Butch Stewart

Sandals: More For All

When Chelsea Handler sent an elated tweet last month saying she felt like she was at Sandals, her audience didn’t need an explanation of what that meant. They knew. Sandals Resorts was the pinnacle of good living, a Caribbean haven where the best of everything is included.

While Sandals has entrenched itself in the imagination of travelers worldwide, becoming a household name and bringing fame and fortune to its iconic founder and chairman, Jamaica’s the Hon. Gordon “Butch” Stewart, the real winners of this brand’s meteoric rise may well be the people of the Caribbean.

For Stewart, that was always part of the plan.

“When we made the decision to stay [in Jamaica despite the country’s economic woes caused by the falling price of bauxite and brush with socialism], we made the decision to do what was necessary to bring much-needed foreign currency into the Jamaican marketplace,” said Stewart.

As the well-told story goes, Stewart’s plan to bring in that overseas investment was the purchase in 1981 - despite no hotel experience, of a rundown hotel on a magnificent beach in Montego Bay. Seven months and US$4 million in renovations later, Sandals Montego Bay opened as the flagship of what is today, the most popular award-winning, all-inclusive resort chain in the world. Stewart has never laid claim to starting the all-inclusive concept, couples-only format but he is recognized worldwide for the consistent innovation and unsurpassed level of luxury he has brought to the all-inclusive experience he created expressly in the Caribbean.

With a simple philosophy of finding out what people want, giving it to them and in doing so, ‘exceeding their expectations,’ Stewart set out a framework for hospitality that not only helped usher in a period of unprecedented growth of visitors to the region, but demonstrated to Caribbean people that a Caribbean company could take charge and lead the economic possibility and promise of the region’s most important export: tourism.

“It occurred to me that for the region the to be successful, Caribbean people needed to be connected to its most important asset. Having grown up on the beach in St. Ann’s Bay, I deeply believed – besides the warmth of the people, that our sun, sand and clear blue sea were irresistible to a great many in the world’s largest and cold market to our north,” said Stewart. “Knowing that without opportunity, our best and brightest are lost to that market, I was determined to be a Caribbean person who lived and built his business at home and would find a reason to bring that market here.”

By sheer force of determination and a mission to exceed expectations, Stewart has fostered a company free to imagine and free to consistently raise the bar. This has earned him the title of “King of All-Inclusives,” changing the face of the all-inclusive format and establishing Sandals Resorts as the most successful brand in the category – boasting year-round occupancy levels of more than 85 percent, an unequaled repeat guest factor of 40 percent and demand that has led to unprecedented expansion including the creation of Beaches Resorts, now the industry standard for excellence in family beach vacations.

Today, Sandals Resorts International operates nine resorts and three private villas in Jamaica, three resorts in Saint Lucia, three in The Bahamas, one in Antigua, one in Grenada, two in Barbados and one in The Turks & Caicos Islands – and is poised for continued growth. For 22 years in a row, Sandals Resorts International has been named the World’s Leading All-Inclusive Company at the prestigious World Travel Awards and has been recognized by the industry and consumers for excellence worldwide.

The success of this Caribbean-born company is without comparison as is its influence and impact in the region. Sandals Resorts is the region’s largest private employer. To the greatest extent possible, goods, services and employees are Caribbean. Through partnership with locally-based vendors, everything from fresh fish and Irish potatoes to uniforms and rum are sourced and purchased in the Caribbean. The not-for-profit Sandals Foundation, is the organization’s philanthropic arm, aiding projects that better the environment, communities and educational opportunities in the Caribbean.

Perhaps most importantly for Stewart is Sandals Corporate University, the company's adult education program for Caribbean nationals employed by Sandals, and a testament to his belief in human development and the untapped talent waiting to be discovered in the Caribbean.

Stewart proudly recounts the many times he’s been in a restaurant or hotel in the world’s big cities - New York, London or Paris and a staff member will come up to him and say, “thank you, I got my start at Sandals.”

“I love my job and what my team and I have built. I love that we have been able to share the Caribbean with the world and the chance we’ve had, to play a part in sharing that world and its limitless possibilities with the people of the Caribbean,” said Stewart.