TORONTO — More than 450 agents went into #SandalsOverdrive last night as the Hon. Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, Chairman and Founder and Adam Stewart, CEO and Deputy Chairman, Sandals Resorts International outlined the company’s plans for both a Sandals Resort and a Beaches Resort to be built simultaneously in Trinidad & Tobago, as well as updates on Sandals Royal Barbados and Beaches Turks & Caicos, plus a brand new wedding lineup, Sandals Wedding Inspirations, part of the company’s new ‘Aisle to Isle’, and a new ‘Bells & Whistles’ booking incentive that can boost earnings for agents.
Throughout the night agents were fêted as the drivers of Sandals’ success. “No matter what we do, we would never be successful without travel agents,” said Gary Sadler, Senior VP Sales for Unique Vacations, Inc. “We want to thank you for your support. We cannot do it without you.”
Travel agents are the company’s most important distribution channel and Canada “has been the most reliable country year after year” for Sandals and Beaches Resorts, said Chairman Stewart.
In addition to the Trinidad & Tobago resorts, Sandals is also planning a fourth resort in Saint Lucia, as announced this past summer (see here for a look at renderings of Sandals LaSource St. Lucia and its infinity edge rooftop pool).
The company is also gearing up for the grand opening of Sandals Royal Barbados, set for Dec. 20 (see here for the latest pics and details), as well as the re-opening of Beaches Turks & Caicos on Dec. 14. Beaches Turks & Caicos sustained no structural damage to its rooms or restaurants after Hurricanes Irma and Maria but the resort is cleaning up the grounds to get ready for its post-hurricane debut: “Beaches Turks & Caicos will be better than ever when it re-opens on Dec. 14.”
As well as celebrating travel agent partners and new and coming resorts, last night’s SandalsOverdrive event in Toronto – part of a 21-city North American roadshow that sees the Sandals team covering 30,000 kilometres across Canada and the U.S., complete with a 18-wheeler to transport all their gear – was also a celebration of Sandals itself, led by hundreds of cheering travel agents.
“Sandals has become this unbelievable force, this force of wanting to do things differently,” said CEO Stewart. “When my dad started this company, he said, ‘I don’t want to play games with the customer. I want to make it easy’.
“We were the first company to put hair dryers in the rooms. The first to do swim up bars, overwater bars, premium spirits, butler service and a la carte restaurants in the Caribbean.
“We spent eight years getting true over-the-water bungalows to the Caribbean. We have this desire to outperform our best work.
“Sandals is not competing against other all-inclusives. Sandals is competing against itself. We never wanted 100 hotels. We wanted the best hotels.”
He added: “Sandals wants to be the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts of the all-inclusive sector.”
Another major focus of last night’s event was ‘Sandals Wedding Inspirations’, part of Sandals’ new ‘Aisle to Isle’.
Forget about wedding packages, says Marsha-Ann Donaldson-Brown, Director of Weddings & Romance, Sandals Resorts. The brand new Sandals Wedding Inspirations collection “is a complete dismantling” of the traditional wedding package.
Sandals has long been an innovator when it comes to destination weddings; many would say they created the market. From coining the popular phrase ‘WeddingMoons’, to partnerships with celebrity designers Preston Bailey and Martha Stewart and then ‘Your Wedding Your Style’ in 2012, Sandals has now gone one step further with Sandals Wedding Inspirations.
“What does a bride want? She wants inspiration and information. That’s where you and I come in,” Donaldson-Brown told agents. With Aisle to Isle, traditional weddings with all the lush trimmings can take place in beautiful Caribbean locations, “and that is a winning combination, and we’ve got it to offer,” she said.
With the tagline ‘Inspired by Love, Created by You, Only at Sandals’, the collection is completely customizable, with brides and grooms pulling ideas from gorgeous themes including ‘Inspired by Sand & Sea, Inspired by Passion, Inspired by Gardens, but never locked into any one set packaged look or décor bundle. “You can design and play and mix and match,” said Donaldson-Brown.
She showed pictures of a beautifully laid out ‘Massages & Mimosas’ option for the bride and her bridesmaids, and a landscaped bar covered in lush greenery as part of the ‘Inspired by Gardens’ theme, and even a fun and Instagram-worthy ‘beer canoe’ filled with local and international beers as a great idea for a barefoot on the beach reception. All got big cheers from agents in the audience.
“Customization doesn’t stop at the wedding,” said Donaldson-Brown, adding that brides, grooms and their travel agents “should never forget, [a wedding is] not just a day.” Couples can customize their menus with more catering options than ever before, with 35 more options coming to the weddings menus. Couples can also opt for wedding photography that takes place off-resort.
So much has changed with destination weddings, says Donaldson-Brown. “Rewind 20 years ago and a destination wedding was a bride and a groom, and they were lucky to have two friends come with them. Now a destination wedding is a mini vacation experience for all the guests. And that means that you, as the couple’s travel agent, are holding a treasure chest. Your bride and groom are the catalyst for all those bookings.”
Donaldson-Brown had some words of encouragement for agents looking to break into the lucrative destination weddings market: “If you’re not there yet, don’t worry about it. Just start. The business is growing. And if you’re not part of it you’re missing out.”
These days a minimum of 40 guests is not so uncommon for a Sandals Resorts or Beaches Resorts wedding, “and that’s 20 rooms,” says Donaldson-Brown. Just last weekend, on Saturday, Nov. 4, Sandals Ocho Rios hosted a wedding group with 120 guests.
Sandals has put a lot of money into new promotional videos and one video stands out as a sure-fire way to motivate sales. Focusing on a real-life couple, Courtney and Matt, and their July 2017 wedding at Sandals Emerald Bay, it tugs at the heartstrings with beautiful images of the wedding itself and the days (and excursions) leading up to it, all shot on-property and set to music.
The more options clients choose, the more agents earn, says Donaldson-Brown. “It’s all commissionable. The décor options, the photography packages, the excursions, the group activities. Everything pre-booked is commissionable,” she said.
With the new ‘Bells & Whistles’ gifting program, also part of ‘Aisle to Isle’, both agents and clients win with new Sandals perks. A wedding group booking of 20 – 35 rooms, for example, earns three ‘Bells’ and two ‘Whistles’. A spa-themed bridal party is two ‘Whistles’, while a one-room category upgrade is one ‘Bell’. Couples could also opt for a Rum & Game Night, for one ‘Bell’. Or gift themselves with a white and bamboo structure as a backdrop for their wedding vows, also one ‘Bell’.
“It’s best that you see that the wedding is no longer just a day,” stressed Donaldson-Brown. “Look at a wedding as an entire experience.” Because the bride and groom certainly are. “Every bride and groom tells us they want their wedding to be fun, memorable and exciting,” she says. “Weddings are a very emotional purchase. And they need to be gorgeous and beautiful.”
The new Sandals Wedding Inspirations brochure was handed out at last night’s event, along with a flyer promoting the SandalsOverdrive unlimited commission offer, where agents can earn up to a $75 booking bonus for every booking made Sept. 26 – Dec. 14.