Press Release:-When the United Kingdom abandoned preferential access for St. Lucia’s bananas, the island’s former Prime Minister and the man considered as the father of an independent St. Lucia Sir John Compton, knew that an alternative had to be found. Sir John’s vision was an enhanced Tourism sector that would embrace the island’s north coast.
It is a vision that succeeding Prime Ministers have remained faithful to, and today that dream nears fulfillment, after Sandals Resorts International announced plans for yet a fourth resort in St. Lucia; Sandals LaSource St. Lucia, a hotel already being dubbed the ‘resort of the future.’
Sandals Resorts has always been a key supporter of the Government’s desire to let the world know about the devastating beauty of the island dubbed the ‘Helen of the West’, and to create the infrastructure and marketing machinery that would allow this to be fully exploited. Just like the experience his exclusive resort-chain offers, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart’s love affair with Ste. Lisi goes back over two decades, 23 years to be exact. That’s when Sandals Regency La Toc opened its doors. The world’s leading luxury-included resort has gone on to develop two additional hotels; Sandals Halcyon Beach and the enigmatic Sandals Grande St. Lucian, as well as a Call Center.
The Sandals Chairman recalled that when the Hyatt pulled out of St. Lucia at the turn of the century, they left a failing resort off Pigeon Island that was incomplete and in total disrepair. In 2001, having won the tender to acquire the property, the resort set about ‘Sandalising’ it with a US$27 million-dollar upgrade including extravagant pools, swim-up bars and luxury suites in a variety of forms. The number of rooms was increased from 260 to 330. “Despite a lot of external pressure, we got the full support of the Prime Minister at the time Dr. Kenny Anthony, who did not bow to the duress he was facing then. Sandals Grande St. Lucian has gone on to become a huge Caribbean success story, and one of the finest hotels in the all-inclusive niche.”
The establishment of yet a fourth hotel means St. Lucia will represent Sandals’ biggest ever investment in the Eastern Caribbean, and the Chairman of Sandals reflected on the relationship over the years.
“St. Lucia is one of the most exotic islands in the Caribbean with a beautiful people who are fundamental to our success there. We have been confident in the St. Lucia product ever since we first planted our flag. When we arrived 70% of tourist arrivals came from Europe while only 30% came from North America, and while we have increased the arrivals of visitors from both locations, what is of significance is that the North American visitor now outweighs European arrivals 60 to 40. That’s great news for everyone in St. Lucia, since it is the American visitor who has greater discretionary income bringing with them more foreign exchange dollars.”
Over the years, Sandals’ contribution to increasing airlift for St. Lucia and the wider Caribbean is also unparalleled. Sandals remains the biggest customer for some of the world’s leading legacy airlines such as American Airlines, Delta, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways. A key ingredient in that partnership is that Sandals caters to a category of guest with more spending power, as opposed to many of the Charter flights which cater to more budget-minded travelers. Sandals hosts some 75,000 visitors a year, and encourages occupancy levels that are almost double the average occupancy on the island.
That increased airlift is made possible by an unmatched marketing campaign that touches nearly every corner of the globe. A Sandals ad is seen on a major network every 30 seconds, while the company enjoys some 6 billion media exposures a year. 82% of the North American market knows who Sandals is, the only company that comes close to that is Secrets with 20%. Sandals has invested in a highly trained and driven sales team worldwide that are on the road 365-days-a-year promoting locations in the Caribbean. Wrapped cars with the Sandals brand can be seen in several major cities. Banners and posters adorn Travel Agencies from North America to Europe. Of great importance is that Sandals specializes in promoting the Caribbean only – it is a level of marketing that the Tourism Authorities of many islands concede they simply cannot rival, and it is one that has made every destination where Sandals has planted its flag famous throughout the world.
St. Lucia in particular has benefited from innovations unique to the Caribbean. This includes the over-the-water suites now under construction at the Grande, a wedding chapel in the sea, Romeo and Juliet Villa suites, Swim-up suites and the exclusive Millionaire Suites at La Toc. The Butler service offered at the resort is in line with the highest in the world as a result of Sandals partnership with the exclusive Guild of Professional English Butlers. The three properties also offer five-star global dining in a variety of options, something that differentiates Sandals from virtually all other all-inclusive hotels in its segment. Some 25 restaurants are available to guests led by tops chefs from their various countries. Sandals St. Lucia offers French, Italian, Indian, Japanese, Mediterranean and Caribbean cuisine at gourmet restaurants such as Kimonos, Bombay, Armando’s, Neptune’s, Soy, Toscanini’s and Bella Napoli to name just a few. All of these facilities, including room upgrades and expansion activities within the last year alone at La Toc, Halcyon and the Grande have resulted in millions of dollars being spent on island. The coming of Sandals La Source St. Lucia will take these luxury-inclusions to a whole new level, and promises never-before-seen offerings.
