Sol Kerzner elevated South Africa’s hotel industry, founding Southern Sun Hotel Group, Sun International, the Atlantis hotels and brand One&Only, over a hotel career spanning the best part of six decades.
CAPE TOWN—Sol Kerzner, the South African tycoon who enjoyed an almost 60-year career in the hotel industry, died on Saturday at the age of 84 in Cape Town, where he lived.
Born in Johannesburg in 1935, Kerzner started his career in the industry in 1962 when he bought a small hotel, The Astra, in the South African city of Durban.
A series of hotels spanning several segments followed with Southern Sun Hotel Group, Tsogo Sun Hotels (which today has more than 100 hotels), Sun International and Kerzner International, all of which he either founded or developed.
Kerzner came to the world’s attention when he opened Sun City, near Johannesburg, a sprawling resort containing four hotels, several golf courses and casinos and a 6,000-seat entertainment center that hosted international acts.
That property was the focus of an international boycott, when anti-apartheid demonstrators pressured artists and bands from around the world to not perform there, but Kerzner always said his workforce spanned the populace of South Africa.
He was asked by President Nelson Mandela to organize the inauguration party for visiting heads of state when a new South Africa emerged with Mandela’s release from prison and his later election.
Kerzner then opened the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, later to be followed by Atlantis, The Palms, in Dubai, and founded chain One&Only Resorts, which currently has 14 properties, including in Greece, Mauritius, Mexico, Rwanda and South Africa.
Trevor Ward, principal of African business consultancy W Hospitality Group, said Kerzner was one of the greatest entrepreneurs in the hotel industry, almost single-handedly kick-starting the industry in South Africa.
“It was inspired (of Kerzner) to partner with a global brand, Holiday Inn, to ramp up awareness of the new hotels developed within Southern Sun, whilst at the same time developing Southern Sun as a home-grown brand, one of very few on the African continent, with growth also into the Middle East and the Indian Ocean,” Ward said.
He added many initially disregarded Sun City as a developer’s folly.
“And then there’s Sun City, which I am sure would have been dismissed by many of us—including consultants like me—as a ‘castle in the air’ but which he made a reality, one of the most famous and the most successful resorts in the world,” he said.
“One&Only is up there with the other luxury brands, so his legacy runs in the entire range of hospitality. As a person, he will be sorely missed, but what a legacy,” Ward added.
South Africa’s Ministry of Tourism stated in a news release provided to HNN that “the passing away of Sol Kerzner could not have come at the worst time for our country and particularly the tourism sector to which he contributed immensely.”
“We will remember him as (a) business pioneer who through his enterprises elevated brand South Africa and made South Africa a destination of choice for tourists,” the release said.