I was invited by Sandals Resorts International (SRI) last Sunday to an end-of-year appreciation event organized for the local media’s support during 2023.
It’s an annual event that I don’t always get or make time to attend, but this time, despite the event being from 10:30am to 12:30pm, coincided with my Sunday show Earl@Large on DBS, I decided to go, lest my media colleagues and friends at Sandals feel I simply don’t like to congregate with colleagues.
Racing to meet an 11am deadline covering the treatment of journalism as a crime by Israel, compiling of the deadly and gruesome figures about deaths of children, women, elderly and disabled citizens and displacement of way-over a million people, the thousands of Palestinians arrested and jailed, the equally-high number of children and women missing (and feared dead) and people dying at a faster rate than in any War since World War II ended in 1945, I was torn between the bitterness of tabulating death statistics and eventually joining colleagues at Sandals Halcyon, even though for a brief time.
My plan was to arrive at 11am and leave just after midday to return home and watch my show on DBS with a viewer’s eye.
On the way, I was wondering what excuse I would cook-up for being late, but a traffic jam cause by an accident on the way gave me a perfect excuse.
I didn’t need the excuse, however, because the number were still somewhat slim when I got to the door, followed by a colleague who thought I knew where I was going, until he told me I “passed the entrance…”
I did the usual walkaround meeting old friends and new colleagues, including the ever-effervescent ‘Reds’ Pereira, the everlasting Mike Rogers, never-give-up Reginald Andrew, a few who’d invisibly grown older or aged – and the many whose names I’d heard but never met.
I joked with the TV cameramen that they “look different” without their cameras, asked reporters “where’s your notebook and pen” before asking the young lady at the bar for “one of those nice juices you give the tourists with an umbrella on top and a cherry…”
She laughed and gave me the mixed citrus drink everyone else was having and I got the message that there was a menu and drinks list – and we weren’t guests.
As per usual, the Sandals crew was led by the Managing Director and the Head of Public Relations for the Eastern Caribbean, Winston Anderson and Sunil Ramdeen, Halcyon General Manager Filius Laurent and the local Sandals PR team led Judy Deterville and Masana Morrison – and the new Jason Darius…
As we sat listening to Sunil, Judy and Masana thank us and remind us to sign-up for free prizes, I suddenly realized I was the only one taking notes.
The journalist of yore in me never on leave or taking time-off, I had asked Masana for “a piece of paper and a pen” to note the things Sandals was telling us they’d done here in 2023.
Sunil said the hotel was glad to thank the media “together again”; GM Florius boasted that “Sandals Halcyon” and “600 team members” remain “the best hotel for the media”; and MD Anderson made a philosophical point to highlight how Sandals views the media.
According to Anderson, “If gold is selling at half-price and nobody knows, it won’t sell…” as he proceeded to again “thank and salute you the members of the media for your coverage and support in 2023…”
Referring to Saint Lucia as the Sandals group’s “headquarters outside Jamaica”, he said SRI – with three luxury resorts and a golf course here – was “always pleased to invest and re-invest” in its properties everywhere, Saint Lucia included.
He noted Sandals Regency now has added 22 more suites at La Toc and Sandals Grande Saint Lucian is also expanding up north, while Halcyon’s Palm Beach Village extension at Choc has been dubbed ‘Dubai’ by team members from all SRI’s local properties.
In 2023, SRI’s local properties won three major awards in this year’s World Travel Awards (WTA), with the chain bagging over a dozen awards regionally.
The Sandals Foundation remained active here during 2023 as well, with over 3,000 citizens benefitting from the annual free dental program, which entered its 18th year here.
The Foundation, which focuses on Community Development, Education and Environmental matters this year opened kitchen garden and farming plots at three schools between Castries and Gros Islet to help promote Food Security among students and also invested in Early Learning opportunities for children.
SRI also invested more in 2023 in the local Sandals Cricket Academy – its seventh consecutive year supporting the national Under-19 teams.
And as Sunil noted, the fruits are looming large, as “Captains of the last two West Indies Under-19 teams were Saint Lucians…”
Sandals staff here (like everywhere else) also benefit from SRI’s always-ongoing internal skills development programs, with local senior managers recently attending on-the-job courses here, organized by Sandals Corporate University.
In addition, they’re benefitting from “VIP Cards” to facilitate better shopping – and have also started putting Artificial Intelligence (AI) to work for SRI, as the chain keeps-up-the-pace with the progress of the augmented realities of ever-advancing Information Technology (IT).
Indeed, as noted by one of the Sandals speakers, the Foundation’s role is (among many other things) “Giving back to the Caribbean’s beaches what they have given to Sandals…”
Sunil highlighted (for those of us who didn’t yet know) that ‘Reds’ was recently honored with an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Guyana (UG) for his 50 years as the Eastern Caribbean’s most-enduring Sportscaster and broadcast journalist, who also headed the OECS Sports Desk for many blue moons.
I was still noting what Sunil said about Reds’ remarkable endurance and ever-witty disposition (He’d earlier told me he’s “rented” the walking stick he had “for a short time…”
Then I heard my name…
I put my pen on the piece of paper and listened, only to hear that SRI had decided to give me an award for my ‘Contribution to Tourism…’
Invited to climb the stage, with goose bumps on my arms and my heart sounding like it skipped a beat, I had to be helped up to the platform, where this glass trophy was handed to me by GM Anderson and the SRI crew.
Asked to “say a few words”, I took to the podium and rambled almost-incoherent for a minute, until I hastily brought my accelerating heartbeat to an end by admitting that “For once, I’ve run out of words…”
I limped back to my seat and told those close enough to hear, “I’m getting too old for surprises…” – another rare admission, as I prefer to believe I age in reverse (until my body decided to remind me that’s only a virtual wish that neither AI nor IT can alter.)
I upgraded my drink to a ‘spitzer’ and waited for the long line at the buffet table to shorten, but: Big Mistake – most who arrived last (some smack at Midday) were first on the line for the free Sunday buffet lunch – and by the time I got to the server with my square Nouveu Cuisine plate, half the ‘goodiest’ of the goodies were done-and-gone, very highly appreciated by those who never responses to the Responde S’il Vou Plait (RSVP) on the invitation.
That little blip soon addressed, my plateful of ‘a-little-bit-of-everything (and another spitzer) more-than blocked the widening hole in my stomach before I had to dash-out by 1:15pm – to rush home to see and hear what the journalist in me was saying and showing on Earl@Large…
I did thank all at SRI who made it happen (present and absent), but as I watched the glass trophy in the car with my son Amani on the way home, I told him:
“I also got this for all the Saint Lucians across the SRI chain who’re making us proud in the leadership of the ongoing efforts to build the team that’s already piloting SRI into the new age of Sandals 2.0”
And for the first time, I was not annoyed about being stumped for words!