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Legendary hotelier Sol Kerzner passes away

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Legendary hotelier Solomon ‘Sol’ Kerzner, who was instrumental in revolutionising the Maldives tourism industry, has passed away, his family announced Saturday.

The South African hotel mogul, 84, died of cancer at his family home in Cape Town.

The son of Russian immigrants, Kerzner was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1935. The youngest of four and the only son, Sol was a working class boy from a rough neighbourhood but he would grow up to become one of the most influential entrepreneurs in South Africa.

Having founded the country’s two largest hotel groups — Southern Sun and Sun International — Kerzner would go on to achieve international prominence with groundbreaking resorts that helped transform the tourism industries not only of his home country but of Mauritius, the Maldives, The Bahamas, Dubai and other important international destinations.

The complexity and sheer determination of the man is only hinted at by the fact that at the age of 12, Kerzner played with the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra while, in the same year, he took up boxing – initially for reasons of self-defence in the tough Bez Valley suburb where he grew up and, later, as a serious sport.

Almost needless to say, by the time he graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand with a degree in accountancy, Kerzner was varsity welterweight champion.

For someone who lived much of his life in the public eye, Kerzner was a surprisingly private person and although many of his former colleagues and partners will attest to this remarkable man’s fighting spirit and grit, few knew that he also had a softer side.

Kerzner’s career in hospitality began in 1962 when he decided to leave the accounting profession and purchased The Astra, a small inn in Durban, South Africa.

Kerzner quickly transformed this rundown establishment into one of the most popular hotels in the area, a success that whetted his insatiable appetite for innovation and demonstrated a trademark ingenuity that would define his 60-year-long career.

Aged just 26, Kerzner became convinced that there was in South Africa an opportunity for a hospitality offering far ahead of anything that was available then in the country.

At a time when no one thought it could be done, Kerzner’s breakthrough project was The Beverly Hills, Umhlanga Rocks, the first five-star hotel in all of South Africa. Built on a deserted stretch of coastline North of Durban, once again Kerzner defied the odds and the hotel became a great success and earned him a reputation as South Africa’s pre-eminent hotelier.

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 luxury hotels encompassing more than 7,000 keys.

Kerzner’s most monumental and controversial achievement was the creation of Sun City. In an area north of Johannesburg where there were no roads and no infrastructure, Kerzner imagined and delivered the most ambitious resort project in all of Africa.

Commencing work in 1975, over the next 10 years, Kerzner built four hotels, a man-made lake, two Gary Player golf courses, and an entertainment centre with an indoor 6,000-seat arena, which played host to a world-class roster of artists including Queen, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, Shirley Bassey, as well as huge world title fights, and many other spectacular events.

Once again, Kerzner defied the naysayers to train a best of breed workforce and to operate Sun City on a totally non-racial basis. Even the most cynical of visiting overseas journalists had to concede defeat in trying to find racism behind the operation of the vast resort.

From his earliest hotels, Kerzner was guided by a single driving imperative: to ‘blow away the customer’. When scouting for locations around Durban, or later in Mauritius or The Bahamas, if Kerzner was not ‘blown away’ by the location, he would move on and find another stretch of beach to build the hotel and resort.

‘Second-best’ or ‘Good enough’ was never an option for Kerzner, or for the thousands of people who worked for him from Bophuthatswana to Dubai and this rare blend of creativity and acute business acumen earned Sol a reputation and celebrity status throughout South Africa.

In 1994, following the first democratic elections in South Africa, Kerzner was asked by the newly-elected President Nelson Mandela to arrange the VIP function for the presidential inauguration, which was attended by most of the world’s leaders and Heads of State.

It was a special occasion and one that cemented Kerzner’s close relationship with the iconic world statesman who said of Kerzner: “He makes a difference everywhere he goes. Sol, thank you for changing our world!”

Theirs was a genuine friendship that would endure until Mandela’s own passing in 2013.

In 1994, Kerzner made his first major acquisition outside Africa — The Paradise Island Resort in The Bahamas. Here, he launched a major re-development and expansion project and transformed this bankrupt property into the extravagant Atlantis Resort, a revolutionary 2,300-room resort that included one of the world’s largest man-made marine habitats and the Caribbean’s biggest casino.

Atlantis, with its coherent theme, story and mythical legend held massive appeal to visitors of all ages. Later expansions at Atlantis of The Cove and The Reef hotels added a further 1,100 rooms.

By this time, Kerzner was working closely with his son, Butch, whom he had persuaded to move from a promising career in corporate finance to join him at the company, which had then been rebranded as Kerzner International.

