For Mark Harding, senior project manager for the Sandals chain, Saturday’s press conference offered an opportunity for a joyous ride down memory lane. Also in attendance were Jamaica’s prime minister Andrew Holness, his local counterpart Allen Chastanet with his minister for tourism Dominic Fedee, Jimmy Bristol, and the man behind all things Sandals, Mr. Gordon “Butch” Stewart.
Mr. Stewart is no stranger to Saint Lucia, having established his first hotel on the island at La Toc in the time of John Compton. The two remained particularly close friends until the prime minister’s passing in 2007. Today the island boasts the original Sandals resort plus Halcyon at Choc and Sandals Grande at Pigeon Pointe. On Saturday, Stewart and his entourage were here to announce plans for yet another resort, to be named Sandals LaSource. Remarkably both this island’s prime minister and its tourism minister were, at one time, part of the Sandals family: Chastanet was associated with Air Jamaica, while Fedee served to keep the local Sandals image spot-free.
By the prime minister’s measure Sandals put Saint Lucia on the map: “It was not until its arrival here that we could start a conversation by mentioning Sandals Saint Lucia, and that impressed a lot of people familiar with the brand. The best part is the impact that Sandals has had on the lives of our people. The new additions will further enhance our image and also impact positively on more Saint Lucians.”
In his turn Holness underscored his personal relationship with the hotel mogul. He referred to Stewart as “a very good friend”.
Harding expressed his gratitude to all who had burned the midnight oil in preparation for last weekend’s launch, and those who were already preparing to join the family when Sandals LaSource opens for business – adjacent to Sandals Grande – hopefully in December 2019.
LaSource is expected to have 330 keys and offer ten restaurants with three new dining concepts. Guests at one Sandals facility will be free to enjoy the features at the other properties, including complimentary access to the recently acquired Saint Lucia Golf and Country Club, an infinity-edge rooftop pool and bowling alley.
Minister Dominic Fedee recalled that during the planning of the first Sandals hotel in Saint Lucia, the island was still wrestling with whether to transition fully into tourism or continue chasing a future planted in bananas. At that time Saint Lucian farmers were supposedly producing 100,000 tons of bananas a year. “Very quickly what Sandals did was to make a very valuable point to us: that as much as the banana industry had contributed to the economy, there were storm clouds ahead and tourism was the future.”
Referring to his 16-year stint with Sandals Resorts International, Fedee recalled: “Sandals just kept reinventing itself. Every week there was something different. The company just kept growing and now we are seeing a new addition to its brand, the LaSource product that is going to take Saint Lucia and the Caribbean to another level. I think that it’s going to do wonders for our destination. So, Mr. Stewart I would like to thank you, on behalf of the tourist board. We will have something else to market, something else to tell and excite the travel community, as we have been doing with Sandals’ Over Water suites.”
“Once you start at Sandals,” the main man assured the gathering, “there’s no turning back. You go on and on, there’s no end road.” Stewart thanked the government and particularly Prime Minister Chastanet for their “endless support” and signaled his faith in the people of Saint Lucia. He was “proud to have given Saint Lucia the best reasons to transition from bananas to tourism. Sandals Resorts has driven the economy of Saint Lucia more than any other organization”.
Referencing new investments, Stewart said he was exceptionally pleased with the success so far of the latest Sandals project. “We have Over Water suites, some built and some we’re still building. The Over Water suites have brought more attention to Jamaica and Saint Lucia because of the fact that Fiji and the Far East islands have them. For the Caribbean also to have them has created more stir that you can believe.”
Holness added that Jamaica benefitted greatly from its association with Sandals. “As prime ministers, Allen will agree that we want to see more hotels opening up in our countries. If you were to look at the economies of our respective territories, what Sandals contributes is significant. I am here to endorse the great work of “Butch” Stewart. Sandals is truly a Caribbean multinational organisation and it has done great work for tourism . . . What we should be doing now is jointly marketing the Caribbean as a region.”
Something tells this reporter the idea was anything but a throw-away line!