We Are Family: Recognising International Day of Families

Guest post by Vicki Tollman

Dear Traveler and Treasured Guest,

Wherever you are, I hope you and your family are safe and in good health. This May is certainly different from ones we have known in the past, but one thing that remains the same is that numerous countries around the world will be celebrating Mother’s Day this month. Especially significant this year is the United Nations International Day of Families on Friday, May 15.

For this reason, we decided to dedicate this post to the importance of family, as we navigate this perilous time in our world. Just as our families can be the source of our greatest joy during good times, so too do they provide strength and comfort through challenging times. As Alex Haley, author of Roots, wrote so beautifully, “In every conceivable manner, our family is a link to our past, a bridge to our future.”

These days, I find his words ring partially true. As I follow the news and reflect on my own family, I find myself filled with gratitude for each day they are in good health and good spirits.

For me, the idea of “family” goes well beyond my immediate relations, as the word signifies so much more here at The Travel Corporation. While we are a fourth-generation family owned and run business, TTC is composed of many layers of families within families, one biological and so many others that have come together – and therein lies my story.

As you may know, TTC was founded 100 years ago this year by Solomon Tollman, who was my grandfather. You may have heard his story, of escaping from Lithuania and going on to open a small hotel on South Africa’s west coast, as recounted in January’s blog by my brother, Brett Tollman, who serves as CEO of TTC. Likewise, in February, you may have read a Valentine’s Day story from my father, Stanley Tollman, who spent his early years in that hotel. A Tale of Love and Oysters told of the night he fell in love with my mother and the vision the two of them shared, which has since grown into The Travel Corporation we know today, over which he serves as Chairman. For International Women’s Day in March, my mother, Bea Tollman, wrote The Secret Ingredient, telling of the crucial role that women always have – and always will – play in the success of TTC. This year, I was honored to serve as TTC’s storyteller through monthly videos celebrating TTC’s first century.

While the Tollman family is very much at the heart and soul of TTC, we are also a family of 42 of the most beloved travel brands in the world. Each is a family, with more families within each brand, all weaving these values into the amazing travel experiences they offer. Many Tollman family members work throughout these brands including, of course, my brother Brett, who has a personal interest in everything that happens at TTC. I work with my cousins as well, including Michael, CEO of Cullinan Holdings in South Africa, and Gavin, based in Switzerland, the inspiring force who heads up Trafalgar, as well as Costsaver and Brendan Vacations.

While I am very much part of the entire TTC family, my greatest joy today is working in London for Red Carnation Hotels alongside my mother, who is both our founder and President. I feel privileged to work with many of our wonderful people, including the executive, operations, marketing, sales, and public relations teams. I also work alongside my sister, Toni, a brilliant designer who oversees all our projects. It is her vision, combined with my mother’s, that has created and shaped the look and feel of each and every room of Red Carnation’s beautiful boutique hotels, as well as Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ fleet of ships.

A doorman at The Rubens hotel
Dave retired last year and had a big celebration party. He also received a special lifetime award at the Staff Party 2019. Once he left officially, Dave however really missed the team, and asked after a few months of enjoying retirement. He comes back a shift a month to continue to help out his team, and see his favourite guests.

If you have ever stayed in a Red Carnation hotel or cruised on any Uniworld ship, I hope you felt welcomed as part of that family. We take great pride in making our guests feel truly cared for, important, and looked after, because these are the values we hold dear. We are moved by an endless desire to welcome, helping travelers such as yourself to feel at home. This happens through tiny, noticeable touches that shape every aspect of service to our guests. More than anything, we are driven by the kind of passion one can only find in a family business, leading to obsessive attention to detail. While not the easiest way to run a business, it is who we are.

Passion, hard work, integrity, warmth, and care – these are qualities I have inherited from my parents and grandparents, which I see in my three beautiful daughters as well. They are strands we weave throughout our family tapestry and into every aspect of TTC

Vicki Tollman with her daughters

My mother is the true Mother of Red Carnation. She is our daily inspiration, revered throughout all our properties, caring deeply for all our team members. She loves them equally as she does her own children and, luckily, my mother’s heart is plenty big enough for all. Every year she personally chooses over 2,500 Christmas gifts for the RCH family and another 1,500 for the Uniworld family. It is quite a daunting task, but one she does with love and care. I have the pleasure of accompanying my mother to each hotel where we hand out the thoughtfully chosen gift to every member of that hotel’s team, then celebrate with champagne and our signature high tea for all to enjoy.

