Controversy and hurricanes affecting tourism, marketing expert says

Gary C Sadler

Controversy and hurricanes are two of the biggest challenges when selling the Caribbean according to Gary Sadler O.D., Senior Vice President of Unique Vacations Limited, the exclusive marketing company for Sandals Resort International.

Mr. Sadler was speaking during an interview with Observer Radio in Antigua, shortly after meeting with staff of Sandals Grande Antigua ahead of the re-opening of that resort on December 17th. He says the most important message to send after the damage wrought by the recent hurricanes, is that people need to keep travelling.

“You have to sell the destination. Since September, right after the hurricanes, we have been to about 25 cities and we are going to be seeing about 7,000 travel agents in North America for the first phase, and then we head to London and do parts of Europe. Our job really is to send a message that says the Caribbean is open for business.”

Mr. Sadler says beyond the sun, sea and sand, one of the most powerful advantages the Caribbean has is its people.

“The key to it is the people. You can go to any destination in the world and if the people aren’t warm and friendly you’ll never find the customer going back. But once you get the people smiling, once you get the people making you feel welcomed it becomes something that is absolutely wonderful, and that for me is the best thing that the Caribbean has to offer.”

The marketing guru said officials in the Caribbean must also be mindful that these islands are competing with the world for visitors; places such as Mexico, which have tremendous resources for marketing. It was therefore important he urged that there be a united approach between Government and hospitality stakeholders to achieve success.

“People don’t like controversy. They don’t like to get in to an environment where they feel there is a degree of hostility or something like that. Right now the hotel (Sandals Grande Antigua) is opening on December 17th, with a fantastic Christmas and start to the New Year, but after that the bookings aren’t where I’d like to see them. Being in sales you always want to see exceptional occupancy, so any controversy and the hurricanes certainly helped in creating a bit of instability.”

Mr. Sadler said that a harmonious relationship between the key stakeholders results in many advantages for countries in the Caribbean, particularly those that can boast of having a Sandals Resort.

“JetBlue for example flies to Antigua, and that started with a conversation with the President of the airline in another country. I brought them to Antigua with the support of some government officials at the time, and we were at a party at Sandals Grande Antigua on Dickenson Bay when a decision was made by them that they should come to Antigua. Those things don’t happen when you have distractions. West Jet out of Toronto, the very same thing.”

Mr. Sadler noted that there has been tremendous expansion by the Sandals brands in several of the other islands, and he was hopeful that he could eventually see the same take place in Antigua, which was the first Sandals destination outside of Jamaica.

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