What’s Next for Sandals? A Conversation With Adam Stewart

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By Guy Britton

MONTEGO BAY — What’s next for one of the Caribbean’s tourism titans? To find out, Caribbean Journal sat down down with Adam Stewart, CEO of Sandals Resorts International. Stewart’s company has 24 Caribbean properties (Stewart is also CEO of The ATL group of engineering, design and automotive and appliance companies), cementing its place as one of the world’s best-known Caribbean brands. CJ talked to Stewart about Sandals’ next projects, the state of the industry and the future of the brand.

What’s new, what’s on the horizon for Sandals and what things are you most excited about?

One of the biggest things we are excited about right now is our new over-the-water suites. We have totally updated our designs. We absolutely love the new design our team created, which is functional and ergonomic. The new over the water suites in Jamaica will be at Sandals Royal Caribbean and will be built right off our private island there. The suites are really amazing, with about 1,000 square feet with separate sitting areas where you can lounge and dine outside facing ocean with glass in the floor and everything faces the ocean. We are also excited about the new infinity pools and Jacuzzis set to be finished later this year at Sandals Royal Caribbean. In terms of other developments, we are expanding the Soy concept, our sushi and sake bar, at Sandals Grand St Lucian — we are working on that now and there will also be one at Sandals Emerald Bay. We brought in a very high-powered consultant to help us launch Soy in Grenada and have been very pleased with how well that has worked out.

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Above: a rendering of the over-the-water suites

Barbados is set to open on January 28 and is now 280 rooms. We have added a number of new restaurants for a total of 11 restaurants -there we will be a Butch’s Chop House steak restaurant and we will also have Soy. We will have our first Indian restaurant, Bombay Club, a pub, pizzeria and the longest pool in the eastern Caribbean at 510 feet long – a long, winding river pool that goes around the resort.

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There’s lots going on at Sandals Grande Riviera, where we will be announcing a new branding concept, re-doing the lobbies, putting in European gardens fire pits new pools and ponds and putting in a new transportation system to navigate the hillside. We are putting about a million dollars into the beach club. The beach club will become the party zone, different by day and by night.

What has technology done to change the business over the past five to 10 years, and what is Sandals doing to stay on top of the technology and at the cutting edge? 

Lots of things. Right now we are working on new fully-interactive televisions in Grenada, St Lucia and Bahamas, and soon in Barbados and Antigua. So in six months’ time it will be fully implemented and everything you do now on paper can be done on the fully interactive TV, all the resort photography, activities and information -basically anything on paper that now we might put under your door will come directly onto the TV – menus weather and tours all come directly to your room.

The other thing we are excited about is technology where you can log onto an app before you even come to the resort and once at the resort whatever content is on the interactive TV will come to your phone; like weather, resort activities, maps, the property map is on the app so wherever you are at the resort it will tell you where you are and help you find where it is you are going. This is particularly valuable on bigger resorts like Beaches Turks and Caicos and it helps gets you directed to exactly where it is you are going. Technology is a major part of everything we are doing today. Wi-Fi and better connectivity is a central theme — we rolled out free Wi-Fi last year with Club Sandals and we are rolling out free Wi-Fi at all Sandals and Beaches properties.

 

You never hear of anyone asking for less amenities and luxury.”

 

What kind of things is Sandals doing in the areas of conservation and sustainability of water, energy and new technology in those areas?

One of the biggest differences at Sandals is that we have our own engineering as a commercial company as part of our group. The ATL Appliance and Engineering company was my father’s first company and an important differentiating part of our organization. We don’t bring in third-party engineers. Sandals engineers work for Sandals. Sandals spends $150 million a year, not including new projects, just invested into making our properties better and more efficient. So in terms of efficiency, we purchase only the most efficient equipment and heat recovery systems. Anywhere heat comes off you grab that heat and reuse it to warm the pools and for hot water. We have a few projects in photo voltaic. That works in some properties but not in all, because of the land necessary to support photo voltaic production. Barbados, as an example, has full heat recovery as part of the renovations and designs. Every Sandals hotel has environmental engineers and safety managers who monitor and measure everything. LPG, Water, Electricity and as an example, if there is a water leak it will be monitored and detected within four hours or less. Millions of gallons of water and resources are a stake and those things really add up scaled basis.

What are the biggest changes you have seen over the past 10 years. What is the biggest thing that has affected your business?

That’s a good question. At Sandals, we keep evolving as a way of life. And there’s more luxury — you never hear of anyone asking for less amenities and luxury. People are looking at the term value today more than ever before. More people are asking, “what do we really get out of this vacation?” So when our general managers are meeting and ideas are discussed on what works at your property and that kinds of things are being added. We discuss of course the physical evolutions, like more restaurants, more water sports facilities and more amenities in general and terms of services; more Club Sandals lounges, butler services and service in general — nothing remains the same. The customer that comes to us this year expects more than the year before –They have become accustomed to systems or businesses that are always moving forward. The minute you stop they know it. They are prepared to pay for it but you have to show them that value.

What is the biggest challenge facing Sandals right now?

Communicating the real difference in our services and inclusions. There is no one that can compete with Sandals in terms of inclusions and services and especially in the human resources and management to deliver those inclusions and services.

For example in weddings, over the years we have married a quarter of a million people. There are other places saying that they are the best place for a wedding, but our experience in weddings is unmatched and there is no all-inclusive chain that has more experience in marrying people than Sandals. Another example is in training. Sandal underwrites over 4,000 of its staff in education. We have a corporate university that is an internationally accredited university that educates people combining education with practical training. Every employee must complete at least 120 hours of training every year. Even reading writing and language skills are taught and every hotel has a campus. Education and training can run a trajectory from reading and writing to executives who can get PHDs. All that rolls up to creating an attitude within an organization of service. I heard someone say the other day that the only time someone on your staff says no is when they say “no problem”. The word no is not in their vocabulary and it makes a big difference. So when you look at other groups that don’t have the infrastructure to manage that there is a difference and there is no competitors in the all-inclusive set that can stand next to Sandals in terms of human development. Another example is Scuba Diving, where Sandals and Beaches is rated in the top 5 most powerful organization of all dive operators in the world by the PADI organization. Most other places are outsourcing the dive operations to some local guy and you don’t know about the quality, safety and inspections.

 

Printed paper will be obsolete from our properties in the next few years.”

 

What is the biggest opportunity for you in the future and what will the business look like in 10 years? Where will Sandals go next?

Our senior management have been with us for nearly 30 years. The infrastructure we have built and that we can replicate in other places is our biggest opportunity. We have nearly a thousand people making sure our standards are adhered and continue to evolve every day. There are still islands that we want to be on. People ask about the Dominican Republic and that is not a country we would shy away from. Cayman, Aruba are other places we won’t shy away from. Our greatest opportunity is extending the infrastructure that we have built. For the future, we might see some properties get larger to take advantage of scalability and efficiencies. For example, Beaches Turks and Caicos used to be 200-300 rooms and is now about 400-500 rooms and that seems like the sweet spot in terms of efficiency.

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Over the next 10 years, technology will increasingly be part of all of our lives and business. Technology will be at the center of everything. In my opinion, printed paper will be obsolete from our properties in the next few years. And we keep pushing the boundaries. The sun sand and the sea will always be an attraction, Scuba diving will always blow people minds. Weddings will always take place. Customized services and customized weddings will be more popular and more services in general are coming.

 

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