Photo: Sandals Resorts International
Celebrating its 35th year, Sandals Resorts is counting on its new over-the-water villa suites—the first in the Caribbean—and its travel-agency partners to raise demand for the iconic all-inclusive beach brand, says CEO Adam Stewart.
At the Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay earlier this month, Stewart debuted the resort’s latest high-end offering, five over-the-water suites for which guests will pay an average of $3,000 a night. They’re the most expensive rooms in the Caribbean, costing $1.6 million each to build. Each spans 2,000 square feet and includes a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, infinity pool, glass floor, outdoor shower and multiple seating areas.
The interior design was inspired by the elements; the suites carry a wood, water, free, earth or metal theme. The differences can be seen in the tile work, lights, seat cushions and furnishings, such as the pictures above the bed.
Interior of the water-themed suite.
As part of the overall luxury experience, guests will get VIP services throughout their stays. An exclusive BMW 7 Series luxury sedan will be waiting for them at the airport upon arrival, and an electric “Royal Duffy” luxury boat will take them out to their suite. Guests staying at the suites won’t have to set foot in the main resort if they choose not to—guests may check-in in the privacy of their suite, and can have meals delivered by personal butlers 24/7.
Stewart highlighted the project’s innovation – from engineering to design. The idea was born about eight years ago, when Stewart had to travel halfway around the word to spend his honeymoon in an over-the-water bungalow. Bringing the same experience to the Caribbean, he said, drastically shortens travel time, offers more direct and less expensive flight options, and makes it easy to hire staff who speaks English.
“North Americans aren’t taking as many vacation days; they’re more conscious of how they spend their time,” Stewart said. “We’re making it within reach.”
To make the resort fit the needs of honeymooners, couples celebrating an anniversary and even celebrities, ensuring privacy was a paramount concern. During the design phase, developers tested the height and placement of the suites to ensure that guests at other resorts couldn’t look in. “These are the little things that make a huge difference in the final product,” Stewart said.
Another important element was making the resort sustainable. The suites were built with non-toxic wood and without harsh chemicals, and seagrass that was removed during construction was replanted. Finally, the suites were perched atop strategically high beams
“A lot of people said Jamaica couldn’t get the clientele, but we disagreed,” Stewart said. The gamble seems to have paid off; the five suites are pre-booked for the next 18 months.
The company already has plans to expand the concept. In addition to 12 more smaller bungalows added at Royal Caribbean—opening the first week in March—over-the-water bungalows will be introduced at three other as-yet-unnamed Sandals properties in Jamaica. Across the Caribbean, Sandals will build six suites in Grand St. Lucia, set to be completed by early March.
Sandals is counting on the help of the travel-agent channel to keep the new suites filled, Stewart said.
“For Sandals, [agents] are vital. We’re a complicated product,” and agents’ expertise in understanding things like room-to-restaurant ratio and how many staff members are employed per room can help consumers understand the benefits of the Sandals suites.
“Not all all-inclusives are created equally,” and agents can distinguish among them by reputation and quality, he noted.
Additional development plans
Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau celebrated its grand re-opening on Nov. 18, after closing in August. The renovation project added new spa cabanas, an upgraded pool deck, improvements to its four restaurants and a new café. Since the soft opening in October, Sandals Royal Bahamian has been at 95% capacity, Stewart said.
A multi-million dollar expansion plan is in the works for Sandals Barbados, and in Tobago, the company is working on securing a final agreement with the government to bring a Sandals and a Beaches resort. Sandals Royal Caribbean will expand by 150 rooms and the flagship property, Sandals Montego Bay, is undergoing renovations to its public spaces.