“Better times are coming!” Promising words from Managing Director of Sandals Saint Lucia Winston Anderson, the helmsman at the island’s largest hotel chain, biggest tourism employer and heaviest corporate taxpayer.
Anderson’s loud words of encouragement come following COVID-19’s devastation of the hospitality and tourism sector here – like everywhere else.
However, although there is now some clear light at the end of the tunnel, the Sandals MD also makes it crystal clear it will take a lot of hard work to get there — and he’s (yet again) put his hand and index finger up to offer to put in the extra miles of effort “to ensure Saint Lucia recovers stronger than ever.”
Anderson, a CARICOM citizen of Saint Lucia for over 25 years, will quickly tell you “This is home…” even though he first saw the light of day in Jamaica.
Anderson is still more than heartbroken by the damage COVID has wreaked on the Caribbean’s tourism industry as a whole and thus on the community, his own team members and all those who depend on tourism to survive.
“To watch borders close, airlines become grounded and curfews being imposed was like a bad dream,’ he says.
“The hardest thing I have ever had to do,” he told The VOICE, “was tell my Team Members we would have no choice but to close the resorts.
“It was the same thing for all my counterparts in Saint Lucia, and I am sure it was just as hard for all of them.
‘I committed there-and-then, to do all within my power to get our people back out to work as soon as possible.”
Sandals was one of the first hotel companies in the world to start bringing its team members back out to work after COVID-19 broke-out. But just then, the company suffered another immeasurable loss.
According to Anderson: “We lost our Chairman, the late great Honourable Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart. I cannot describe what that loss was like. It shocked us — and indeed those the world over who knew him to the very core.”
Despite this loss, though, he says the company’s commitment to its staff and the Caribbean communities it operates in “never wavered…”
And “Under the strong and astute leadership of new Executive Chairman Adam Stewart, Sandals Resorts has already brought over 80% of its 14,000-strong regional workforce back on the job – and we’re also hoping to have the remainder out very shortly.”
According to Anderson: “Our new Executive Chairman has always been a champion of the people in the islands where we operate. He was fundamental in establishing the Sandals Corporate University to help our team members enhance their education, and he also launched and is President of the Sandals Foundation, which has changed hundreds of thousands of lives throughout the Caribbean.”
The Sandals Grande MD said it is “in this same spirit of service to the communities” that he intends to dedicate himself ‘Body and Soul’ to do all he can to ensure Saint Lucia’s tourism sector and the national economy get on a strong path to recovery.
“I believe it is when times are toughest that the tough need to get going,” he said, adding:
“I have shared with my colleagues that NOW is when we need to stand strongest and tallest. I believe we have the most amazing and committed group of individuals who make-up the hospitality and tourism sector in Saint Lucia and there is no doubt in my mind that not only can we turn things around, but we can also make it better than it ever was before.”
Despite how difficult 2020 was, Anderson’s eternally optimistic mindset sees “a future brimming with hope and possibility.”
As he sees it, “I believe the future is exciting and offers tremendous new opportunities for all of us. I saw recently that the CEO of Expedia is predicting a travel boom. The fact is that travellers who have been prisoners in their homes for the past year will want to travel and explore.”
The Sandals MD feels this creates an excellent opportunity for all tourism stakeholders; from large and small hotels to taxi drivers, vendors, tour operators, farmers and entertainers — and all others — to forge closer working relationships, thereby creating incredible new experiences for visitors to our shores.
“We are all in this together. We have suffered together and so we must rise together. This is why I think it is very important that we are able to deepen the linkages between all stakeholders — and in that way, ensure that no one is left out and the tourism dollars filter-down to and is enjoyed by everyone.”
In fact, Sandals has already demonstrated its commitment to building stronger and more valuable linkages between the hotel sector and business in its home base of Jamaica, where new Executive Chairman Adam Stewart also chaired the island’s linkages council, and where tourism and business now enjoy a vibrant and profitable relationship.
Indeed, 96% of all fruits and vegetables served at Sandals Jamaica resorts come from local farmers; and it’s the type of synergy the company — and Anderson himself — want to see develop in all islands where it is present.
But despite all the above, there is also another great reason Anderson feels Saint Lucia has “a lot to look forward to…”
Hear him: “I have always held the view that Saint Lucia is the most blessed of our Caribbean islands, with its sheer natural beauty, the warmth of its people and the abundance of talent we have here.
“I have also always believed that no-one can stop us from being the most-sought-after of all destinations – but (I also always repeat) ONLY if we work together.”
Anderson has already spearheaded several initiatives aimed at bringing relief to vulnerable communities island-wide, including — most recently — distribution of hundreds of electronic tablets to ensure Saint Lucian school children can access their online classes.
For Anderson, “It’s all a labour of love!”
And one, he assures, he “will gladly continue to perform” at the helm of the leading resort and the biggest hotel chain on the island, representing the leading Caribbean and international brand in the business for the past quarter-century, Sandals Resorts International (SRI) — which the eternally optimistic Winston Anderson is also always proud to remind reporters, is “The only hotel chain in the world where, to have the very best time in your life, All You Need Is Love!”