Adam Stewart went to Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld confab last Friday highlighting the wisdom of expansion in the tourism industry at this time and commending stakeholders for refusing to yield to the debilitating effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Stewart, the executive chairman of Sandals Resorts International, acknowledged the cruise industry’s unique difficulties during the pandemic and commended everyone in that sector for weathering what he described as “one of the most complicated situations in the history of travel”.
“Tourism doesn’t operate without the entire ecosystem, so when cruise is not there and tours are not taking place and there is not the movement of people back and forth, something is just missing,” Stewart said.
According to Stewart, 2019 was “the best year in Caribbean travel, period”. But the “unthinkable”— the outbreak of the novel coronavirus — happened in March 2020.
“Travel exposes us to the world. It’s this incredible thing that’s hard to explain, and we lost that,” Stewart said, adding that he was grateful to travel advisors “who have stood behind our organisation and have allowed so many people to thrive and prosper in my neck of the woods called the Caribbean”.
He told the cruise industry delegates that at the outset of the pandemic early last year he and his now late father Gordon “Butch” Stewart had decided that Sandals Resorts International would engage in an aggressive expansion and, as such, acquired properties in Jamaica, St Vincent, and Curaçao.
In April this year Sandals announced that it was adding three new hotels to its Jamaica portfolio that will create over 2,000 jobs and increase the country’s room count by more than 900.
The development, Sandals said, will bring its hotel count in Jamaica to 14 with more than 3,400 rooms , and represents a doubling down on its commitment to Jamaica.
The properties — the former Jewel Dunn’s River in Ocho Rios, Jewel Runaway Bay Beach Resort & Waterpark, and prime beachfront land adjacent to Jewel Dunn’s River — were acquired last year.
Jewel Runaway Bay will be transformed and operated under the Beaches brand while Jewel Dunn’s River will be “Sandalised” — meaning a full upgrade to the award-winning brand’s standards — and operated under its previous name, Sandals Dunn’s River. The adjacent beachfront property will be developed and operated as Sandals Royal Dunn’s River, which Stewart said will set the bar in terms of hospitality in the chain’s 40-year history.
In reference to Sandals Dunn’s River, Stewart said the property “holds special meaning to our family because its history is the story of Jamaica’s evolution as a travel powerhouse”.
Noting that his father, the founder of Sandals Resorts who passed in January this year, grew up on the beach in Ocho Rios, Stewart said, “This hotel, the first of its kind when it was built in the 1950s, captured the era’s glamour and sparked his [Butch Stewart’s] imagination. When it became available, we jumped at the chance to bring the hotel back into the Sandals fold.”
Last year, Sandals had announced plans to bring its Beaches brand to St Vincent, a move which promises expansive economic growth for the Eastern Caribbean island.
Additionally, the resort group announced the acquisition of a new property in Curaçao.
In his address to the cruise sector on Friday, Stewart said that after his father died, he and his siblings got together to decide the direction in which to take the company.
“We could sell the company, we could pause and do nothing or we could double down,” he said. “We decided to take this company to the moon and double the size over the next 10 years.”
He said that while doing Zoom calls at home he recalled watching the “sky is falling” reports on cable news.
“In my home office, on my right I would look to a garden, and on my left I looked to the Caribbean Sea,” he said. “The sky had never been clearer, the sand had never been whiter and the water had never been bluer. So from the get-go our organisation took a policy decision that this, too, shall pass, and everything we’re going to do on a day-to-day basis is for the resumption of Caribbean travel.”
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