By Joe Pike, Special Contributor
The Caribbean is mourning one of the titan’s of the region’s tourism industry, with the passing of Gordon “Butch” Stewart, the founder and chairman of Sandals Resorts International.
Stewart was 79.
Stewart was known for creating the all-inclusive giant, Sandals Resorts International, which began in Jamaica before becoming a region-wide powerhouse with brands including Sandals and Beaches.
“Our father was a singular personality; an unstoppable force who delighted in defying the odds by exceeding expectations and whose passion for his family was matched only by the people and possibility of the Caribbean, for whom he was a fierce champion,” said Adam Stewart, who is the Deputy Chairman of Sandals Resorts International. “Nothing, except maybe a great fishing day, could come before family to my dad. And while the world understood him to be a phenomenal businessman – which he was, his first and most important devotion was always to us. We will miss him terribly forever.”
Many travel experts credit Sandals for making the all-inclusive market in the Caribbean as lucrative and successful as it has been.
According to a statement issued by Vanessa Ledesma, acting CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, “Our industry will forever be indebted to ‘Butch’ for his continued passion for excellence and legendary Caribbean hospitality. His vision has bestowed to the global industry a Caribbean organization that adheres to the highest standards of excellence, celebrates and promotes the region’s uniqueness, and invests in the development of our people and communities.”
Stewart, who was one of the first winners of the Caribbean Hotelier of the Year award, “was a great supporter of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and an inspiration to so many of us in the region,” according to the statement.
“Butch Stewart loved Sandals,” Sandals Resorts International said in a statement. “At the time of his passing, he was hard at work on plans for the recently announced expansions to the Dutch island of Curaçao and St. Vincent.”
Condolences for Stewart poured in from around the region, from destinations where Stewart had hotels like Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Lucia to the US Virgin Islands, where officials hailed effect on the growth of tourism and its impact on Caribbean communities.
Such was Stewart’s influence on the wider region and its economy.
“I have had the privilege of working with Mr. Stewart over many years, and his passion and vision for tourism in Jamaica and across the wider Caribbean region is unparalleled,” said John Lynch, Chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board. “He will be remembered for his groundbreaking work in growing the all-inclusive concept here and in the Caribbean and we’re confident his rich legacy will be preserved.”
The Bahamas, where Stewart had three hotels, including in Nassau and Exuma, said in a statement “Butch impacted our national economy by directing the crafting of a signature vacation experience — the Sandals vacation — which has become an integral part of the tourism product of The Islands of The Bahamas.”
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Butch Stewart, a key partner in our tourism enterprise who has left an indelible mark on the Bahamas’s hospitality sector,” said said Bahamas Minister of Tourism & Aviation, Dionisio D’Aguilar. “Butch’s vision for hospitality will live on to be enjoyed by future guests at Nassau’s Sandals Royal Bahamian as well as Sandals Emerald Bay and Fowl Cay Resort in Exuma.”
Sandals said those wishing to share memories and condolences could do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.