Celebrating the life Stanley Tollman

Celebrating the life Stanley Tollman. Image Supplied

Stanley Tollman: Celebrating the life of an iconic leader in SA’s tourism industry

With brands such as Trafalgar, Contiki, Uniworld, and Red Carnation, Stanley Tollman’s businesses pre-pandemic carried over 2 million travellers.

Celebrating the life Stanley Tollman

Celebrating the life Stanley Tollman. Image Supplied

Despite the exceptional growth of TTC, throughout his life, Stanley 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 in 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.

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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 the house of the hotel, taking care of guests, the bar and restaurant and financial operations, while Beatrice managed the back of the 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 the 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.

In South Africa and worldwide, the evolving interests of Tollman across segments of the tourism industry and global travel markets came together with the creation of TTC in the 1960s. This started with the purchase of Trafalgar Tours, Tollman’s first venture into the travel industry. Tollman’s watchful eye over operations and innovative approach to immersive travel turn the small, fledgling travel company into one of the most award-winning global travel brands with over 80 awards to date. 

Following that acquisition, an array of prestigious brands were purchased including the iconic Contiki brand. Once again, Tollman’s ability to transform small, brands into industry leaders was demonstrated, he establishing Contiki into a global brand now recognised as a rite of passage for youth travellers looking to discover the world. Collectively they set the foundations for what TTC is today. 

Since its early days, TTC has stood proudly as a highly successful international travel group with substantive business interests. This includes 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 Stanley Tollman
Celebrating the life of Stanley Tollman. Image: Supplied


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

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 be compromised. From the beginning, his partnership with his wife Beatrice, 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 Tollman within the expanding operation.

And while Tollman’s life has not been without its struggles, today, 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.  At one time or another, Tollman has had wonderful homes all over the world.  His heart, however, has always been in Africa. 

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.