The success of the Sandals St. Lucia brand over the years is directly aligned with and fulfills the hopes of Sir John Compton that tourism would be able to replace bananas as the island’s largest foreign exchange earner. Not only has Sandals in fact become a key foreign exchange earner for the island, through its local purchases Sandals continues to offer powerful linkages in the economy. In 2016 the present triumvirate of La Toc, Halcyon, and the Sandals Grande St. Lucian left an economic footprint equating to approximately US$64 million… it was the single largest individual contribution to St. Lucia’s overall GDP from a private entity. The economic impact of a fourth resort on the island will bolster this even more.
Current Prime Minister Allen Chastanet commended Sandals, which he says has become synonymous with Saint Lucia and excellence. “Our relationship has spanned over 25 years and started with the establishment of Sandals La Toc. The fourth and newest investment, Sandals La Source, is testimony to the indomitable success of the combination of the two Brands. Saint Lucia’s reputation as the most romantic destination has been enhanced by the most successful romantic hotel chain in the world. We cannot begin to thank the Sandals family for the positive economic and social contribution they have made to Saint Lucia and to our citizens, which includes tax revenues, employment, training and the work of the Sandals Foundation just to name a few.”
In 2016 alone Sandals in Saint Lucia contributed US$22.8 million toward the public purse through statutory payments to Government as well as payments to utilities such as Lucelec, WASCO and the telephone companies. The Prime Minister is in no doubt that Saint Lucia, along with the legion of Sandal’s repeat guests, eagerly await the opening of the first Six-Star Sandals La Source Resort, which will combine Sandals traditional luxury with its newest and most innovative amenities to date.
St. Lucia’s Minister of Tourism Dominic Fedee, described Sandals as a key foundation stone on which the island’s hospitality industry is built. “Over one-third of all guests who visit the island stay at Sandals. That tells you the potency of the group and it is a key pillar on which Destination St. Lucia is built.”
Minister Fedee noted that Sandals’ overall contribution to the citizens of the St. Lucia is significant. “Over 1,500 people are currently employed at Sandals (which means close to 4,000 persons benefit both directly and indirectly). Its tentacles touch several small businesses such as tour operators and suppliers. Their contribution to the overall economic health of the island is significant.”
Over the past year alone Sandals contributed nearly US$26 million to payroll and other benefits in St. Lucia. In addition to this US$7.3 million was spent on local suppliers, US$5 million on tour operators, nearly US$2.5 million on taxis and transfers and nearly US$1 million on entertainment.
Those figures are expected to increase dramatically with the launch of Sandals LaSource St. Lucia. The number of job opportunities alone will rise to approximately 2,300 as the new resort will increase Sandals’ room stock on the island from 800 to over 1,100. This means tens-of-millions of dollars more that will be available to stakeholders in St. Lucia as the demand for everything from services to products and agricultural items increase. The new resort will also expand the famous ‘Stay-at-one, play-at-three’ exchange programme to now include a fourth option, which will further enhance the guest experience.
Minister Fedee said the government looks forward to continuing to work with the resort in the future.
Sandals Deputy-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Adam Stewart expects the bond between Sandals and St. Lucia to indeed grow even stronger in the coming years, and had high praise for his General Managers and team members as well as Sandals partners, including the past and present Governments. “That relationship has been fueled by dedicated and excellent team members, the vast majority of whom are home grown, as well as great suppliers, consistent capital investment, global marketing and support from Government, the bond has grown stronger over the years, and we look forward to contributing not only to St. Lucia’s economic well-being, but to the development of its people as well.”
The General Managers leading the resorts on the ground in St. Lucia are all stalwarts of the company. The Sandals CEO commended the team of Mr. Winston Anderson, Mr. Michael James and Mr. Christopher Elliott, who he described as among the most competent and admirable GMs to be found anywhere in the industry.
Having been born in Jamaica, Sandals is a true Caribbean success story. As such, the resort takes deep pride and joy from the fact that it hires more indigenous team members, and uses less work permits per hotel room than any other chain in the Caribbean. It is therefore no surprise that Sandals stands alone when it comes to developing its human resource capacity, which is done at a level that goes above and beyond what can be found in most other private or public sector groups.
It is this level of training and re-training that has made Sandals team members among the best in the all-inclusive niche, and a key ingredient in the resort-chain being voted the World’s Best for 23 consecutive years. The resort took its commitment to training to a whole new level in March 2012, when the Sandals Corporate University was launched. The SCU is the company’s adult education programme for Caribbean nationals employed by Sandals Resorts, Beaches Resorts and Grand Pineapple Beach Resorts, to help continuously elevate the skill level of its more than 14,000 employees across the Caribbean.
