Industry Icons: Sol Kerzner and Sun City

sol kerzner sun cityLocated within Sun City, a luxury resort complex in the North West Province of South Africa, the Palace of the Lost City was conjured out of an African myth by hotel and gambling magnate Solomon (Sol) Kerzner. African themes are present in every detail of this impossibly over-the-top product of Kerzner’s imagination.

Born in Johannesburg in 1935, Kerzner worked in his family’s small hotel before graduating as an accountant and joining one of South Africa’s leading accountancy firms.

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He convinced his family to buy another hotel, which he leased and managed at night and on weekends, keeping his day job as an accountant. He added entertainment to the hotel, believing a hotel should offer more than just beds. His success inspired him to build South Africa’s first five-star hotel, even though he had never even seen one.

In 1963, he raised funds to buy beachfront property near Durban, and visited the United States to check out hotels in Miami Beach and New York. He named his new hotel Beverly Hills, with the aim of attracting South Africa’s glamorous people. More hotels followed.

The crown in the empire was the Sun City resort, which opened in 1979. Its remarkable 6,000-seat arena was opened in 1981 by crooner Frank Sinatra, who was paid US$2 million for nine nights.

In 1983, Kerzner created Sun International South Africa, one of the most successful hotel businesses in South Africa. He then decided to upgrade Sun City.

sol kerzner sun city

His dream for the US$300 million Palace of the Lost City was based on the legend that the Palace was a royal residence for an ancient South African civilisation that was wiped out in an earthquake. Kerzner ‘restored’ the palace to its former glory.

It was an enormous task to build this fantasy hotel in just 28 months. At the peak of construction, about 5,000 people worked on the project and 600,000 truckloads of earth were transported to the site.

A Fantasy of Opulence

The result of all this hard work is an extraordinary hotel, opened in 1992, that is reminiscent of a fairy tale palace residence, with fine mosaics, life-size elephant  statues, sparkling streams, waterfalls, swimming pools and alfresco dining areas. The hotel experience begins with a wonderful welcome in a six-storey-high reception area with a frescoed dome. In front, there is a lavish fountain featuring bronze bucks escaping the claws of a cheetah.

There are restaurants and cuisines to suit every taste and bars designed for guests to linger over cocktails and pre-dinner drinks. The decor in the Tusk Bar and Lounge features six hand-carved teak tusks, weighing about 1.8 tonnes (2 tons), while painted leopards can be found peeking through greenery in the Villa Del Palazzo waterside restaurant.
There are deluxe suites with names such as King, African, Royal and Desert, all decorated in rich African colours. The best room in the house is the suite on the top floor of the Palace, where the likes of Michael Jackson once stayed.

The hotel is surrounded by golf courses, casinos and entertainment complexes and is next to South Africa’s third-largest game park, the Pilanesberg. There is a botanical jungle, with more than 1,600,000 plants and trees. The three-layered Sun City rainforest has a 40-m (130-ft) high canopy, secondary trees and ground-level plants. It’s also home to the Valley of Waves, the only subtropical water adventure park in South Africa.

As a result of Sun City’s success, Kerzner became interested in international hotel and gambling resorts.

He became known for his innovative role as developer of the popular Atlantis Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas, the company’s flagship property. The deal was closed by Kerzner’s son, Butch, who joined his father’s company in 1992 and was playing an important role in new development deals. In 2002, Kerzner launched a new hotel group entitled One&Only Resorts. The group continues to expand its portfolio, recently laying foundations for One&Only Portonovi, their first property in Europe.

Tragically, Butch Kerzner died in a helicopter crash in October 2006 while checking out potential development sites in the Dominican Republic. He did not live to see his father’s next major project, Atlantis The Palm in Dubai, which opened in 2008.

Built on Dubai’s revolutionary palm-shaped artificial island, this six-star resort contains a wealth of opulence and entertainment within the site. In addition to spacious guestrooms and spectacular suites, the resort also features the world-renowned Aquaventure theme park, luxury boutiques, award-winning restaurants and the Lost Chambers, a thrilling maze of glass-lined underwater halls and tunnels.

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