Kerzner and Butch’s ascent as internationally acclaimed hoteliers continued and in 1996 the father and son duo built their first casino resort property in the United States — The Mohegan Sun — a property that is still today one of the largest gaming and entertainment complexes in North America.

Reflecting on Kerzner’s international accomplishments, Ian Douglas, a friend and employee at Kerzner’s various companies for 20 years commented: “Sol was someone who possessed a rare combination of creative genius, uncanny financial acuity and an astonishing energy, which he poured into every business he touched. Nothing he built was ever boring and he never chased the money. He only chased success. He was always trailblazing, always in pursuit of bigger, better, new, different, more exacting and exciting projects around the globe.”

Kerzner and Butch went on to launch One&Only Resorts, which established award-winning luxury properties in The Bahamas, Mexico, Mauritius, the Maldives, South Africa and Dubai.

True to Kerzner’s nature as an innovator and perfectionist, each One&Only property was not only unique in its design and ambiance, the brand set a new standard in the casual luxury resort space by offering the finest guest experience across every possible touchpoint.

Kerzner arrived in the Maldives in 2001, opening One&Only Kanuhura (now Kanuhura Maldives, and managed by Mauritius-based Sun International), one of the first resorts that helped transform the Indian Ocean island nation from a low-cost holiday destination to a luxury paradise favoured by the world’s rich and famous.

In 2005, Kerzner expanded the Maldives portfolio by building the ultra-luxury One&Only Reethi Rah, Maldives resort. It still remains as one of the top resorts in the world.

In 2006, Butch, who had recently assumed the role of CEO of Kerzner International, was tragically killed in a helicopter accident while scouting for sites in the Dominican Republic. Kerzner, who was by then Executive Chairman of Kerzner International, decided to return to the role of CEO, to continue the work of the company and to complete what he and Butch had been working on.

Jeff Rubenstein, a lifelong friend, remembers those difficult days well: “Sol believed that no matter where you come from, if you put in the hours, you would succeed. He never used his circumstances or the tragedies he experienced in his life as an excuse for failure. If tragedy was a burden to Sol, hard work was the antidote and he himself always said, ‘you just gotta box on’.”

Kerzner proceeded to extend the Atlantis brand globally with the development of Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai. This $1.5 billion, 1,500-room destination resort featured the largest aquarium and waterpark in the Middle East, luxury retail outlets, and restaurants featuring internationally renowned celebrity chefs.

Opening in late 2008 with the world’s largest ever fireworks display, the astonishing opening party achieved international media acclaim and attracted celebrities and visitors from all over the planet.

In 2009, Kerzner returned to Africa to develop the 500-room Mazagan Beach Resort in Morocco and also opened the One&Only Cape Town, situated in the famous V&A Waterfront.

Around the time of the launch of the One&Only Cape Town, 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!”

In December 2010, Kerzner’s passion for hospitality was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, with the award of the insignia Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG). Kerzner never used the title and was always surprised and amused when people addressed him as ‘Sir Sol’.

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 over 230 luxury residential apartments in the Royal Atlantis development were also announced, with Kerzner leading the planning and design of these new projects for Kerzner International.

In 2014, Kerzner finally decided to exit Kerzner International and retired as chairman of the company.

Kerzner’s impact on the international resort industry cannot be understated. From his modest start in life, Kerzner’s career spanned six decades, establishing well over 80 hotel and casino properties, in more than a dozen countries. Kerzner’s determination, perseverance, and monumental ingenuity have truly transformed the integrated destination resort space, and his impact on the industry can be seen and felt all over the world.

In spite of his international celebrity status and the demands of maintaining a massive business reputation, Kerzner always remained an intensely family-oriented person.

Andrea, his daughter reflects: “Dad taught us family values — no matter how busy he was, he always made time for us, his family. He would take a call from any one of us in the middle of an important meeting or fly half-way across the world to get to a grandchild’s birthday party. For Dad, his family were everything, his joy.”

Kerzner is survived by his children Andrea, Beverley, Brandon and Chantal and 10 grandchildren. His eldest son, Howard ‘Butch’ Kerzner died in 2006.

Sol Kerzner will be buried at a small, private funeral with only immediate family in attendance.

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Bandos Maldives Easter Eggstravaganza: A Celebration of Fun and Adventure

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Bandos Maldives is thrilled to announce the Easter Eggstravaganza, set to take place on March 30th, 2024. This  vibrant celebration promises an unforgettable Easter experience for guests of all ages. The event will feature an  array of exciting activities designed to bring joy and excitement to the holiday festivities. 

Guests are invited to step right up to the Kokko Club Playground and immerse themselves in a world of fun at our  Mini Carnival. Additionally, participants can test their luck and skill at the Blackout Bingo Bonanza, where dabbing  their way to victory awaits. 

