TORONTO — Why are the room categories so complicated at Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts? Some say the unwieldy and confusing names drive bookings to Sandals’ most trusted and knowledgeable partners: travel agents.
At last night’s Sandals Resorts travel agent appreciation dinner, UVI’s Director of Sales & Marketing Maureen Barnes-Smith joked that when the question of Sandals’ and Beaches’ long room category names comes up, none other than Sandals Resorts Chairman Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart says ‘the reason he makes the room category names so complicated is so people have to come to you, the travel agents, to help them book’.
And who’s going to argue with that? Not the 100 or so agents at Toronto’s York Mills Gallery last night, who responded with a loud round of applause.
Sandals Resorts offers some of the most lucrative loyalty programs in the industry for its most important distribution channel: travel agents. No wonder the legendary all-inclusive resort chain is now considered a ‘super-brand’ with both consumers and its steadfast agent partners.
There are some brands, like Coke, Nike and Google, that not only lead the marketplace, they achieve iconic status, said Barnes-Smith. “We are the world’s only all-inclusive super brand,” she told agents.
Sandals Resorts is so well known, it has an 84% brand recognition rating in North America. With 6,000 rooms across its 19 resorts (16 Sandals Resorts and three Beaches Resorts) it welcomes some 1 million guests every year. It also boasts a return rate of close to 40% at many of its properties.
And there’s always something new with Sandals Resorts, as any agent who sells the product knows. Last night’s event was both a thank you for the trade and a chance for Barnes-Smith and the team to update agents on everything that’s new with the resorts.
Flipping through images of all the new upgrades and services, Barnes-Smith said she didn’t want to hear oooooooohs and ahhhhhhhs. “Every time you see something really special in these pictures, something that really suprises you and impresses you, I want you to call out ‘Game Changer!’” she told the audience.
Needless to say there were more than a few cries of ‘Game Changer!’ throughout the presentation.
Sandals has always been an innovator and the emphasis on introducing new services continues. “We were the first to offer butler service,” points out Barnes-Smith. “Now everyone is doing it. But only our butlers are trained in accordance with the standards by the Guild of Professional English Butlers, the same people who serve the Royal Family.”
New services for high-end Sandals guests include private luxury BMW transfers to guests in top room categories at Sandals Montego Bay and Sandals Royal Caribbean.
Meanwhile brides and grooms are loving Aisle to Isle, the company’s new ‘unpackaged’ wedding product launched earlier this year. “We’re not locking your brides and grooms into packages,” said Barnes-Smith. “Aisle to Isle is all about inspirations. Couples can mix and match and create their own unique settings.”
A beautiful photo from a real wedding ceremony that took place at Sandals Negril just last week, mixing elements of several inspirations, got a round of ‘Game Changer!’s from the audience.
Also a big hit are the extensive renovations that have transformed Sandals’ very first property and now flagship resort, Sandals Montego Bay.
Announced back in 2015, the enhancements have included everything from the rooms and lobby – making their debut in summer 2018 – to new F&B venues, which arrived on the scene in September. The crisp white rooms were a departure from the traditional rooms with their much-loved mahogany four-posted beds, but as Barnes-Smith points out, “removing the four-poster beds opens up the rooms and opens up the views.”
The new look for Sandals started with Sandals Grenada, formerly Sandals LaSource Grenada. “Sandals Grenada is the template that we have used for new developments,” says Barnes-Smith. “The first-ever Sky Pools debuted here.”
The balcony Tranquility Soaking Tubs weren’t getting much use, “and we were trying to figure out why. Mr. Stewart spent a lot of money putting those tubs in,” she joked. “Then we realized, people need privacy. We put in privacy curtains and now they’re very popular.”
Sandals Barbados and sister property Sandals Royal Barbados are also proving very popular, she added, telling agents to advise clients to book extra early for these properties.
Meanwhile the over-the-water bungalows have been a hit right off the bat, and clients should be booking them at least 14 to 18 months in advance. Barnes-Smith had a tip for agents with clients looking for an over-the-water bungalow stay: “They’re booked way in advance but sometimes one will be available for two or three nights. Why not suggest to your clients that they upgrade their stay with two or three over-the-water nights at the end of their vacation.”
Many of the agents in the crowd last night were Certified Sandals Specialists, who know all about Sandals’ Points to Paradise program, offering loyalty points for every Sandals and Beaches booking.
Points to Paradise, launched in April 2018, replaced Sell and Go. “We heard your complaints about Sell and Go,” said Barnes-Smith. “You sell seven nights and you got a third of a night at Sandals. What’s up with that? With Points to Paradise, you literally earn a point for every single dollar you book with us.”
The company is also incentivizing agents with Sandals Cash Splash, launched last month. The year-long incentive runs from now through Sept. 30, 2019, for travel from now through Dec. 18, 2019.
Each new direct booking of three nights or longer to any Sandals or Beaches resort in any room category equals one entry for the monthly cash prizes. Agents will win $500 for each booking in any room category, $750 for each Club category booking, and $1,000 for each Butler category booking. Each new direct booking equals one contest entry and there is no limit on the number of entries per person, so more bookings equal more chances to win. Certain restrictions apply and the promotion is not valid in Quebec. Bookings must be made with Unique Vacations directly for a three-night minimum.
“For the first time in a long time we have a really good cash incentive in Canada,” said Barnes-Smith.
She also reminded agents to register their Sandals and Beaches bookings with UVI, to track sales and earn Points to Paradise, which accumulate for an agent no matter where they go in the industry. Most importantly, says Barnes-Smith, “We love our tour operator partners but unless you register your booking, we get zero information about the agent booking it. We know the booking is made, we just don’t know who made it. Only when you register that booking do the dots connect.”
UVI can be reached at 1-800-545-8283. The travel agent portal is TAportal.sandals.com.
Sandals’ collateral is some of the best in the business, adds Barnes-Smith. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, you’ll make a million.”