January of 2020 marks the beginning of a new year, a new decade and, for those of us at The Travel Corporation, the start of a new century. It is a natural time to look forward and chart a path into the future, which is what we have been doing. Yet it is also a time to reflect back, with deep gratitude, on the efforts of those on whose shoulders we stand, who have brought us to where we are today. And when I do that, I think of my grandfather, Solomon Tollman.
Born in 1895 in the small town of Riteve, Lithuania Solomon – or Solly, as he came to be known – was one of eighteen children. At the age of 14, he fled the country, escaping six years of military conscription and a lifetime of oppression under the Czar. With nothing more than the few gold rubles my great-grandmother had stitched into his clothing, Solomon was smuggled out of the country on a train, to make his way across Europe to England, where he purchased a steerage class ticket on a steam ship bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
Working his way up the coast he arrived in the sleepy fishing village of Paternoster, where he spotted an old building that had once been a community center. Hard- working and passionate, Solomon saw this run-down fixer-upper as the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to build something great. Purchasing and refurbishing it, he opened it as “The Paternoster Hotel.”
That was August of 1920 – and the start of The Travel Corporation.
It was in that hotel that my family’s passion for service developed. He treated every guest as though they were his only guest, welcoming each with the warmth and hospitality he had not found in his own travels. Working day and night, he built that hotel into a thriving business. In the process, he defined our family legacy: Driven by Service.
While much has changed over the past 100 years, this passionate focus has remained exactly the same, and is precisely the attitude that defines each company within The Travel Corporation today.
A few years later Solomon married my grand-mother, Evelyn, and it was in 1930 that they welcomed the arrival of my father, Stanley Tollman who is, to this day, TTC’s Chairman and guiding visionary. A few years later the family moved from Paternoster to the thriving metropolis of Johannesburg, where they purchased The Palace hotel, which was to become Stanley’s childhood home. When my father and his brother, Arnold, were not in school they worked at the hotel. Just as The Paternoster was recognized for its dedication to service, so was The Palace.
Though my father is a natural hotelier, my grandparents had other plans for him, for they knew what hard work it was. They sent him to university to become a pharmacist, a subject in which he had little interest. Everything changed in 1952, when Solomon and Evelyn set off on six month trip around the world, asking Stanley to keep an eye on The Palace Hotel and its general manager.
Upon their return in 1953, my grandparents were shocked to learn that, in their absence, Stanley had dropped out of university, fired the hotel’s general manager and was now running it himself – with great success.
“I have decided,” he announced, “that I am, and always will be, a hotelier.”
So it was, at the age of 22, that my father found the work he loved, embarking on the career that would change his life and the world of travel. It was that same year he met the other great love of his life, my mother, Beatrice. They married in 1954, sharing a love for each other and the passion for service that defines our family. With the money they received for wedding gifts, they leased a newly built 22 room hotel in Johannesburg, The Nugget.
It was there that my father was to learn what my grandfather truly meant when he said “Driven by Service.” One night, as two guests dined in The Nugget’s otherwise empty restaurant, my father looked out the window at the busy restaurant across the street.
“What have they got that we don’t?” he asked his father.
My grandfather shook his head. “You must never do that,” he said. “You must not worry about what someone else is doing. You have two customers. Take great care of them. Give them the best possible experience. They will come back – with two more. And those four will turn to eight, those eight to sixteen and on and on….”
And that’s exactly what my father did. By the end of the year, The Nugget was the most famous hotel in Johannesburg.
Much has changed over the years, as my parents welcomed me, my brother, and two sisters into the world. We work within TTC today, and my parents, who recently celebrated 65 years of marriage, are as actively involved as ever. What began with a small hotel on the coast of South Africa has grown into a successful, still family owned and run global business, with 42 award-winning brands helping millions of travelers each year to discover the world.
Looking ahead to this year, this decade, and the start of our second century, there is hopefully much more growth and change to come, and we are tremendously excited about it. But one thing will never change, that attitude of truly caring for our travelers and treating you like family.