For those with a creative spirit, our Easter Art painting session offers the perfect opportunity to unleash their artistic talents and paint their way into spring. Meanwhile, adventure seekers can embark on a thrilling Bunny Trail  Adventure, joining the epic Bunny Hunt Challenge to locate all the hidden bunnies lurking around the Kokko Club. 

At Bandos Maldives, we are committed to providing our guests with extraordinary experiences, and the Bandos  Easter Eggstravaganza is no exception. This Easter, make memories that last a lifetime at Bandos Maldives. Don’t  miss out on the excitement! 

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Baros Maldives: The Perfect Setting for a Joyful Easter in the Maldives

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Baros is a treasure nestled in the Indian Ocean, just waiting to be discovered. This Easter, uncover the myriad of delights on offer for guests celebrating the holiday on our pristine island shores. 

From sunrise dolphin cruises to underwater marvels, serene spa journeys and delicious culinary sensations, every moment on Baros is a magical surprise. From 29th March to 4th April 2024, the Baros team has curated a special program of Easter celebration. Choose from a wide range of specially crafted experiences and curate your very own Easter escape of a lifetime. 

Baros delights the senses. There is something for everyone to enjoy, from snorkelling, diving and exciting excursions to unparalleled destination dining experiences and sensational spa moments. 

Guests are invited to harvest fresh and exotic ingredients from Baros’s Chef’s Garden for a unique meal preparation under the expert guidance of our award-winning chefs. Alternatively, they can immerse themselves in the allure of a specially curated menu, set by the seashore under a tapestry of stars. Every dish is a culinary masterpiece, creating unforgettable moments. 

For adventure on the high seas, guests can spend the day exploring five traditional fishing methods across multiple stunning locations on a fishing extravaganza. Or set sail on Baros’s luxury yacht, Serenity for a sunrise frolic with playful dolphins. 

At Baros, guests are welcomed to immerse themselves in the vibrant tapestry of Maldivian culture as local traditions come alive. Delve into the rich history and customs of our island sanctuary as you tantalise your senses with local delicacies, participate in interactive experiences and listen to captivating narratives from a local historian. 

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The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands Announces 2024 Masters of Crafts Program With Stellar Line-Up of Guest Experiences

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The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands is set to  welcome a shining season of global talent in its signature Masters of Crafts program for the second year  running. Working with some of the world’s most talented masters of food and drink, wellness, adventure  and environmental innovation, the resort’s curation of considered guest experiences has transformative  travel at its heart. From epicurean journeys with Michelin Star chefs and award-winning bartenders, retreats  guided by leading names in wellness, to adventure and learning with surf icons and environmental thought  leaders, 2024 guarantees extraordinary memories of a lifetime.  

The series, which last year included two Michelin Star British chef Tom Sellers with decorated bartenders  from Singapore’s Vijay Mudaliar of Native, to Malaysia’s Jungle Bird and celebrity crystal healer Emma  Knowles, will run throughout 2024 bringing a star-studded choice of dates to the luxury travel agenda. 

The resort’s signature Behind the Bar series is set to impress in 2024. Opening on the 8th March and running  through to the 6th December, this exclusive program promises an exquisite fusion of international mixology  talent, sustainability-focused concepts, and a celebration of local ingredients. Guests will have access to  some of the world’s most decorated drinksmiths with a line-up including; Stockholm’s Hampus Thunholm  from Röda Huset, 8th-13th March, Paul Aguilar & Maros Dzurus from HIMKOK, 5th-6th April, Republic from Singapore, 24th – 25th July, Bangkok’s Matteo Cadeddu from Opium, 9th-10th August, New York’s  Harrison Ginsberg from Overstory, 18th-19th September, Berlin’s Damien Guichard from Wax On, 22nd, 23rd November and Paris’ Hyacinthe Lescoet from The Cambridge Public House, 5th-6th December.

This Easter, from 27th March – 2nd April, New York based meditation practitioner and contemplative  guide Kirat Randhawa, will inspire guests to approach life through a different lens. Randhawa will share  practical tools for self-care on a journey of discovery where transformative sessions and empowering  wellness practices will include; cultivating stillness, igniting and welcoming reflection, inviting expansion,  practicing reinforcement and deepening integration.  

From 23rd-27th May an immersive wellness retreat brings together global gurus of practice with The  Essence of Balance – Elemental Harmony. A week-long program will follow a journey driven by the  spiritual power of the number five and the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and spirit. Guiding a cosmic  dance are five practitioners each custodians of an elemental force.  

