The last 15 COVID months have seen Sandals Resorts International (SRI) continue its legacy of adapting and adopting old and new strategies to turn challenges into opportunities – and not only for itself.
Most other regional hotel chains and major national properties with the ability to do more and better have chosen instead to ride the COVID wave and cut their losses until the industry makes its inevitable comeback.
SRI instead opted to look beyond traditional horizons and see it as an opportunity to assist in growing the region’s airlift, to the mutual benefit of all.
Executive Chairman Adam Stewart says, “If there is one thing COVID-19 has shown us, it’s the power of partnerships and relationships.”
He was speaking after SRI announced this week another step to boost the Caribbean’s capacity to rise and meet the COVID challenges to its collective economic well-being, this time harnessing the power of partnerships to partner with American Airlines to increase airlift to the region.
Speaking about the SRI-AA concordat, Stewart said, “Business does not come to those who wait; it’s about getting out and making it happen.”
To that extent, he added, “Sandals is pleased to be in a position where we can advocate on behalf of the entire Caribbean and assist with trying to reestablish and enhance the routes that all our islands depend on to not just to bring visitors, but also to connect with the rest of the world.”
Like keeping as many of its hotels open during the first year of the global pandemic, SRI has again looked beyond Sandals’ own footprint to engage with AA to provide services not only to its guests, but to all who’ll fly.
Of course, the deal is in the mutual interests of the two partnering entities, but rather than make it exclusive, they’ve gone all-out to be as regionally inclusive as possible.
Sandals has over the past four decades developed a capacity to adapt and innovate to survive various challenges.
The late pioneer Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart built an integrated regional structure that’s both self-sustaining and sustainable and important to the economies of every territory it operates in – and to the wider regional economy — as the biggest single multinational industry taxpayer.
Before embarking on his permanent vacation to The Great Beyond, ‘Butch’ Stewart ensured the Sandals’ footprint remained deeply printed in the sands of Caribbean shores — from Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica and Saint Lucia, to the Cayman and Turks & Caicos Islands, where SRI’s branded Sandals and Beaches hotels stand – and now, St. Vincent & The Grenadines and Curacao.
Catering first to couples and then to families on Bob Marley’s theme of ‘One Love’, SRI created and sustained a niche market that it also nurtured by leading by example – winning, three decades in-a-row, the highest global awards for excellence in the All Inclusive and Luxury categories.
SRI continued copping the usual top awards despite COVID-19 in 2020, while also keeping as many staff as possible taken-care-of — at home — during the pandemic’s first 15 months.
That AA chose Sandals to help get its wings flying again at higher Caribbean heights is a statement by itself.
The partnership also shows how much Sandals needs the region — and vice versa.
Take Saint Lucia, the second-largest Sandals host country after Jamaica, with three hotels and an exclusive golf club — and a fourth property on the cards.
Sandals is also by far the biggest employer in the local hotel sector, paying the highest in wages and taxes.
Every Government of Saint Lucia values Sandals, even though the two major political parties will have differing positions that will change from time to time, mainly depending on whether in office or opposition.
In the heat of the pre-election campaign, some misinformed commentators have targeted Sandals for unfair criticism.
Fact is, no investor will consider a sweetheart deal too sweet to accept – it just doesn’t happen.
Fact is too, that Sandals is a tried, tested and proven Caribbean-friendly global entity because it is a corporate entity born, bred and still growing in and of the Caribbean, while constantly striving to keep developing the bigger Caribbean product that built (and is still building) SRI.
Sandals had so much confidence in Saint Lucia before COVID that it planned to build its biggest-hotel-ever hotel on the island, until an archaic convention was unearthed by a neighboring competitor to virtually bury that big plan below a coconut tree.
But the industry is also set to return to better times, giving rise to hopes and dreams that shelved plans can always be revisited and adapted to suit new times.
Against that background, it would be better for the Sandals bashers to spend more time giving thought to how to rebalance Saint Lucia’s economy in ways that will allow other untapped human and natural industries and reserves to play bigger and better roles in national development.
Tourism, Agriculture and Manufacturing aren’t spent and useless, outdated industries, only that they’ve been wrecked by Caribbean policies that stifle indigenous and regional development.
Such outdated policies have kept nations and people stifling on debt and dying from hunger on food import bills for products the region can grow and eat, importing products that can be manufactured locally — and treating tourism as only for visitors from cold countries seeking a few days in the sun, sea and sand, listening to steel pan music with a glass of rum punch under a palm tree on a beach.
Sandals has found the new and better ways and means, over time, to show the region that ‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention’.
As per normal, not everyone will agree with my take.
But it’s surely not a mistake to give Sandals its jacket each time it is called to take a deep Caribbean bow.
This powerful partnership to make regional tourism fly higher is just another of those occasions…