Sandals Resorts International

9 July 2018 - Jamaica Observer

According to Fortune magazine, supported by popular sentiment, FedEx, General Electric, Microsoft, Singapore Airlines, Sony, Toyota, and Walmart are among the most admired brands in the world. To this rarefied group belongs one Jamaican brand, Sandals.

Sandals Resorts International holds the enviable record of being voted World's Leading All-Inclusive Company, in the World Travel Awards, 24 times between 1994 and 2017.

The company, whose eye-popping advertisements on cable television cause the chest of every Jamaican to rise with pride, and those in the Diaspora to long for home, has 84 per cent name recognition in North America.

Interbrand, a global consultancy specialising in brand valuation, named Sandals one of the top 20 brands in the Commonwealth.

Three recent events gave a peak into what makes the Sandals/Appliance Traders Limited (ATL) Group the success that it is. First, the Jamaica Observer Business Leader Award held at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel; second, the Appliance Traders Limited 50th anniversary celebration held on the lawns of Hope Gardens; and third, Sandals Overdrive held at the Montego Bay Convention Centre on June 25, 2018. Each event displayed world-class standards in planning, coordination, customer care, and attention to detail. Having attended all three, I was left with an exclamation: This is what quality looks like!

What are the hallmarks of a home-grown brand which has risen to the top of the highly competitive global travel industry? Whether one attended one or all three of the events, these four characteristics were the most easily discernible to an outsider:

1. Purposeful focus: The chairman, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, and everyone who takes the podium, in clear and simple language, articulates the purpose, goals and founding principles. Often lost in the pages of thick strategic plans, complex vision and mission statements are reduced to catchy phrases, tag lines and stories that can be recalled with ease. There is no question in anyone's mind as to the brand's highest ambitions.

2. Obsession with customer service: It all starts and ends with people; most of all the customers. Everything the company does is delivered through unique experiences built around customer needs and desires. The company has learnt well and puts into practice, better than most, the philosophy espoused by the great icon of American free enterprise Henry Ford: “It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”

3. Passion for people: It is in the Sandals DNA. The company invests in its employees, celebrates their successes, and rewards their achievements. At the Sandals Overdrive event, attended by a thousand employees of every rank, time and time again employees who joined the company in the lowliest positions and have climbed the ladder to the top took the stage to tell their story.

4. Relentless image building and promotion: Messaging, networking, aesthetics are strong suites of the company. It apparently spends big money to create and communicate a compelling image to its various audiences. The countries in which Sandals operates also benefit. It is not stretching the truth to say that without the company's advertising spend some of these tourism destinations would have remained hidden treasures like that depicted in Raiders of the Lost Ark, an epic 1981 film directed by Steven Spielberg.

As the leadership of the company transitions from an older generation led by Butch to a younger generation, led by his son Adam, it is evolving in some interesting ways. The most noticeable is that it is becoming more integrated with the larger economy. The all-inclusive concept saved tourism at a time when the external environment was hostile and, with luxury-included, continues to give Jamaica a unique positioning in this segment of the market. Through one of its newest subsidiaries, Island Routes Caribbean Adventure Tours, the standards and benefits of a more diversified product are being spread to an increasing number of attractions and communities.

Integration is also occurring in another interesting way. There is an unmistakable trend towards spending more of the revenue in Jamaica by buying Jamaican. Agriculture is a prime example, as seen from this quote taken from the Monday, June 25, 2018 Jamaica Observer: “Indeed, 90 per cent of the produce purchased in Jamaica every year is locally produced. The total annual value of produce purchased by Sandals is $700 million, with farm products representing $500 million of that. On the other hand, the hotel spends just $200 million on products local farmers are unable to grow.” The potential to do more in this area is vast. With Adam Stewart serving as chairman of Jamaica's Tourism Linkage Council it is also realisable.

What of the future? There are 20 or so Jamaican companies exhibiting some of the same qualities as Sandals which have spread their tentacles to the region and beyond. Their transition to global brands could be expedited through structured benchmarking arrangements with Sandals to learn first-hand how it did it.

Government must learn how to foster effective partnerships with Sandals and other emerging, home-grown global brands. It is a new game that has to be learned with patience. A good starting point is to resist the temptation to bad-mouth its success and to eat the goose that laid the golden egg. In far too many instances, and in too many small-island economies, this has been the tendency.

Source: Jamaica Observer


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