Sol Kerzner founder of One&Only Resorts and Southern Sun Hotels, has died at the age of 84, surrounded by his family at home in Cape Town.
Kerzner was widely credited for redefining the scope and scale of destination resorts, as well as driving the growth of the hotel sector in South Africa.
The youngest of four children, born in Johannesburg to Russian immigrants, Kerzner’s early career began in accounting before taking the helm of the family-owned and -operated hotel chain. He bought his first hotel, the Astra Hotel in Durban, in 1962 and quickly went on to build South Africa’s first five-star hotel, the Beverly Hills hotel.
In 1969, in partnership with South African Breweries, he established the chain of Southern Sun Hotels. Several more hotel development projects followed, expanding beyond South Africa until 1979, which saw Kerzner’s development of Sun City. The 10-year project encompassed four hotels, a man-made lake, two golf courses and an entertainment centre with a 6,000-seat indoor arena.
Founded in 1975, Kerzner International developed resorts in a number of countries around the globe, including Atlantis, the Palm and both of Dubai’s One & Only resorts. It is currently working on the Royal Atlantis, also in Dubai.
In 2002, Kerzner launched One&Only Resorts, which has properties in the Bahamas, Mexico, Mauritius, The Maldives, South Africa, Dubai and Hayman Island.
David Harper, head of property services, Hotel Partners Africa , told us: “Sol Kerzner was, without doubt, one of the greatest entrepreneurs in the hotel industry. He almost single-handedly kick-starting the hospitality industry in South Africa. It was arguably inspired to partner with a global brand - Holiday Inn - to ramp up awareness of his new Southern Sun hotels, one of the very few African chains.
“And as for Sun City, a true ‘built it and they will come’ inspiration which he took against the advice and wisdom of most of his contemporaries. It turned into one of the most successful resorts in the world.
“As a leader and as a person he will be sorely missed, but there can’t be many people who left a greater legacy in the hotel world.”
Last year saw Kerzner presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award during the International Hotel Investment Forum. Commenting on the award, Kerzner said: “I have been very fortunate in my career to have received some awards that have generously recognised my achievements, but it is particularly special to be honoured by the IHIF with this lifetime achievement award from my peers at what is clearly the leading hotel investment conference in the world.”
Kerzner International described him as: “A Legend. A Pioneer. Our Founder. Sol was a visionary pioneer, inventing the concept of entertainment destination resorts, first with Sun City in South Africa and then with the iconic Atlantis resorts around the world. In addition, he originated bespoke luxury resorts, with the introduction of One&Only, a philosophy of unique, authentic, ultra-luxury experiences with genuine service from the heart.
“He not only built resorts, he built destinations, always finding the best location for his vision and celebrating each country in which we operate.
“Sol was also an incredible leader. He connected with every team member and challenged us to become innovators and entrepreneurs. His boundless energy and passion inspired thousands of colleagues around the globe. Whilst he retired as chairman of Kerzner International in 2014, we are proud to honour his immense legacy.
“We will, in his infamous words, ‘Box On’.”
Insight: With the death last week of Michel Roux and now Sol Kerzner, the sector has lost two people who revolutionised the areas in which they worked and inspired those who followed, leaving things not quite the same as when they set out, never to be the same again.
Resorts are again going through a period of widespread renewal, this time driven by the interest of the global hotel chains, which had, for so long, ignored the leisure market in favour of the corporate traveller. They are playing catchup to Kerzner, starting to work out what makes a destination, what makes people want to spend their precious leisure time there and nowhere else.
Not, of course, that Kerzner was interested in the thoughts of others, commenting once: “I pretty much don't care what the papers say about me”. As we come out of this latest, hopefully short, travel hiatus, people will yearn not for inspirational words, but for what Kerzner built, in a career which was far from smooth, in a country where, even now, business can be challenging. Those currently shuttering resorts in Spain, Italy and elsewhere can take strength from Kerzner’s steadfastness.