As the region’s hospitality sector tries to find its collective footing amidst the displacement brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a few organisations that have really answered the call and positioned themselves at the forefront of the Caribbean’s recovery, and it is vitally important that we take time out to recognise these champions at this most crucial juncture in our history.
In a time when we have seen giants bow beneath the blows inflicted by the pandemic, such as airline and cruise companies, Sandals Resorts International has kept its foot firmly planted, and instead of going backward, it is forging ahead under the dynamic leadership of its new Executive Chairman Adam Stewart and his board.
I was impressed first off to see that at the height of the pandemic, and with no crystal ball to show what the future held, the company resisted the urge to go on any wanton redundancy drive, but instead did what it could to embrace its 14,000 strong work force, many of whom are back on the job today. But Sandals has to be recognised for more than just holding the line.
When despair threatened the accommodation sector, the company offered hope with Adam Stewart championing an exciting expansion drive which will see new hotels opening in Curacao, Jamaica and Saint Vincent.
With retrenchment being the order of the day in many quarters the company is expanding its workforce, and has talked of adding 5,000 new jobs in five years. In fact, all you need to do is look at what’s happening in Saint Vincent and you will understand that it’s not just lip service, but that the company is serious about its role as a regional leader, one committed to the upliftment of all Caribbean people.
Just last week the company dispatched another cohort of young Vincentians destined for jobs in its resorts throughout the region. It was a promise that the Executive Chairman had given to the government and people of the SVG after the volcanic eruption, and it’s one that they have quietly kept, with little fanfare. There was no pressure on the Sandals boss to do anything of the sort, after all, the Beaches project is still many months away from getting started, but that is not the way the Stewart family operates.
That’s impressive. In fact, not just the SVG government, but the people of Saint Vincent have been effusive in their praise for the company on social media platforms.
But the icing on the cake was the announcement only recently, that Sandals would be partnering with the University of the West Indies and the Florida International School to establish the Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart International School of Hospitality and Tourism in recognition of the efforts of its late founder.
That speaks volumes for a company that is a true flagbearer of regional integration and upliftment.
Suffice it to say that it is not Sandals alone, but every territory and every hospitality company in the region that will benefit from graduates of that school, and it’s nothing short of a major injection of sustainability for a region where many of the islands remain heavily dependent on tourism, and a massive statement of the power of private/public sector partnership in helping our Caribbean people fulfil their potential and recognise their dreams.
Vice Chancellor of UWI Professor Hilary Beckles said it best when he commented that there is no more excellent or exquisite brand that the University could have partnered with. He noted that the UWI-Sandals-FIU partnership was a powerful and progressive one that will serve the region very well in the years ahead.
I draw reference to the above because it shows that when we unite as one people, anything is possible, and Sandals is a vehicle that demonstrates the true power of CARICOM at work. This therefore is a story of hope, and while he might have taken the baton from his legendary dad, Adam Stewart is showing that he is well ahead in the race, and that his vision is one that includes not only maintaining his company’s position as the World’s Best, but taking the entire region along for the ride. Just listen to what he said during the announcement to launch the hospitality school.
“Sandals has proven that what is born of this region can successfully compete against any brand on an international stage. This investment (school) will go a far way towards mapping the pathway for the survival of the region. This school is an investment in our young people, in the future of the Caribbean….”
Thank you, Adam Stewart and Sandals, for your courage and commitment to the region. Your actions speak louder than words, and we are all excited to be on this journey with you. It’s not been plain sailing, but you have kept the course. Bravo!