California-based international yoga teacher Josh Kramer brings the grounding element of earth with his  celebrated practice blending Iyengar and vinyasa flow. Movement instructor and founder of the Jacy Method, Jacy Cunningham introduces his powerful method of physical movement representing the  adaptability of water, while sound healer and Reiki master Nicole Rutsch will harness the intellect of air  and the power of nature’s vibrations. New York’s Jackie Stewart will channel transcendence of spirit with guided meditation, while guests will be nourished by Nicole Berrie, founder of cult wellness guide,  Bonberi, with a plant-based menu of her most celebrated dishes representing the transformative element of  fire.  

In a Summer of Renewal, The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands is committed to ensuring that all guests  ‘Leave Better’. From 19th-23rd July, celebrity healer and founder of the sound healing school The Copper  Vessel, Susy Markoe Schieffelin, will take residency with a soothing practice guided by the moon. Under  Maldivian skies guests will bathe in Susy’s signature sound baths as enjoyed by millions worldwide, with her clients including Google, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and solo artist LeAnn Rimes. From 15th-20th August the Summer transformation continues with movement guidance from celebrated practitioner and  founder of Project Woman, Abi Adams. During two programs guests will embark on an emotional journey and exploration of hormonal balance with tools of meridian dance, rhythm meditation, music, yoga and  creative writing.  

A first for the resort, 2024 sees the introduction of two retreats partnering with championship surf heroes Nic von Rupp and Victor Bernardo. During the Maldives’ optimum surf season of June and July, the exhilarating escapes led by von Rupp and Bernardo will allow guests to ride and master the four most  popular waves in the North Malé Atoll comprising Chicken, Cokes Surf Break, Honkeys and Jailbreak.  

With his trademark touch of Portuguese flair and German strength, Nic Von Rupp is one of the top ‘big  wave’ surfers in the world. Two-time finalist of ‘World Surf League Big Wave Performance of the Year’,  von Rupp spends his time in pursuit of the world’s largest swells and will take the helm at The Ritz-Carlton  Maldives, Fari Islands from 4th-13th June. Brazilian big wave surfer Victor Bernardo was born on a board,  surfing from the age of four and with global accolades under his belt, he is one to watch on the free surfer  circuit. Bernardo will lead a guest retreat from 1st-7th July

Growing its stable of exceptional gastronomic experiences, 2024 will see pop-up residencies with an  impressive circle of culinary friends. From 27th July-3rdAugust, two Michelin Star and one Michelin Green  Star, Chef Bruno Verjus brings a taste of his Paris restaurant Table by Bruno Verjus to the Fari Islands.  For two nights only, an exquisite menu from the home of the famed ‘tarte au chocolat avec caviar’ will be  created and served under the stars at the resort’s Beach Shack. Guests will also have the opportunity to join  Verjus in an exclusive masterclass, and for the winning bidders of the Marriott Bonvoy Moments’ package, the chance to embark on a big game fishing excursion.  

From 10th-12th August Chef Pam Soontornyanakij, newly crowned Asia’s Best Female Chef 2024, will  bring her celebrated mastery from Bangkok’s Potong. The first and youngest female chef to receive both a  Michelin Star and ‘Opening of the Year’ award from the Michelin guide in the same year will present a  bespoke menu of her progressive Thai-Chinese cuisine in an exclusive two-night residency at Summer  Pavilion.

Chef Rolf Fliegaulkf, founder and executive chef of Switzerland’s Ecco will take over the resort’s Beach  Shack for two nights from 12th-14th November. The two Michelin Star and 18 Gault Millau points’  Fliegaulkf will unveil a creative menu bursting with exquisite flavour pairings demonstrating his signature  approach of ‘purist aroma cuisine’. 

The resort’s Visiting Heroes for 2024 bring inspired interactions with conservationists and environmental  thought leaders. From 8th-18th April legendary ocean explorer, film maker and conservationist Jean-Michel  Cousteau will be returning to the resort in continuation of the Ambassadors of the Environment program  and to provide a truly unique residency. Cousteau will host several presentations focused on marine biology,  lead a number of dives with guests including coral regeneration, and chair a thought-provoking panel  discussion alongside marine biologists and representatives from the Ministry of Climate Change,  Environment, and Energy. An exclusive Marriott Bonvoy Moments’ experience will be available to two  lucky guests via bid application, closing on the 23rd March. 

Joining the Visiting Heroes series, climate activist and Forbes 30 under 30 for social impact, Saad  Amer will play a pivotal role in the development of the resort’s sustainability agenda this year. A UN  consultant and named ‘most influential voice in ESG’ by WWD, Amer will be launching new sustainability  initiatives while undertaking educational programming with local islands and schools as part of the resort’s Community Footprints program. Dates for guest presentations and exclusive panel sessions will be announced soon. 

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