Castries, Saint Lucia, Thursday, November 18, 2021: The man at the helm of the world’s leading All-Inclusive Luxury hotel brand has underlined the wisdom of continuing expansion of the Caribbean and the world’s tourism industry at this time — and commended stakeholders for refusing to be cowed into submission by the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Adam Stewart, Executive Chairman of Sandals Resorts International (SRI) has, also, acknowledged the cruise industry’s unique difficulties during the pandemic and commended everyone in that sector for weathering what he described as “one of the most complicated situations in the history of travel”.
Speaking to Jamaica’s Observer newspaper yesterday after attending Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld conference last Friday (November 12), the SRI Executive Chairman and CEO said:
“Tourism doesn’t operate without the entire ecosystem, so when cruise is not there and tours are not taking place and there is not the movement of people back and forth, something is just missing.”
According to Stewart, 2019 was “the best year in Caribbean travel, period”. He added, the “unthinkable”— the outbreak of the novel coronavirus — happened in March 2020. “Travel exposes us to the world. It’s this incredible thing that’s hard to explain, and we lost that,” Stewart said. The SRI CEO said he was grateful to travel advisors “who have stood behind our organization and have allowed so many people to thrive and prosper in my neck of the woods called the Caribbean”.
He recalled telling the cruise industry delegates that at the outset of the pandemic early last year, he and his deceased father, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, had decided that SRI would engage in an aggressive expansion, acquiring properties in Jamaica, St Vincent, and Curaçao.
Last year, Sandals announced plans to bring its Beaches brand to St Vincent — a move that promises expansive economic growth for the multi-island state – as well as the acquisition of a new property in Curaçao.
Stewart said that after his father died, he and his siblings got together to decide the direction in which to take the company. Reflecting on their options, he shared, “We could sell the company, we could pause and do nothing, or we could double down. “We decided to take this company to the moon and double the size over the next 10 years.” He said that while doing Zoom calls at home in Jamaica, he recalled watching the “Sky is falling” reports on cable news. “In my home office, on my right I would look to a garden, and on my left I looked to the Caribbean Sea,” he said. “The sky had never been clearer,” he added, “the sand had never been whiter, and the water had never been bluer. “So, from the get-go, our organization took a policy decision that this too, shall pass — and everything we’re going to do on a day-to-day basis is for the resumption of Caribbean travel.”
Riding the COVID wave
SRI was the first Caribbean hotel group to have declared its intention to remain open and committed to riding the COVID wave after the pandemic was declared in March 2020.
“Butch” Stewart had personally assured SRI’s thousands of staff and governments of the Caribbean region that its Sandals and Beaches brands would use the opportunity of the downturn to upgrade its properties in anticipation of better days.
In the nine months that followed the pandemic’s arrival, SRI placed internal mechanisms to protect visitors and staff at all its Caribbean properties, while continuing to win global awards as the best service provider in the industry’s luxury category.
Stewart died in January 2021 and his son, Adam, has been at the helm steering SRI through the challenges and opportunities presented by the pandemic.
More Jamaica Hotels
In April, Sandals announced it was adding three new hotels to its Jamaica portfolio, creating over 2,000 jobs and 900 rooms, bringing its hotel count in Jamaica to 14, with its room capacity just over 3,400.
The properties — the former Jewel Dunn’s River in Ocho Rios, Jewel Runaway Bay Beach Resort & Waterpark and Jewel Dunn’s River — were acquired last year.
Jewel Runaway Bay will be transformed and operated under the Beaches brand, while Jewel Dunn’s River will be “Sandalised” — upgraded to the award-winning brand’s standards — and operated under its previous name, Sandals Dunn’s River.
The beachfront property adjacent to the returning Sandals Dunn’s River will be developed and operated as Sandals Royal Dunn’s River, which Stewart said “will set the bar” in terms of hospitality in the chain’s 40-year history.
Stewart said the property “holds special meaning to our family because its history is the story of Jamaica’s evolution as a travel powerhouse”. Noting that his father “grew-up on the beach in Ocho Rios,” Stewart said: “This hotel, the first of its kind when it was built in the 1950s, captured the era’s glamour and sparked his [Butch Stewart’s] imagination. “When it became available, we jumped at the chance to bring the hotel back into the Sandals fold.”
Commitment to Saint Lucia
SRI owns four properties in Saint Lucia – Sandals Grande, Sandals La Toc, Sandals Halcyon and Sandals Cap Estate Golf & Country Club – and just ahead of the arrival of the pandemic, SRI had planned a fourth hotel that would have been the biggest in its entire chain. This latest plan has been disrupted by COVID, and other factors, but remains on the table.
Adam Stewart led a strong Sandals delegation to a meeting with new Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre in August – within days of being sworn-in – during which he reaffirmed SRI’s commitment to continue working with the Saint Lucia government in building the island’s tourism product.
SRI remains committed to its earlier promises to pursue major investment opportunities across the region, which is expected to create thousands of jobs. Earlier this year, SRI indicated that it planned to provide 5,000 new tourism jobs across the region in the next five years – a goal Stewart says the Caribbean’s leading hotel and tourism brand remains committed to.