Stanley S Tollman: Titan of Travel, Founder of the Travel Corporation & Owner of Ashford Castle

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It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I heard the news that global tourism industry visionary, entrepreneur and philanthropist Stanley S. Tollman, founder and chairman of The Travel Corporation (TTC), has died aged 91 following a battle with cancer.

I had the enormous pleasure of working for the Tollman family for over a decade and observed at close hand the impact Mr Tollman had on the industry.

Celebrated as one of the architects of the global tourism industry and a devoted philanthropist, South African born Tollman became a household name in Ireland when in 2013 The Travel Corporation purchased Ashford Castle, followed by The Lodge at Ashford Castle in 2014.

He created and presided over the highly successful international travel group – the largest family-owned travel company in the world – that encompasses more than 40 award-winning brands including Trafalgar, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Insight Vacations, Contiki Holidays and Red Carnation Hotels; as well as pioneering TTC’s sustainable travel endeavours through its not-for-profit TreadRight Foundation.

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 brands operating in 70 countries worldwide, including several celebrated brands and businesses in Ireland, as well as the travel industry at large.   

Ashford Castle
Stanley S Tollman

And yet despite presiding over such a large company with so many employees, I saw how Mr Tollman and his family always took great care in remembering the names and personal details of everyone they came in contact with. I believe this came from the heart of Mr Tollman, a man who always kept the interests of his team at the forefront of his mind. His focus on interpersonal relationships was a huge inspiration to me personally.  

I was fortunate enough to attend Mr Tollman’s 80th birthday party at the Cape Town Stadium – an event I’ll never forget and one of the highlights of my career with the Travel Corporation.

He delivered a memorable speech that illustrated his many qualities; his frankness and honesty, his profound sense of caring and extraordinary wit. When you were in Mr Tollman’s company you always listened and always laughed.

A family man to the core, family was at the heart of every single thing he did. This ethos is woven into the very fabric of the Travel Corporation as a business, which fittingly is now led by his children and family.

His impact was felt throughout the world. Sir Geoffrey Kent, founder, co-chairman and CEO of the luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent, spoke for many in the industry when he 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 built 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.” 

Mr Tollman lived an extraordinary life. At one time or another, he 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. 

Mr Tollman’s life has not been without its struggles, as revealed in his 2012 autobiography “Recollections of a Lucky Man”. However, the book also reveals the essence of how this veritable colossus worked extremely hard to earn his luck.

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.

I want to express my deepest sympathies to Mrs Tollman, Brett, Toni, Vicky, Gavin, Michael and all the members of the Tollman family that I had the huge privilege and pleasure of meeting over the years.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam. May he rest in peace.

In focus: Stanley Tollman and The Travel Corporation in Ireland 

Stanley Tollman’s TTC brands have been instrumental in building tourism in Ireland. 

This began in 2006 when The Travel Corporation acquired Brendan Vacations, one of Ireland’s largest tour and package operators for North American visitors. 

Tollman transformed the tour operator to become the premier Ireland destination specialist with a unique approach to showcasing Ireland through its people and places, in a way that was designed to ignite the sense of wonder in each visitor.  

Tollman became a household name in Ireland when in 2013 The Travel Corporation purchased Ashford Castle, followed by The Lodge at Ashford Castle in 2014.  

Ashford Castle, which was built in 1228, had a number of owners between 1228 and 1800 when Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness purchased Ashford and extended the grounds. It was first established as a first-class hotel in 1900 by Noel Huggard. Since then, the Castle has hosted celebrated guests from around the world, received international acclaim and acted as the location for The Quiet Man.   

While Ireland recovered from the recession, The Travel Corporation were able to invest €75 million to the Castle’s extensive restoration, providing significant local employment in Cong and far beyond. Tollman together with his wife Beatrice and his daughter Toni worked closely with local suppliers to undertake the delicate restoration process and bring the castle back to its former glory. As part of the refurbishment, new amenities were also added to the estate including the now award-winning spa, wine tasting tunnels and Mrs Tea’s Boutique. 

Ashford Castle

Reopened in 2015 as part of The Red Carnation Hotel Collection by the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Ashford Castle has continued to provide long-term employment to the local community of Cong with many of the team employed at the castle for over 30 years. Artisans and craftsmen from across Ireland have also been involved in the reawakening of the historic landmark.  David Faulkner who runs Faulkner Interiors in Dublin created all draperies for the Castle, an assignment which helped the business survive a challenging recession to become a thriving business today.  

Tollman’s bold transformation of the heritage property transformed Ashford Castle into what many consider the best hotel in the world.  Since its reopening Ashford Castle has received numerous international awards for its hospitality, service, sustainability, and the culinary and wine offering.  

In 2010 The Travel Corporation purchased its now Irish head office at 27 Merrion Square, where its Brendan Vacations team were one of the first to bring and to welcome international visitors back to Ireland in July 2021, as the international travel restrictions lifted.  

Following the success of Ashford Castle, Tollman added the development of Hatch Hall as a new Irish offering within The Red Carnation Hotel Collection in 2019. Hatch Hall, which was originally built by the Jesuits to accommodate the students of University College Dublin and was once home to George Bernard Shaw, is currently undergoing planning permissions for a significant regeneration to become Dublin’s leading five-star hotel. 

The contribution of Tollman to Ireland as a destination and tourism economy is well-known and widely saluted. Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, had this to say on hearing of the death of Tollman: “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. Our thoughts are with his wife Bea and entire family at this time.”  

A devoted philanthropist and acutely aware of the need to protect the people and places visited by his portfolio of companies, Tollman set up 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.  

In Ireland, TreadRight and the Tollman family have supported over 22 local communities, organisations and learning institutions including Western Care Ballinrobe, Cope Galway, The Neale GAA Club and Cong National School. In addition, inspired by the affinity between the team at Ashford Castle and the Mayo Roscommon Hospice, the Tollman family substantially contributed to the build of a new hospice facility in Castlebar.  

At Northern Ireland’s The Giant’s Causeway, TreadRight worked directly with the UK National Trust to enhance the visitor experience through conservation and protection as well as the rebuilding of the new sustainable visitors’ center. In less than two years the National Trust was able to secure planning permission and take huge steps in turning the award-winning design into reality.   

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