Sandals provides 13,000 jobs across Caribbean with ‘more to come’

“We earn for Jamaica more foreign exchange than any other organisation here,” Stewart said and, by virtue of the size of his operation here, he added that his company pays more taxes in Jamaica than any other firm.

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IT’S not that Butch Stewart was bragging. Although, when you look at the size and scale of his tourism operations today, he has every reason to boast.

His demeanour last weekend was more one of satisfaction and achievement as he, his son Adam, and their staff officially opened Sandals Ochi Beach Resort in Ocho Rios — that’s the former Sandals Grande Riviera which underwent a US$60-million renovation.

The over 100-acre property now offers guests 16 restaurants, 11 bars, the Caribbean’s largest rock climbing wall, and 529 villas, luxury rooms and suites — including Romeo and Juliet villas each fitted with inside pools.

The renamed and relaunched property is one of 15 Sandals, three Beaches and two Grand Pineapple resorts operated by Sandals Resorts International across seven Caribbean islands, the majority of them in Jamaica — Stewart’s country of birth.

In total, the 20 resorts provide jobs for 13,000 people throughout the Caribbean. That, Stewart said, makes his organisation the single largest private employer in the Caribbean, the exception being The Bahamas.

“We earn for Jamaica more foreign exchange than any other organisation here,” Stewart said and, by virtue of the size of his operation here, he added that his company pays more taxes in Jamaica than any other firm.

“All in all, for a company founded in Montego Bay in 1981 with a hotel of 99 bedrooms and promoting Jamaica heavily wherever we go, we are proud of what we have achieved,” said Stewart, who is also chairman of the Jamaica Observer.

That achievement includes Sandals resorts dominating the prestigious World Travel Awards each year, taking the coveted prize of World Leading All-inclusive for 20 consecutive years.

In addition, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) — the world’s leading scuba diver training organisation — has named Sandals among the world’s top five companies with the best scuba diving operation.

“We have the best staff in the world,” Stewart told local journalists, travel trade press, tour operators, and travel agents at the weekend relaunch of Sandals Ochi.

He pointed to the investment the organisation makes in training staff, particularly through its Sandals Corporate University, which certifies staff members who do not have formal academic qualifications and places them on a learning pathway that can ultimately lead to master’s and/or doctoral degrees.

The university, which provides on-the-job training, is linked to institutions like Ryerson in Canada, Florida International University, Western Hospitality Institute, South Point Education, and American Hospitality Education in the United States.

Stating that Sandals operates more hotels “in the British Caribbean than any other organisation”, Stewart pointed to the strength of the resort chain’s name.

“We’re the strongest and best-known regional brand, and our brand has become stronger than any other all-inclusive brand in the world,” he said.

“Our Sandals product has now become the standard by which other all-inclusives are judged, and we advertise openly that Sandals provides more quality inclusions than any other resort on the planet,” Stewart added.

He said that despite the company’s global reach it has not lost sight of the fact that its foundation is in Jamaica, much the same way that large organisations like British Airways and American Airlines operate.

After the event, Stewart gave the Observer a slight preview of his company’s plans for the future.

“While we build additional bedrooms every year and reconfigure and refurbish hotels at great cost, we have several other planned projects for Jamaica,” he said, listing among them the overwater suites scheduled for Montego Bay, Dragon Bay in Portland, another resort in Negril “where we have the best site available”, and a new resort for what he termed “the magnificent south coast”.

But even as they build more resorts and upgrade existing properties, Stewart is firm in his commitment to helping communities and other entities earn from tourism. As such, Sandals’ tour company, Island Routes, has been ensuring that visitors to Jamaica and the other Caribbean islands in which it operates, enjoy the many exciting attractions, among them river rafting, jungle river tubing, Dunn’s River Falls, Dolphin Cove, Mystic Mountain, horseback ride and swim, ATV adventures, and of course, shopping excursions, to name a few.

“The purpose of Island Routes is to get the visitors out and have them support the communities and also to help the other attractions to do better business and be more viable,” Stewart explained.

Early last year the Observer reported that the Sandals brand has gained such worldwide traction that it is recognisable by 94 per cent of Americans and Canadians and 87 per cent of Britons, making it by far the most powerful Caribbean insignia, after Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Jamaica’s Bob Marley.

It’s a statement — made in Cuba — that has obviously humbled Stewart, but one that he appreciates while giving the accolades to his staff.

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