Jamaica-based Sandals Resorts International is looking to increase its share of MICE business coming to the Caribbean.
Over the last few years, the company has been busy updating properties and adding new locations to its portfolio. The result is a refreshed inventory offering services, amenities and activities that are as appealing to incentive travel participants as they are to honeymooning couples.
Founded in 1981 by Gordon “Butch” Stewart, Sandals today is comprised of five brands (Sandals, Beaches, Grand Pineapple, Fowl Cay Resort and Your Jamaican Villas) and 24 properties in seven Caribbean countries (Antigua, The Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Turks and Caicos). And while all properties within the Sandals and Beaches brands accept groups, 12 properties* (11 Sandals and one Beaches resort) are specifically promoted as MICE-ready.
To get to know what these MICE-ready resorts offer groups, Grant Lawlor, national groups manager for Unique Vacations (Canada) Inc., an affiliate of Unique Travel Corp., the worldwide representative of Sandals and Beaches resorts, hosted a party of Canadian planners and travel media for three days at Sandals South Coast in Whitehouse, Jamaica. And once Lawlor cleared up two misperceptions about Sandals, the stay clearly demonstrated that delivering a program at a Sandals property has a lot of upside for planners and participants.
The first misperception is that higher room rates mean that a Sandals resort (or any all-inclusive) is not a competitive option for MICE groups. In fact, Lawlor said, once the complimentary concessions given to groups—transfers from airport, cocktail party, meeting space, group dinner, etc.—are factored in along with the all-inclusive f&b and activities guests enjoy, planners often discover that the final price is less than it would be for a program planned à la carte at other properties. This contention is supported by data from the 2018 Incentive Travel Industry Index, which reported that 26 per cent of planners use all-inclusives to more effectively manage program costs.
The second misperception is that Sandals only welcomes couples. Lawlor explained that while couple-centric groups are typical, all groups are considered on an individual basis with Gordon Stewart making the final decision. “I had a planner come to me two years ago with a group of 50 people, 90 per cent men and 10 per cent women. She was looking at The Bahamas in September,” said Lawlor. “I took it to the corporate office and Mr. Stewart approved it right away. I didn’t get that group but we’re very open to looking at programs with a higher percentage of singles.”
However, Sandals brand resorts are couples-only. Lawlor directs MICE groups needing a family-friendly resort to Beaches Turks & Caicos.
The other misperception around “couples” that Lawlor cleared up is whether Sandals resorts welcome same-sex couples. The answer is a resounding “Yes.”
With the misperceptions cleared up, Lawlor outlined the benefits and opportunities Sandals offers MICE groups.
On the all-important food and beverage front, he explained that planners are requesting more dining options for their event and gala dinners, as well as a dine-around program. “Sandals is meeting these requests with its 5-Star Global Gourmet™ program, which features a range of culinary concepts that reach far beyond its Caribbean roots and banquet menus for groups have been enhanced, giving groups even more choice for themed dinners,” he explained.
Dine-arounds are also easily accommodated. “Sandals features up to 16 restaurants per resort, while Beaches [Turks & Caicos] has 21 restaurants,” said Lawlor. And in destinations where guests have access to more than one Sandals resort, Barbados, for example, the number of dining options is even higher. And Sandals doesn’t simply deliver quantity, it also brings quality and diversity to the dining table, with on-site eateries serving Japanese, Italian and French haute cuisine as well as more casual fare like jerk chicken and pub grub.
Lawlor said that the Sandals food and beverage teams, at the resort level and corporate head office, will work to dream up the most extravagant f&b experiences that a group’s budget will allow. Recent examples include: fully-themed rum bars/cocktails receptions—particularly popular in Jamaica, the home of Appleton Rum—with cigar-rolling demonstration; make your own Mimosa stations; and a champagne and chocolate (or caviar) bar.
Sandals also takes care of participants’ activity and excursion needs. On-site, guests have use of snorkelling equipment, stand-up paddleboards, small sailboats and more. The resorts also offer complimentary daily snorkelling trips as well as diving excursions for PADI®-certified divers. Off-site excursions can be arranged by Island Routes, the company’s DMC. And wellness needs are met at each resort’s Red Lane® Spa and Fitness Center.
The company also delivers on the unique experiences/venues front. For example, Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau has an offshore island that groups can rent (extra charge) for functions. Just a short boat ride away from the resort, it is perfect for beach parties, awards receptions and dinners, and more.
In Jamaica, Sandals Ochi has a versatile, vibrant new beach club, which can be used for team-building events like beach Olympics and for private functions such as a concert, chic cocktail reception or pool party.
Another unique experience is available at Sandals Emerald Bay, Exuma in The Bahamas. There, groups can have a cocktail party at the private residence of the resort’s general manager. Located on the resort’s ocean-side, Greg Norman-designed golf course, his house offers scenic views of the peninsula that it sits on. Sandals Emerald Bay Golf Course is consistently regarded as one of the best golf courses in the Caribbean. It’s often referred to as the “Pebble Beach” of the Caribbean.
Sandals also makes it easy to add a corporate social responsibility component to a program. The Sandals Foundation is a non-profit organization launched in 2009 to help the company make a difference in the lives of the people and countries in which it operates. Guests can participate individually or as part of a group in activities related to education, community and environment. Our group spent a morning reading and playing with the kids at the Culloden Early Childhood Institute. It was two memorable hours that left us all smiling.
*The 12 properties promoted as MICE-ready are:
- Sandals South Coast (Jamaica) | Rooms: 372 | Meeting space: 5,404 square feet
- Sandals Montego Bay (Jamaica) | Rooms: 264 | Meeting space: 2,380 square feet
- Sandals Ochi (Jamaica) | Rooms: 519 | Meeting space: 13,484 square feet
- Sandals Royal Plantation (Jamaica) | Rooms: 74 | Meeting space: 3,752 square feet
- Sandals Emerald Bay (Exuma, The Bahamas) | Rooms: 249 | Meeting space: 6,700 square feet
- Sandals Royal Bahamian | Rooms: 404| Meeting space: 7,047 square feet
- Sandals Barbados | Rooms: 280 | Meeting space: 2,000 square feet
- Sandals Royal Barbados | Rooms: 222 | Meeting space: 5,080 square feet
- Sandals Grande Antigua | Rooms: 373 | Meeting space: 3,716 square feet
- Sandals Grande St. Lucian | Rooms: 311 | Meeting space: 6,964 square feet
- Sandals Grenada | Rooms: 257 | Meeting space: 1,880 square feet
- Beaches Turks & Caicos | Rooms: 758 | Meeting space: 6,926 square feet