Over the years, scores of team members in St. Lucia have been able to access educational programmes that include more than 230 courses and external partnerships with over 13 top-ranking local and international universities, all of which is fully funded by the company. To date over 11,000 persons have benefitted from its numerous certificate programmes, while just under 800 have received professional certification as a result of scholarships given by Sandals amounting to almost US$1 million.
That sort of investment is unmatched by any other institution in the hospitality industry or outside of it. Sandals Chairman Gordon Stewart had high praise for the company’s team members, calling them the finest available in the Caribbean. “I have always said that when Sandals trains an individual, that individual can get a job at any hotel anywhere in the world. To be ‘Sandals-certified’ is to be given an asset of high value. Unfortunately, it is also why new hotels are always seeking to poach Sandals staff.”
It is not just the level of training that makes Sandals team members stand apart, it is also their ability to work as a harmonious and unified contingent. Team work matters, and the results are clear to see.
Sandals is also cognizant of the fact that its resorts do not exist in isolation, and in addition to developing its own team members, the company provides training for those interested in making a career of tourism through its Hospitality Training Programme. More than 1000 young men and women have graduated in St. Lucia alone. In December 2016, 73 additional graduates from St. Lucia entered the job market as ‘Sandals-certified’. Not every graduate will work at Sandals, the company knows this and is proud of it. Many will be employed by other hotels on the island, properly trained and ready to help build Brand St Lucia.
The fact is that Sandals does not see other hotels as competitors, but as partners. Sandals has indicated its willingness over the years to always be a friend to partner hotels and is willing to work with anyone to ensure that at the end of the day, Destination St. Lucia is successful. Which is also why Sandals is the largest single contributor of the St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association’s ‘Tourism Enhancement Fund’.
Aside from its capital and human resource development, Sandals also gives back to the communities where it plants its flag, and a key component of this is the Sandals Foundation, the resort’s philanthropic arm. Since its inception in 2009, the Foundation has touched the lives of nearly 700,000 persons throughout the region, and has raised over US$30 million to support the thousands of programmes it undertakes each year.
Sandals Deputy-Chairman and CEO Adam Stewart has always been mindful of the company’s social responsibilities. “My dad is a family man first and foremost. He has instilled that in the very ethos of our company. Sandals is about family, each team member, each member of our community we consider family, and the Sandals Foundation allows us to reach out to those who need our support.”
In 2016 nearly 4,000 St. Lucians benefited from free dental care through the Sandals Foundation partnership with the Great Shape NGO out of Jamaica. 1,400 schoolchildren got gifts for Christmas, and special treats were held for the three schools adopted by Sandals St. Lucia, as well as the St. Lucia Crisis Center. Sandals also continued its annual sponsorship of the Salvation Army Christmas lunch, which caters for some 100 vulnerable persons every year. This does not include the hundreds of other requests for which the company has provided assistance. This year Sandals was also a Platinum Sponsor to help raise awareness of breast cancer on the island.
Earlier in 2016 Sandals Foundation and its partners refurbished tennis and basketball courts in Castries, and has invested in ongoing programmes to provide training for the island’s youth in areas of tennis, basketball and football. The Sandals Cricket Academy is a signature event, and is held every August. In 2016, some 33 young cricketers were exposed to top level coaching at the one-week live-in camp.
Because of its holistic approach, Sandals has been the beneficiary of nearly every award available in the industry. Not only is it World’s Best, it has also led the way in Environmental compliance and awareness. All resorts are EarthGuard certified. Sandals was among the first to comply with environmental guidelines shortly after it opened its doors over 35 years ago in Montego Bay. Since then it has maintained respect for the environment in all its territories, including St. Lucia.
While Sandals will not be the only new development in St. Lucia, the company is not worried about the impact of competitors. That’s because Sandals offers its staff some things that cannot be replicated by any other hotel chain such as guaranteed salaries that are paid on time, pension and health benefits including dental care, access to top level training at no cost and the other benefits derived through the Foundation. Sandals empowers its team members, and you can be sure that when a Sandals employee goes to the bank to seek a loan for a car or a new home, they are going to get it!
When Hurricane Matthew devastated parts of the Caribbean in 2016, Sandals made sure those team members affected were given assistance. The message being sent by management is clear; in spite of what its detractors might say, Sandals always puts its team members first. That concern for the welfare of its team resonates throughout the company in every territory, from St. Lucia to all other destinations.
It’s been a prosperous and exciting relationship over the years, and Sandals has expressed its commitment to deepen and enhance its presence in St. Lucia. 2017 is pregnant with promise, and is likely to be a watershed year for that relationship. The buzz of excitement is already enveloping team members throughout the island, and is expected to spread throughout St. Lucia as the resort forges ahead with its plans for the future.