Sandals Builds Its Brand with the Help of Agents and Expansion
by Jessica Montevago

“The more sophisticated Sandals becomes, the more important our relationship with travel agents becomes,” said CEO Adam Stewart at a luncheon highlighting new renovations made to two of its properties in Jamaica.

Stewart was adamant that in order for guests to get the best understanding of its Sandals and Beaches resorts, customers need to go through an agent rather than an OTA.

“There’s a lot of talk about OTAs, but it’s difficult to explain the complexities to the traveler. That’s where the travel agent comes into play,” he said.

Those complexities are only going to grow, as the company continues to evolve and move forward with plans for expansion.

Expanding the brand
Already operating 24 resorts, Sandals is showing no sign of slowing down any time soon.

The Sandals Barbados–a property Sandals founder and chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart describes as “the best of the best” –is getting 186 new rooms, thanks to positive reviews and subsequent increased demand. The property only opened a year ago.

The Beaches resort in Barbados is now set to open late 2016/early 2017. Adam said Beaches, the company’s family-oriented brand, is “a product that brings generations together.”

Butch said Beaches Antigua is “still being put to bed,” but he expects the property to be completed this year. The resort will have 310 rooms that are mostly family suites.

Plans for the most anticipated hot spot of 2016, Cuba, are not yet set, though Butch did say the once- closed-off nation offers “tremendous opportunity.”

When talking about scouting locations for future resorts, Adam said, “a lot of our customers don’t get more than one vacation a year, so it’s important to us they get what they pay for–sun, sand, and sea. We look to find real estate that holds up to the standards we have.”

In short, said Butch, “we have our eyes everywhere.”

A rebirth for Montego Bay and Negril
Expansion doesn’t only consist of adding new resorts, Adam said, but also modernizing and renovating properties, on which the company has spent $180 million so far.

Sandals Montego Bay, the company’s flagship property, is undergoing a series of refurbishments, most recently to its Palms block. Renovated rooms feature a tranquility tub on the balcony, a spacious bathroom with a rain shower, and amenities like a Smart TV, stocked bar, and iPod docking stations. The property’s Almond block is set to be renovated next.

The company is also spending $1.6 million per room at its Sandals Royal Caribbean property for new Over-the-Water Suites.

The 251-room resort has a “laid-back, upbeat” feel, and is frequented by a younger crowd made up of newlyweds and honeymooners. As many as five weddings a day take place on the property, whether at the resort’s chapel or beachfront wedding gazebos. Weddings are a major market for the company, and they do it well; in an independent report for 2015, 98.7% of brides rated their experience at Montego Bay with five stars.

Through Sandals’ WeddingMoons program, agents can book a customizable wedding followed by a honeymoon, all in one inclusive package. A pre-travel wedding planner takes care of the details before the trip, and the resort wedding team takes over once the couple arrives.

Sandals also sees water sports as “a prime ingredient to our all-inclusive resorts,” Butch said. Activities offered include kayaking, paddleboards, scuba diving, water-skiing, snorkeling, windsurfing, and tubing. “We offer a wide-range of inclusions, more than any other resort on the planet.”

Despite only being an hour away, Sandals Negril Beach Resort and Spa has a more mature, sophisticated feel. It’s the most successful Sandals in Jamaica (there are six altogether); last week it had an 82% occupancy rate. The company has put in over $20 million in renovations; 64 rooms have been renovated so far, with 6 more to follow. The new rooms in the Coconut Cove block debuted in December, featuring tranquility tubs, patios with coral stone floors, and new furnishings.

Sandals Negril Resort & Spa

The island of Jamaica also is seeing something of a rebirth. It saw more than 1.5 million travelers arriving in Montego Bay last year, up 2% from 2014. Stopover arrivals are expected to increase by about 4% in 2016, the tourism ministry predicts.

Agent reward programs
In keeping with its focus on the travel-agent distribution channel, Sandals has several programs aiming to strengthen that partnership and give back to agents.

Certified Sandals Specialists (CSS) receive customized service, sales, and educational support, free resort stays, and discounts on services. To become a CSS, agents must complete a four-hour workshop with updates every year to maintain their certification.

If an agency has one active CSS agent and books a minimum of 25 Sandals vacations, it can become a Preferred Sandals Agency (PSA).

The most exclusive program, the Chairman’s Royal Club, pays top-selling agents 16% commission rather than the standard 10%. To qualify, agents must sell more than 100 Sandals rooms per year, attend annual workshops, and participate in fam trips. There are currently 72 agents in the program.

Photo courtesy: Jessica Montevago 

  6
  0
Comment:
You must be logged in to leave a comment Login | Register
Comments
David E    1/15/2016 11:21:10 PM

Nice talk, but all of Sandals' fancy TV ads give consumers only the Sandals.com address and 800 number. Absolutely no mention of "OR CALL YOUR CERTIFIED SANDALS TRAVEL AGENT."


0
Niki    3/11/2016 5:40:23 PM
What is sandals policy then on letting those agents advertise on the movie screen or tv with a tag to promote their locations? If they are wanting Sandals customers to go through these agents then there must be some type of co op in place for these agents to help them.

0
Tip of the Day

"There is only one source out there for cutting through the Internet clutter and tailoring a trip toward the individual needs of a traveler—and that is a professional ASTA travel agent."


Zane Kerby, ASTA president

Daily Top List

Most Expensive U.S. Car Rental Destinations

1. Philadelphia ($83)

2. Seattle ($81)

3. Boston ($80)

4. Chicago ($73)

5. Detroit ($71)

6. Portland ($69)

7. Cincinnati ($67)

Source: CheapCarRental.net

Top Stories
A Room With A Water View: Overwater Bungalows Hit The Caribbean
A Room With A Water View: Overwater Bungalows Hit The Caribbean

The glass-bottom rooms have proven to be so popular at Sandals Royal Caribbean, for example, that this week it announced it already is adding 12 more.

Nick Walton’s Welcome To Asia, Sept. 2016
Nick Walton’s Welcome To Asia, Sept. 2016

The indomitable Nick Walton offers up a monthly list of top hotel openings in the Asia-Pacific region.

Luxury Wellness: What’s New For 2017
Luxury Wellness: What’s New For 2017

New products will debut on land and at sea in 2017 for the luxury end of the wellness niche. Anne Dimon highlights the best of them in her monthly column.

Thailand Tourism Authority Opens Office In Canada
Thailand Tourism Authority Opens Office In Canada

“Canadians spend more and stay longer than other markets,” said the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Pataraporn Sithivanich, making it a lucrative market for travel professionals.

Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Celebrates Grand Opening In Dominican Republic
Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Celebrates Grand Opening In Dominican Republic

Nickelodeon’s first international hotel property combines luxury with a kid-friendly atmosphere.

Karisma Brings Over-The-Water Luxury To Mexico
Karisma Brings Over-The-Water Luxury To Mexico

The overwater bungalows—the first in the country—will debut Sept. 1 at the adults-only El Dorado Maroma resort in Riviera Maya.

News Briefs
Advertiser's Voice
Travel Market Report Spotlight: Celebrity Cocktails