and run travel businesses in the world. He carefully oversaw and nurtured TTC’s commitment to delivering the highest standards and was known for his genuine care and admiration for the people of TTC, its clients, partners and staff.
His death will not only be felt across TTC’s 10,000+ employees in 70 countries, but also across the global travel community.
“One of the most amazing figures in travel and tourism has left us,” said Founder, Co-Chairman and CEO of Abercrombie & Kent. “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.”
Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, added: “We in Ireland are eternally grateful for the lasting impact and legacy of Stanley Tollman. 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.”
A man from very humble origins, Tollman was born in the small fishing village of Paternoster in the Western Cape of South Africa in 1930. There, his family ran a modest hotel where the lavatories were outdoors and a young Tollman roamed barefoot. At the age of eight, his family moved to Johannesburg where his parents acquired another hotel and it was during this time that Tollman’s work ethic, curiosity and passion for the world of hospitality began to take shape.
In 1954 he 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 and was driven by his relentless pursuit of perfection. With this ethos in place, the young Tollmans soon became some of the leading hoteliers of South Africa. In the mid-1950s, their Hyde Park Hotel put them on the global stage by being the first to bring world-famous artists to South Africa, including Marlene Dietrich and Maurice Chevalier. The hotel would also become the home base for film crews at the time, including Stanley baker’s historic film ‘Zulu’ starring Michael Cain, while live entertainment at the hotel night club, The Colony, brought in a steady stream of top entertainers to Africa for the first time.
Their reputation as world-class hoteliers grew even further with the opening of the first five-star and all-suite hotel in South Africa, the Tollman Towers.
Simultaneously, Tollman’s interests across all segments of the tourism industry came together with the creation of The Travel Corporation, which included the purchase of Trafalgar Tours.
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. He championed a training program for young black people in the hospitality business, creating employment opportunities that until then, were reserved for whites. Sadly, government policies forced Tollman to shift his focus beyond South African borders, and together with his wife and four children, he left South Africa in 1976.
Rebuilding in England and then the United States, Tollman continued to expand and innovate in the travel industry over the decades. TTC has since grown to become a portfolio of 40 award-winning brands including Trafalgar, Contiki, Insight, Cullinan, Luxury Gold, African Travel, Costsaver, Uniworld River Cruises, Red Carnation Hotels, and the Bouchard Finlayson Vineyards in South Africa, among others. His travel businesses, pre-pandemic, carried over two million travellers annually worldwide.
Tollman had a special affinity for Canada, making his first trip abroad as a young man to Hamilton, Ontario to visit relatives. Recognizing the wanderlust nature of Canadians, he opened TTC’s first Canadian office in Toronto in 1968, beginning with the guided tour brand Trafalgar. He travelled across the country, personally hosting travel presentations and visiting travel advisor partners. With the success of Trafalgar, Tollman later purchased and brought Contiki, the leading youth travel company, to Canada in 1989, followed by premium guided tour brand Insight Vacations in 1994. In 2003 he acquired Canadian-based Lion World Travel, and was also instrumental in bringing Uniworld, the most-awarded luxury river cruise line, to the Canadian market in 2004. Today, Canada represents the third largest travel market for The Travel Corporation.
Throughout his career, Tollman was a champion for bold new ideas and initiatives in both travel and hospitality. He is credited with bringing the first international tours of foreign artists into South Africa. In 2003 he established the Tollman Award for the Visual Arts, and since its inception the award has significantly advanced the bodies of work of its recipients, which include Zanele Muholi, Nicholas Hlobo, Portia Zvavahera and Mawande Ka Zenzile.
Tollman was also a champion for sustainable tourism, long before ‘sustainability’ became a global call to action. He set up and chaired The Travel Corporation Conservation Foundation (TTC-CF) in 2008, 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 at the time. Renamed The TreadRight Foundation in 2012, TreadRight currently supports over 55 projects worldwide and has developed a 5-Year Sustainability Strategy directly aligned with the UNSDGs (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals).
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, wildlife and nature. He is renowned for his generosity, sense of humour and was master of the one-liner.
From the beginning, his love for his wife and family never wavered. His partnership with his wife Beatrice, known universally as Bea and to whom he was married for 67 years, provided Tollman with the love, support and complementary expertise needed to venture out into the global tourism world. Three of their four children – Toni, Brett and Vicki – remain today as central figures in operations, as are Gavin, the son of his late brother, and Michael, a nephew. Beyond them, grandchildren are now forming part of the fourth generation of Tollmans within the company.
According to Tollman, his greatest legacy had been his family, which remains committed to building on not only the business, but the bonds that unite them.