Hotelier/developer Solomon Kerzner, founder of the Southern Sun hotel group, Sun International and Kerzner International, died Saturday of cancer at the Kerzner family home in Cape Town, South Africa. He was 84.
The son of Russian immigrants, Kerzner was born in Johannesburg. He started off in accounting, but began a career in hospitality in 1962 when he purchased The Astra, a small inn in Durban, South Africa, and subsequetly began opening properties across the country, starting with The Beverly Hills, Umhlanga Rocks, reportedly South Africa’s first luxury hotel. Kerzner went on to build the 450-room Elangeni Hotel on the Durban beachfront and then partnered with South African Breweries to establish Southern Sun Hotels, which by 1983 operated 30 hotels with more than 7,000 rooms.
In 1975 Kerzner launched the 10-year development of four hotels, a manmade lake, two Gary Player golf courses and an entertainment center with an indoor 6,000-seat arena as part of the Sun City complex north of Johannesburg.
In 1994, Kerzner made his first major acquisition outside Africa with the purchase of Paradise Island Resort in the Bahamas. Here, he launched a major redevelopment and expansion project and turned the property into the Atlantis Resort, a 2,300-room complex that included one of the world’s largest manmade marine habitats and the Caribbean’s biggest casino. Later expansions at Atlantis of The Cove and The Reef hotels added 1,100 rooms.
Kerzner and his late son, Butch, went on to launch One&Only Resorts, which established properties in The Bahamas, Mexico, Mauritius, The Maldives, South Africa and Dubai. He then proceeded to extend the Atlantis brand globally with the development of Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai, a $1.5 billion, 1,500-room destination resort that opened in late 2008.
Back to Africa
In 2009, Kerzner returned to Africa to develop the 500-room Mazagan Beach Resort in Morocco and also opened the One&Only Cape Town along the V&A Waterfront. Commenting at the time, Kerzner said, “I went back to the Beverly Hills recently and I was so pleased to see there were still six people there who’d been with me in 1964. It’s still a very good hotel. I think that one has to accept that over time we will experience good times, and times that aren’t so good. But if I look back and wonder what I would have changed and done different, there’s not too much. I think I’ve been fortunate to have a very broad experience of life in many ways.
“So, for me it’s been an interesting journey. I have had tough times and good times and through it all I have been determined to get it done. I can’t imagine doing anything else, it’s been a blast. Every day that I spent in business was a joy!,” he said.
In 2012, the One&Only Group announced projects in China, Australia and Montenegro, and the following year saw the unveiling of plans for the third Atlantis Resort on China’s Hainan Island. Proposals to expand Atlantis, Dubai with 800 additional rooms and more than 230 luxury residential apartments in the Royal Atlantis development were also announced, with Kerznerl leading the planning and design of these new projects for Kerzner International.
In 2014, Kerzner decided to exit Kerzner International and retired as chairman. During his six-decade career, he had established more than 80 hotel and casino properties in more than a dozen countries.
Last year, he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award during the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin, presented by Questex, parent company of Hotel Management magazine. Commenting on the award, Kerzner said: “I have been very fortunate in my career to have received some awards that have generously recognized my achievements, but it is particularly special to be honored by the IHIF with this lifetime achievement award from my peers at what is clearly the leading hotel-investment conference in the world.”
Kerzner is survived by his children, Andrea, Beverley, Brandon and Chantal, and 10 grandchildren. His eldest son, Howard ‘Butch’ Kerzner, died in 2006.