The presence of Sandals Resorts International in the Caribbean is strong, with five brands and 24 properties in countries and territories including Antigua, The Bahamas, Barbados, Curaçao, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Turks & Caicos. The company employs approximately 18,000 team members.
The family-owned, private hotel chain was founded by the late Gordon “Butch” Stewart in 1981, the same year his son Adam Stewart, the group’s current Executive Chairman, was born.
The younger Stewart recalls that his father, a former appliance salesman, never allowed an opportunity to pass him by. Realizing he needed foreign currency to buy appliances from abroad, he purchased a hotel to secure his own source of foreign exchange.
In a wide-ranging interview with Yahoo! Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer, Adam Stewart shared some of the factors that contributed to Sandals’ astounding success, and why its future is on solid ground.
Looking forward, the Executive Chairman says, “Put your seat belts on, cuz it’s gonna be one heck of a ride. It’s gonna be wild to watch what Sandals does over the next decade.
Here are 10 Key Takeaways which could help the region’s hoteliers, destinations and tourism stakeholders.
- Give visitors more than they expect
Adam Stewart said Sandals’ success is based on exceeding people’s expectations while showing them the best of “God’s country down here in the Caribbean”. The endless journey in pursuit of excellence, he stated, requires innovation and staying ahead of consumer demands.
- Leadership and innovation are key
“Butch” Stewart was both a dreamer and an executor. With his vision he captivated the minds of a small team of people. Adam Stewart believes Sandals has perfected all-inclusive excellence and now continues to institute innovations, such as providing high-end guests with MINI Cooper cars for exploring local food and cultural offerings.
- Agility and can-do culture
Be ready to respond nimbly to emerging opportunities. Foster a “can-do” attitude centered around the consumer. The agility of Sandals teams and their attention to detail have vaulted the company to what Stewart believes is probably the world’s largest host for weddings. Sandals hosts more than 10,000 ceremonies a year.
- Brand recognition
The Sandals name and brand are synonymous with excellence. “Butch” Stewart got the name from one of his friends while walking on the beach. The brand enjoys an 84 percent brand recognition in North America.
- Fall in love with your destination
Most Caribbean islands are independent, sovereign nations with distinctive attractions. Sandals decision makers travel to potential resort sites to find the region’s best beaches, sunrises and sunsets. They want to share the islands’ unique appeal with the rest of the world.
- Own your property
Land in the Caribbean is finite, so Sandals identifies the most beautiful and most desirable locations and acquires them, with an eye to the future.
- Don’t consider yourself second rate
Sandals has inspired a generation to say that “you can be the world’s best. You can stand on the world stage and be from the Caribbean,” asserted Stewart, who added “we, in the Caribbean, we punch above our weight.”
- Invest in staff and communities
Sandals invests in education through its foundation and in under-resourced communities. Sandals team members are automatically enrolled in the Sandals Corporate University where they can earn degrees free of charge. Such skills training and education has enabled Sandals to retain staff more successfully than other regional companies. In memory of “Butch” Stewart, the company invited the University of the West Indies and Florida International University to set up a school for the region. When its hotels were shuttered during the pandemic, Sandals kept its team members on the payroll.
- Responding to crises
Sandals considers it a corporate responsibility to respond to crises (such as COVID-19) in ways that help to keep communities and their own customers safe and secure. Sandals donated an entire resort to the Jamaican government for over a year, free of charge, as a center for COVID-positive cases. The property evolved into a vaccination center. The company also bought 40 ventilators, donated more than 300 trips to frontline workers, and provided transportation in various islands and hotel rooms to many of the health care workers battling the impact of the virus.
- Linkages and diversification
Understanding tourism linkages is key to sustainable success. It is also important to look beyond the traditional mindset of a hotel as primarily concerned with accommodations, food and beverage. Sandals is in the retail business, the media business, the automotive business, the experience business and, of course, the hospitality business.