“He was our biggest fan”: Agents, suppliers react to passing of Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart

“He was our biggest fan”: Agents, suppliers react to passing of Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart

TORONTO — If there was one person who could truly be called an icon of the travel industry, it was Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart.

As the founder of Sandals Resorts, and later Beaches Resorts, as well as countless other initiatives from Island Routes to The Sandals Foundation, Stewart transformed and gave back to Caribbean tourism like no one else.

He passed away Jan. 4, 2021 at the age of 79, leaving behind his family and an incredible legacy of resorts across the Caribbean. As he always said, Sandals Resorts didn’t invent the all-inclusive concept, ‘but we perfected it.’

“He was our biggest fan”: Agents, retail groups, tour ops react to passing of Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart

Sandals Resorts International Chairman Butch Stewart and ACV’s Managing Director, Nino Montagnese

“Mr. Stewart was not only an amazing person but one of the fairest businessmen I’ve ever worked with,” Nino Montagnese, Managing Director, Air Canada Vacations told Travelweek this morning. “Today is a sad day… His passion for our industry will have many of us mourning his loss.”

Montagnese thanked Stewart “for your friendship and great dedication to our industry” and said his heartfelt condolences go out to the Stewarts and the entire Sandals family.

CHAMPION OF TRAVEL AGENTS

The strong connection between Stewart, Sandals Resorts, and companies like ACV was just one facet of an incredibly dedicated partnership to the travel trade, and specifically travel agents.

Stewart had long championed the work that travel agents do. He liked to joke that the reason Sandals Resorts had such long and complex names for their room categories was to get potential travellers to seek out a travel agent’s help to figure out the difference between each one.

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As recently as April 2020, a Sandals Resorts video had Stewart offering encouraging words for agents navigating the first chaotic days and weeks of the pandemic. Noting that agents have always been the backbone of Sandals’ success, Stewart told agents: “I don’t want you to worry because every little thing is going to be just fine.”

Lois Barbour, Travel Time TPI in St. John’s, NL, has had award-winning booking volumes with Sandals Resorts for years. “Mr. Stewart was truly one of the greats in the travel industry,” says Barbour, adding that he was “a true visionary, who appreciated and supported the travel agent community in so many ways.”

When Barbour had the opportunity to meet Stewart, “it was such an honour and to know he genuinely appreciated my business was overwhelming. That has never wavered over the years and many occasions of interacting with him at events, conferences and meetings. A true icon who will be missed in the travel industry, by the Sandals family, and all across the Caribbean. My condolences go out to his family for their loss.”

“HE WAS OUR BIGGEST FAN”

Another top producer for Sandals Resorts is Kim Hartlen with Kim Hartlen Travel TPI in Lower Sackville, NS. “The world has lost a true Caribbean legend,” Hartlen told Travelweek. “Having been in many meetings with him over the years, he always made you feel like you had a voice, one he always listened to. His commitment and love for the travel agents was always so important to him. He was our biggest fan!! Today I feel the loss of a family member because that is how Mr. Stewart and Sandals family made me feel and going to Sandals & Beaches Resorts has always felt like I was home. My heart and prayers go out to the entire family and Sandals family.”

“He was our biggest fan”: Agents, retail groups, tour ops react to passing of Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart

Sandals Resorts founder Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart with Kim Hartlen with Kim Hartlen Travel TPI, at Sandals Montego Bay

At the December 2019 Sandals STAR Awards, TPI was one of two Canadian host agencies honoured among the company’s Top 10 Travel Agencies.

Zeina Gedeon, CEO, TPI, told Travelweek: “I am not sure what to say about Hon. Gordon Butch. I started thinking of all that he is/was: a legend, a titan, a mentor, Innovator, visionary, pioneer trailblazer, marketing genius, philanthropist and I can go on with more words to describe this incredible man. I am forever grateful to call him my friend, and I will never forget all that he taught me. To Adam and the Stewart family my sincerest condolences, it is a great loss for all. May he rest in peace.”

The other Canadian host agency honoured among the company’s Top 10 Travel Agencies at the 2019 STAR Awards was The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND).

Flemming Friisdahl, Founder, TTAND, says: “Anyone who has been in the travel industry as long as I have been would have had to have met Butch. He was a person that truly believed in the value of travel agents to help promote and sell his amazing product. He was extremely friendly and easygoing and whenever you were in his presence he would fill the room with energy.”

Friisdahl adds: “I know Adam will do an amazing job moving the brand forward with the amazing team at Sandals. We are very sorry for their loss during this difficult time.”

“BUTCH WAS SANDALS”

Sandy Willett, Branch Manager with Vision Travel Solutions in Waterloo, ON, received the CEO Award of Excellence at the December 2019 STAR Awards. “Butch WAS Sandals,” Willett tells Travelweek. “It was always so exciting to see him at functions and to get a hug from him when I won an award! He understood travel agents and always knew how important we were to his business.”

Willett adds that as well as being an amazing businessman, Stewart also gave back so much to the islands, whether that meant building schools, sending equipment to schools or making sure the kids had Christmas gifts every year. “One year I was at Sandals South Coast and they brought all the local kids to the resort and Santa arrived by helicopter with their presents. Such a wonderful experience – very heartwarming.”

Willett adds: “Such a loss for the travel industry but I think so many of us were blessed by his kindness and humility.”

A private funeral service is planned. Memories, condolences or personal stories can be shared via email at AllThatsGood@sandals.com.