I grew-up at Hospital Road in Castries, nearly every Sunday after church enjoying walking dangerously, with other neighbourhood pre-teens, along the coastal waterline from Tapion to Yellow Sands Beach at La Toc, carelessly risking our young lives timing giant waves to quickly jump-and-skip across slippery, moss-covered rocks.
Hotel La Toc was built there in the 1970s and our weekly adventures were no longer worth the risks… And in 1993, the hotel at Yellow Sands beach became the first acquired here by Sandals – a 220-acre property that became the island’s first Sandals Resorts International (SRI) flagship.
Halcyon Beach Club is close to the hearts of fellow Saint Lucians over 60 for many reasons, including its location next to the old popular Palm Beach Club, where most ‘danced-until-daylight’ after every Midnight Mass for Christmas or New Year’s Day.
Next to the Palm Beach Club was a Lawn Tennis Court, practicing base for some of the island’s top players.
Much earlier, as a schoolboy and Sea Scout attending St. Mary’s College, I dutifully assisted my seafaring dad on selected Saturdays by steering the ‘Lundy Gull’ — a tug that hauled a barge from Port Castries to Choc Bay with all the steel, metal and other heavy-duty materials to construct ‘The Fisherman’s Wharf’ restaurant that still stands strong today by another name…
My Sandals Grande story includes my wife Marie and I sitting with Chairman ‘Butch’ Stewart on the afternoon of a day we happened to know was his birthday and pre-arranging with a senior front-desk staffer to deliver a surprise gift (a hand-crafted, three-legged, leather-seated wooden stool) that he silently accepted with watery eyes.
Before all that, I’d visited Sandals Montego Bay in Jamaica on an occasion when its top managers included Saint Lucians Lawrence Dupal and Cheryl Brown, sailed on the company’s pride yacht ‘Lady Sandals’, flown Air Jamaica when Saint Lucia’s Allen Chastanet was Vice President-Marketing & Sales and the Sandals jet with regional colleagues to openings of new SRI properties on other islands.
Three of my four sons, having worked with Sandals, are well-trained in basic aspects of tourism services; and at each of their graduations, I saw what a Sandals career meant to each of the scores each time starting-off the hospitality industry careers they’ve all since built at home and abroad, with Sandals and elsewhere.
Forty years after SRI bought Hotel La Toc, I’ve seen it introduce, nurse and perfect its own ‘Love’ and its unique ‘Stay at One, Play at All’ concept into the luxury global brand it now is.
Where once the Caribbean was best known for rum, carnival and cricket, today there’s also SRI, which has for three decades kept the region’s flag flying aloft on the tallest masts in the all-inclusive luxury couples and family holidays-to-return offered by Sandals and Beaches brands.
SRI would, in three short decades, make Saint Lucia the island with its most properties outside Jamaica — and in January 2017 announced the pending start of construction for Sandals La Source Saint Lucia, a brand-new 350-room property on 19 acres at Reduit Beach that would have been by-far the brand’s biggest luxury hotel — but for a neighbouring competitor’s fear…
Never mind that huge stoppage and the start of the COVID-19, SRI and Sandals’ hotels here rose to and rode through the pandemic challenge by taking early steps to preserve, protect and secure staff, set and meet new standards — and making it quite clear, by words and actions from Day One, that securing staff and keeping them employed as much as possible was its #1 Goal.
Where other large properties simply closed, significantly scaled-down and/or turned their properties into quarantine quarters, Sandals, as the major industry employer on the island, cared for its staff at home and on the job – and used the down time to upgrade its empty properties.
Sandals La Toc was the bed-breakfast-and-dinner home of scores of Cuban doctors, nurses and medical specialists here to help fight COVID-19 in 2020 – and that is another notch on my Sandals Saint Lucia scorecard.
The Sandals brand has grown beyond the exclusive boundaries of luxury accommodation: the Caribbean’s biggest private family in the tourism and travel business joined hands and heads in 2021 with the University of The West Indies (The UWI) and Florida International University (FIU) to launch a regional Tourism University, in Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart’s Memory, to ensure the its branded models of guaranteed annual award-winning globally-acknowledged standards always remain focused beyond the gold and platinum.
Apart from the imprint in my mind of the renderings for Sandals LaSource Saint Lucia, my favourite Sandals photo is of suited Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart and his son Adam ‘Walking on Water’ at Sandals Grande.
Adam and his team have continued steering SRI in the directions charted by his dad and has since January 2021 also been charting his own new courses, including an early promise to create 5,000 jobs across the region in five years by improving and expanding existing properties — and building new ones — St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Curacao now joining the SRI chain’s growing links in Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Turks & Caicos Islands.
It’s against this varied background that I welcomed Sandals latest local venture to simultaneously expand its three exclusive hotel properties in less than two years, providing hundreds of jobs along each way.
I also share all Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ernest Hilaire and former Prime Minister Stephenson King said at the recent functions at Sandals Halcyon, on today’s Fisherman’s Wharf and on location near Palm Beach and the lawn tennis court, about the group’s plans to expand and upgrade its exquisite Rondoval-branded properties at La Toc, Choc Bay and Pigeon Island.
With my valuable youthful Yellow Sands experiences, I’ve grown to learn to expect the unexpected, for the better, from Sandals.