A (Business) Love Affair For The Ages
Founder and President of Red Carnation Hotels, Beatrice Tollman, received the prestigious Best in Industry Corporate Hotelier of the World Award for her creation of an admired hotel portfolio. Not too shabby for a woman who used wedding present money to furnish her first hotel property in Johannesburg in 1954.
There’s no question that 2020 has been a year of mixed fortunes for the hospitality and hotel industries worldwide. For leading international travel brand The Travel Corporation (TTC) and family brand member Red Carnation Hotels (RCH), the tough year has been balanced out but a few bright lights.
Not only are TTC and Red Carnation celebrating 100 years of hospitality, but Beatrice (Bea) Tollman received a prestigious award from the premier US hotel industry magazine HOTELS “for her dedication, endless energy and creation of an admired hotel portfolio”.
Bea is dedicated to her craft and has an unwavering determination to deliver the best of everything. For the founder and president of the RCH Collection, hotelkeeping is a 24/7 love affair.
Where it all started
Red Carnation’s history began when Bea’s father-in-law, Solomon Tollman, opened a small hotel in Paternoster on South Africa’s west coast in August 1920. Smuggled out of the Russian Empire aged 14 to escape military service under the Czar, and with nothing but a few gold Roubles stitched into his clothing, Solomon began his hospitality journey. After escaping by train to England, he bought a ticket to board the steamship Braemer Castle and first laid eyes on the summit of Cape Town’s Table Mountain a month later in 1911.
It was there where he befriended a number of prominent local farmers, entrepreneurs and expats. Nine years later, he accumulated enough friends to open his first property, The Paternoster Hotel. A few hotels and a move to Johannesburg later, Solomon’s son Stanley, TTC chairman and inspiration for the RCH name, was born.
Stanley met Bea in Johannesburg in 1950. Over the years, Bea and Stanley ran numerous hotels, first in South Africa and, since 1984, from their London headquarters. Dedication to service excellence has been the couple’s calling since they leased their first hotel in 1954, The Nugget in Johannesburg, using wedding present money to furnish the property. At age 22, Bea, who initially intended to become a nursery school teacher, was a novice running her own kitchen and learning the ins and outs of luxury hotelkeeping.
Running the family business
Bea was responsible for running the family home, raising four children and working day and night to build the family business. She talks about working on the evening she delivered her fourth child, Vicki, and how she had to ask a friend to drive her to the hospital because Stanley was working elsewhere.
She delivered the baby and was back working in her sanctuary, the kitchen, no more than a few days later wearing her white overalls, hair tied up, standing behind the long counter to taste everything on the menu.
Today, Bea (now in her 80s) and her husband, own and operate a collection of 20 luxury hotels in the UK and Europe, South Africa (including The Oyster Box, where the couple had their first date), the United States and Botswana.
To this day, the two are never apart. “You have your ups and downs in business, but you stick together, face everything and you just work with a determination,” she says.
“And I suppose that’s the most important thing – the determination and creating high standards. You don’t realise how much you can do in your life. You can’t complain; you just get on with it and do it. We’ve worked this way for many years.”
When Bea is not in the kitchen, she is usually touring the properties, making sure staff training is ongoing and is focused on service delivery. Many general managers have been with the group for more than 20 years.
Respect has also been key ingredient to Bea’s success. “You have to respect the people you work with and who work with you,” she says. “I treat everybody with respect, no matter who they are because everybody has to earn a living.”
Among her other passions are her dogs, who keep her company as she still works long hours. “I’m always working. I’m always in my office. I read every report every day and answer every guest comment. It’s in my blood, because it’s so important when you want to make high standards in a business. You’ve got to watch everything and there’s a lot to watch.”