Sandals & Beaches: Updates From Under The Tropical Sun
Butch & Adam Stewart on the keys to their success, what’s up next and which is the “sexiest Sandals”
with Martha Chapman
Adam and Butch Stewart
Wasn’t that a party!
Launching the new TV commercial – beachfront, of course
Hard at work: Open Jaw’s
Martha Chapman researching on the beach
A familiar face to Canadian
agents: Gary Sadler, Senior V.P. Sales, Unique Vacations
Champagne: even lovelier when served by a butler
Table for two? One of the dining options at Beaches Negril
Bring on the kids: the pool at Beaches Negril
Learning to be a DJ – just one of dozens of kids’ activities at Beaches Negril
There’s an old saying that the apple doesn’t fall far from
the tree and nowhere is that truer than in the Stewart family in Jamaica.
Entrepreneur Gordon “Butch” Stewart, Chairman of Sandals Resorts International, now in his 70s, is still the charismatic and driven man who founded the chain back in 1981 with one resort in Montego Bay. His son Adam, CEO of the Caribbean based resort company, is clearly happy to take the resort chain into the 21 st century.
So it was appropriate that they combined forces last week at the 1 st, and still hugely popular, Sandals Montego Bay to give a state-of-the-union update and to launch their new TV ad campaign.
“We are at the top,” Adam says proudly and unapologetically. “We are the leading tourism brand in the Caribbean, as well as the largest employer in the region, with 14,000 staff. And we have 82% brand recognition in North America. Over the past couple of years we have added over 100 international chefs and we now feature 25 different cuisines – including our newest, which is Indian.”
The resorts, located in Jamaica, the Bahamas, Antigua, Grenada, St. Lucia and Barbados currently host just under a million guests a year.
You can’t meet with these senior executives and not ask about their expansion plans, partly on behalf of the legions of Sandals and Beaches fans who rack up an astonishing 50% repeat factor.
“We have our eyes everywhere,” Adam told me. “We are looking at the Spanish, French and Dutch Caribbean.” (But coyly wouldn’t say more.) “Beaches Antigua is being put to bed and we have delayed Beaches Barbados to invest more in the Sandals property there. And we have land banks in Jamaica, St. Lucia and Antigua.” Cuba, he added, has tremendous opportunity and they would happily go back as he feels it’s going to take its share of the market.
Meanwhile the changes continue apace: a major shift will be what Adam calls the end of Front Desk. As he reasonably points out, “What information do staff not already have about you when you check in? Why should you line up for 45 minutes to check into a 5 star hotel?” as he says he was forced to do recently. The new Sandals app, slated to launch later this year, will enable clients to go directly to their room – a boon especially to guests travelling with children.
It’s clear that one of the reasons for the group’s success is that they never rest on their laurels. Each property undergoes constant refreshment, whether it’s refurbishing rooms, expanding the dining options or adding new rooms - or expanding the ever growing list of inclusions. “People fall asleep when we list all the inclusions,” says Butch.
And, an impressive list it is, whether it’s the butlers trained to highest U.K. standards to the Scratch DJ program we saw at Beaches Negril – where kids as young as 6 can control the tunes. The company is also the largest scuba dive operator in the world.
While the chain boasts that they offer more quality inclusions than any other resorts on the planet, and you could have a very pleasant and busy week without reaching for your wallet, there are some optional extras which include: tipping the butlers and spa beauticians (but tipping is forbidden to all other staff); upgraded wine; private scuba diving and the cutest bedtime service I’ve ever seen. Elmo and a friend will come to read a story and sing a lullaby to your kids at Beaches Negril.
While many hoteliers would be annoyed when staff leave to go to another property, the Stewarts take enormous pride in this. “Every hotel I go to in the U.S. I meet ex-Sandals staff,” added Butch. Each hotel has a campus and the company works with Harvard, Ryerson here in Canada and other universities to graduate staff in hospitality – so far over 6,000 people in all.
Travel agents continue to play a major role in the success of Sandals, with Butch referring to “Our 35 year love affair with travel agents. We are one of the few brands that agents can sell with confidence. That client will come back happy. Travel agents can sell it blind.”
Selling may be even easier this season as the company launches a new TV campaign starring Bob Marley’s grandson Skip Marley in a pounding and contagious version of Don’t Worry ‘bout a Thing.
Here’s interesting proof of the positive corporate outlook: Sandals Montego Bay is undeniably close to the airport (you can easily see the runway from the upper floors) and when jets take off, you know about it. The racket lasts less than 10 seconds, but it can be sudden and startling. Rather than apologizing for it, the staff of Sandals make lemonade out of lemons and all are trained to wave enthusiastically at the planes. How many CEOs have you seen, mid-speech, waving his hand over his head as an airplane roars off into the distance?
Oh, and my question about the sexiest hotel. Here’s the Open Jaw exclusive on Adam’s suggestions for clients:
- The sportiest hotel? Sandals Montego Bay.
- The prettiest? Turks and Caicos has, in his opinion, the prettiest beach in the world, though he’s also partial to Grenada and loves the topography of Jamaica and St. Lucia.
- And the sexiest? “Sandals Antigua. The glamour, the way it’s set up. Yes, that’s the sexiest one.”