Bea Tollman with chefs

We also host the Staff Appreciation Party in March of each year, where we invite and fly in from all over the world over 1,000 members of our RCH family and host them for a week. It ends with a magnificent black tie evening at the Grosvenor House hotel in London, where we recognize and award our shining stars and teams in the collection and thank them for all they do to make Red Carnation hotels one of the most loved and cherished hotel companies in the world.

Sadly, this is the first year we were unable to host this event. The past months have greatly affected all our lives, and it’s been an especially difficult period for those of us in travel and hospitality. Being in the midst of a global pandemic, all our hotels are closed. So far, we’ve looked after many of our team and hope to be able to throughout this crisis. Luckily, each hotel is maintained by a small but dedicated skeleton team, working together at safe distances to ensure that our beautiful properties remain safe and cared for. 

For many years, my mother has begun each day by reading a daily report from every hotel, which includes details that make up the running of that property and includes guest comments, likes, and dislikes. This is my mother’s true passion, caring for and worrying about her teams and guests, and taking the time to respond to every single guest comment. Right now, she misses this each day and awaits the time when we can open our doors again and get back to do doing what we do best, running our boutique hotels and serving our guests with care and love. In the meantime, she does stay in close touch with every manager and chef, calling them regularly to see that they are well, and to check on their families and teams too. 

Like so many other companies, we are now conducting ongoing virtual meetings on Teams and Zoom. I am most grateful to have this technology because it allows us to remain close with everyone staying connected, so still feeling they are part of their hotel’s family. I also ensure that I visit every hotel in London if possible once a week, along with our inspirational Managing Director Jonathan Raggett, respectfully following the government guidelines as we spend time with and show support to those skeleton crews. 

TTC Teams meeting

While it is a big adjustment to see normally full hotels now empty, I have also seen something beautiful and touching shining in each Red Carnation hotel. These skeleton crews have become families of their own, and apply the same dedication, care, and energy. Their desire to serve their hotel’s community has also driven deeper relationships and supporting others recently with those who live in the neighborhood. From the Hotel d’ Angleterre in Geneva, I hear of a maid sewing hundreds of masks, and a former fire-fighter serving on the volunteer brigade. From the Duke of Richmond Hotel in Guernsey, I hear of the staff providing meals to local neighbors in their 90’s who have no family support and volunteer to deliver produce around the island. And here in London, at The Egerton House, I hear of the staff walking the dogs of elderly neighbors who feel unsafe leaving their home. These are but a few examples I receive from our hotels, with more coming in each day.

In addition to these local efforts, we have also begun a system wide initiative to recognize essential service workers in each community. Overseen by Jonathan Raggett and myself, we have begun to offer hotel vouchers to essential service workers for experiences at each property, including hotel stays, high teas, lunches, or dinners. Each hotel’s management will choose the organizations that matter most to them, and to identify those heroes whose work might otherwise be overlooked. Each hotel team looks forward to welcoming them to their family.  

As we continue to serve our surrounding communities, we are also at work developing new protocols and systems to meet needed new standards of hygiene at our hotels, to ensure the wellbeing of our guests and staff.  Of course, maintaining excellent hygiene has always been our practice, but we will now take that to the next level. For a business that has always prided itself on being “high-touch,” this is no small challenge. How will we deliver those tiny, noticeable touches in ways that let us properly show how much we care? I have no doubt that each General Manager and his or her team will continue to do it creatively, sustainably, and with style – it is what we do for family.

As I close, I would like to share a thought from my father, who will be turning 90 this year and has lived a life so rich in wisdom and experience. Just as our hotel families have come to see my mother as their own, so they see my father as well, turning to him for sage advice during this trying time. When they do, he says the same words to them that he said to me and my siblings during difficult times when we were growing up, and still says to this day. They are the very same words his father, Solomon Tollman, said to him, which he, in turn, took from his namesake, King Solomon: This, too, shall pass.

Indeed, it shall. And when it does, our families and I will be here to welcome you with the same generous hospitality and caring service.

Until then, I send you and your families our best and warmest wishes, with special greetings and gratitude for mothers. While we may be unable to gather physically together this year, may the love we share bring us together in the spirit of family.

Vicki Tollman

Director of Red Carnation Hotels

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