“We’re always looking to improve. And we’re not done yet”: Unique Vacations Inc.’s Bettridge

TORONTO — There’s a rising tide in luxury travel and Sandals Resorts is on the crest, and taking travel agents along for a profitable ride.

Unique Vacations’ new president Ellen Bettridge says that while the brand known for luxury-included vacations has elevated itself even higher in recent years, with the opening of Sandals LaSource Grenada and additions like Key West Village at Beaches Turks & Caicos, “that’s what our customers are asking for.”

Travel agents play a crucial role in the marketing plans at Unique Vacations, the exclusive representatives for Sandals Resorts International, she adds.

In town yesterday for industry meetings, Bettridge began her career as a travel agent with American Express and eventually became Vice-President of the American Express U.S. Retail Travel Network. “I love travel agents. That’s my background. That’s the core of my career.”

No other resort company offers what Sandals offers, she says. “I don’t know of any other hotel group that puts so much into agents,” she said. “We believe that if we put the time and training into the retail industry, we’re going to get the business.”

Bettridge also spent two years at Silversea, as President of the Americas. She knows luxury brands. On visits to Sandals properties she says she was “blown away by the hospitality and service. And the value. All those touch points, from the sheets to the brand of wine they serve to the towels, all those things matter. And so do the people working there.”

And while some properties like Sandals LaSource Grenada have gone decidedly upscale with a sleek and modern look, more traditional favourites like Sandals Montego Bay still have legions of fans. “There’s something for everyone within the brand.” A lot of the Jamaica properties have above-average repeat rates, many above 50%, she adds.

One sure selling point for Sandals and Beaches properties? “They’re even prettier than in the brochures,” says Bettridge, no mean feat considering the high-impact photography used in the company’s glossy brochures and collateral.

Outreach to the Canadian travel trade comes via training seminars and webinars, workshops (including a 50-workshop cross-Canada tour) and Mega Fams.

The most important question for agents to ask their clients is “what do you want out of your vacation?”, says Bettridge. It’s a question she always used when she worked as an agent. “Agents need to give their clients the best vacation possible, so they’ll come back.”

Meanwhile Sandals will continue to reach even higher when it comes to quality, service and value, she says. “We’re always looking to improve. And we’re not done yet.”