TORONTO — Adam Stewart has been in the family business since birth – and what a family business it is.
Stewart, Executive Chairman of Sandals Resorts International, was a newborn the year his father, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, founded the legendary all-inclusive resort company Sandals Resorts.
In this interview, part of Travelweek’s 50th anniversary celebrations, Stewart says he grew up with Sandals: “I always say the brand and I were basically siblings,” he jokes.
Stewart is carrying on his father’s legacy and overseeing all of the company’s latest innovations. Brand new suites debut today, April 6, at Sandals Halcyon in St. Lucia. Meanwhile the completely reimagined Sandals Dunn’s River has come back to the Sandals family and is gearing up for its grand opening May 24.
As Stewart tells Travelweek, “from entirely new resort product to the commitment of new travel advisor resources – if there was ever a time to fasten your seatbelts, it’s now.”
Travelweek: As part of an amazing family business – one that has revolutionized the all-inclusive resort experience in the Caribbean – you have a unique perspective on the travel industry. You must have been involved with Sandals Resorts from a very young age, what was that like?
Stewart: “Most people don’t know this, but my father, the late Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, founded Sandals the very same year I was born, so I always say the brand and I were basically siblings. I grew up in a family where dinner conversations involved topics like shoulder season and booking windows. Weekends were spent scouting for new hotels in our beautiful Caribbean and listening intently to my father’s every word. He was indeed my greatest teacher. Before my eyes, I was watching him shape the Sandals brand into the globally recognized company it is today.
“I fully immersed myself into the business from the very beginning and learned all the ins and outs – from working in the mailroom and reservations to on-the-ground hotel operations and everything in between. It set my foundation and propelled an indescribable passion I have for the travel industry. Now that I have children of my own, it’s become a full circle moment to impart in them the wonder and curiosity of travel.”
Travelweek: Your dad, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, is a legend in this industry. You are doing incredible work carrying on his legacy as you lead Sandals Resorts. Can you share with us some of the wisdom and business lessons your dad taught you?
Stewart: “My father was a fifth generation Jamaican, a savvy entrepreneur and a beloved family man. He was the extraordinary combination of a dreamer and a doer – and his mind was simply ingenious. He had a magical quality that could see far into the future and the promise and possibility that others couldn’t. He had a saying, which was “give all you have to what you love and never stop.” And when you think about it, it’s a truly powerful path – a profound commitment to your family, to your community, to your business. His incredible legacy lives on through the countless lives and people he impacted along the way, and this is a responsibility I embrace and see through with a great sense of pride.
“In the business world, my father was laser focused on the customer. This is what Sandals was built on, and while he did not know it at the time, he was rewriting the history books of the Caribbean – especially in Jamaica – one hotel, one guest, and one community at a time. To carry that torch into the future and uphold my father’s vision tomorrow, and every single day thereafter, is to embrace these and countless other lessons for the continued growth and development of our beloved Caribbean islands.”
Travelweek: Sandals had its own big anniversary in 2021, marking 40 years. Sandals has long been a game-changer in this industry. If you had to choose 2 – 3 ways Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts revolutionized luxury resorts, what would those be?
Stewart: “Celebrating 40 years of making memories in the Caribbean was an incredible milestone for Sandals Resorts, and especially meaningful as we made a commitment to keep forging ahead on a path of relentless innovation that’s been our foundation since day one.
“It started with selecting the very best sites on the very best beaches, then introducing simple but game-changing luxuries such as the invention of the swim up pool bar and a la carte dining options. We brought forward best-in-class suites and service – the Caribbean’s first over-the-water bungalows and personalized butler service – along with the most thrilling ways to experience our islands. Land and water sports, championship golf courses, PADI certified scuba diving and so much more. The customer journey and its evolution has always been at the centre. And that’s just what it is – an evolution.
“Today we believe wholeheartedly in the idea of getting closer to place. Customers want to get out and experience the authenticity of our islands, and our response to these trends is to expand the Sandals experience beyond the resort – including access to unique, memorable places that foster deeper connections to a destination. MINI Coopers to explore a destination beyond the resort gates and an unprecedented Island Inclusive dining program that celebrates the talents of chefs by inviting guests to dine locally as part of their stay. That’s how we continue to set trends and evolve while creating impactful opportunities for our island communities.”
Travelweek: There is never a dull moment with Sandals Resorts. What can Sandals’ valued travel advisor partners look forward to from the company in 2023?
Stewart: “From entirely new resort product to the commitment of new travel advisor resources – if there was ever a time to fasten your seatbelts, it’s now. In a matter of weeks, we’ll be welcoming the iconic Sandals Dunn’s River back into the Sandals family, bringing forward a resort that so perfectly encapsulates our future, fusing together next-level design that pays homage to the unique natural wonders of this majestic location in Ocho Rios. We are also ushering in new accommodations like the new Joli Beachfront Suites and Koko Rondovals opening very soon at Sandals Halcyon in St. Lucia and new Firesky Villas and the Eventide Penthouse Collection at Beaches Negril.
“The bottom line is since day one, we built our resorts in partnership with travel advisors and this journey is as much theirs as it is ours. Our customers have come to rely and trust in their best-in-class guidance and expertise, and we are committed to developing tools and resources to further distinguish their craft in the travel space. Things like a new web-based Sandals Training Program aimed at educating, empowering, and growing our family of trusted advisors to become Certified Sandals Specialists. We’re all rising together to give our customers the very best Caribbean vacation experience. And I must say, we are excited beyond belief about our future together.”
For all the latest updates see sandals.com and beaches.com. In the weeks and months to come watch for more interviews and memories marking Travelweek’s 50th anniversary. Plus, try your luck with our contest, ‘It Happened This Week’, featuring a new headline (and a new chance to win!) every week from Travelweek’s 50 years of travel industry news coverage.