During the 29th Annual World Travel Awards (WTA) which took place in Montego Bay Jamaica on August 31st, one company was singled out, not just for its fancy rooms or stellar service, but for its overall contribution to the hospitality and tourism sector of the Caribbean – Sandals Resorts International.
For over four decades Sandals Resorts has risen to become one of the most recognised names in hospitality the world over and the region’s only SuperBrand. Founded by Jamaican entrepreneur, the late Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart in 1981, the resort company – once again – captured a slew of accolades at the Travel Awards, including Leading All-Inclusive Company for the 29th consecutive year. However it is the award for Outstanding Contribution to the Hospitality and Tourism Industry that tells you who they are.
Sandals not only partnered with fellow stakeholders and governments to help drive the recovery of tourism after the shutdown brought about by COVID – it demonstrated that tourism could thrive, and instead of cowering beneath the very real pressures that existed, Sandals has forged ahead with an ambitious expansion programme under the dynamic and energetic leadership of its new Executive Chairman, Adam Stewart. In fact let me be among the first to commend Mr. Stewart on being the recipient of an honorary doctorate by the UWI; well-deserved indeed.
After receiving the award the Sandals boss himself noted, “We are a growing company, and with the new hotels in the pipeline such as Sandals Dunn’s Rover, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Curacao just being opened, a new Beaches Runaway Bay, plus a new Beaches (development) in Turks and Caicos, opportunities are rising.”
This is in addition to ongoing expansion projects at existing resorts such as in Saint Lucia, as Prime Minister the Hon. Mr. Philip Pierre himself referred to during the budget; all great news, especially for the islands where these new developments are taking place.
Sandals has a track record of driving economic growth and employment in several islands, but there is indeed something deeper about what the company does; and that is the massive effort to give back to the region and its people.
Already employing some 15,000 Caribbean nationals, Adam Stewart, his Board and his Executive team share a goal of taking that number to 20,000 over the next five years. That is direct employment by the way, not to mention the thousands more who benefit from the linkages through transportation, tours, farmers and fisher-folk, entertainers etc.
Not only that, Sandals’ massive marketing reach and brand loyalty means the hotel was able to capitalise on the demand for travel post-COVID, and was soon boasting full hotels; full hotels which meant significant economic inputs for the various economies where Sandals operates during a pandemic-driven economic downturn, and which has played a key role in recovery post-shutdown.
Full hotels means that Sandals was able to satisfy demand for airlift, and that meant the planes could fly again, which benefits everyone. But even before this, Sandal was contributing to recovery efforts by making significant donations to COVID relief efforts, including making its hotels and rooms available for medical staff.
In fact, the company freely shared its Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness which ended up being adopted by many of the hotels in the region including competitors, and which helped them to open successfully during COVID. The Sandals protocols even laid the foundation for protocols that guided tour and transportation companies, educational institutions, and even local governments.
Added to this the company introduced its Sandals Vacation Assurance Programme – a vacation-protection programme that called people back to the Caribbean and mitigated fears of international testing – unifying the industry while championing the magnificent Caribbean comeback.
But maybe the greatest testament of faith in the Caribbean is Sandals’ decision to invest and re-invest – not just in its physical plant, but in Caribbean people. In handing over the award – the very first of its kind, the World Travel Awards noted that, “For more than forty years, Sandals Resorts International – which is the largest private employer in the Caribbean, with 95 per cent of its business run by Caribbean nationals – has put the Caribbean first, making the well-being of its home region, from the environment, economic opportunity, education, and healthcare a priority and part and parcel of its operation.”
The region is indeed fortunate to have a partner that has not only shown the world it can be the best in its niche, but one that is willing to share that success freely and openly with the communities in which it has laid its foundations. Kudos Sandals, and best wishes for your future development.