Not just any resort can use terms like ‘barefoot elegance’ and ‘luxury-included’ and deliver them, let alone perfect the concepts, but then again, a Sandals resort is anything but ‘any resort.’ Sandals lives and breathes its taglines and it shows. Sandals is an institution, with an unheard-of high repeat customer base while recruiting new Sandals ‘lifers’ weekly. Simply put, those who know go and keep right on going.
You know the branding, you’ve seen the glossy commercials, the even glossier brochures, where ‘Love is All You Need’, with a well-dressed butler delivering two perfect glasses of champagne to a gorgeous couple on an even more gorgeous beach, promising you the ‘time of your life’ to the Dirty Dancing tune of the same name. We can fill a page listing the exclusive inclusions, the dozen or so room categories each of its 15 luxury Caribbean resorts offer and the romance of it all but there is another constant element that makes Sandals special.
A trend setter, brilliant marketer and a company that follows through in delivering what they promise so much so that they trademark their concepts and (successfully) live with the consequences, Sandals continues to one-up themselves. It is luxurious, it is over-indulgent but it’s also honest, responsible and life-changing, both to the pampered guests it happily caters to, but to a greater degree, the opportunities it offers the staff it employs and the local communities it gives back to through the Sandals Foundation.
My first experience with Sandals was over a decade ago in the beautiful Bahamas, followed by an educational trip provided by Air Canada Vacations, showcasing their Sandals and Beaches line of resorts throughout Jamaica the following year. I have helped build a playground and painted a school in rural Jamaica as part of a Sandals Foundation initiative. I’ve met the children of the school and I’ve seen first hand the work the Foundation does.
I’ve been to other four and five-star Caribbean resorts before but through the glitz and branding, I was able to put my finger on what made Sandals special to me, and it was hands down the resort staff. And not just on my first Bahamian trip but in the four Jamaican properties I visited too. I went back in subsequent years and every Sandals resort staff member I ever encountered had a very similar if not exact same way about them, as if walking out from a Sandals mold.
I can fill another page detailing the supreme level of service one can expect on any given day in Sandals paradise but it’s something else that makes their employees unique, and it can’t be summed up in a smile (but there are plenty of those going around too). Every staff member that passed me by was humming if not full out singing a song and didn’t just acknowledge me with a greeting, which would have been more than sufficient, they asked how things were going and if things were alright. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen an employee anywhere seem to care, be so present and enjoy what they were doing as much as a Sandals employee.
It would be easy and wrong to reason that the staff is happy just because they have a job, make a decent wage and work in a clean and visually beautiful environment. In addition to those important elements, Sandals has developed a company culture, that I would argue, is the key to a lot of their success. A culture that drives their staff to song, to sing it out loud, to go out of their way and show a genuine interest in the time you are having and being proud of the work they do. I have seen a waiter sit in the sand beside a young, distraught woman who had just had a fight with her boyfriend, comforting her, listening to her story and not leaving till she was able to crack a smile.
A few years back, one-upping themselves yet again, Sandals included the services of a personal butler to higher room categories to much fanfare. Many butlers since have become friends with guests and have been known to do everything from unpacking and packing luggage to looking after laundry and even drawing you a rose petal bath, all with that same genuine interest in making sure that your experience is the absolute best it can be.
It isn’t simple courtesy or even being extra attentive but a realization of how big of a part they play in a guest’s overall experience. Without a doubt, a job at a Sandals resort comes with some prestige on the islands, a financial opportunity to provide for one’s family. The man behind the Sandals name, Jamaican-born Gordon “Butch” Stewart, prides himself on happily providing those opportunities. Staff are hired locally and promoted from within. The ones that show initiative and promise are well provided for with higher learning, for example, paid for by Sandals. They help round out their staff to not only become the best at what they do but to become the best person they can be.
Where the Sandals chain is a couples-only, luxury-included vacation, Mr. Stewart’s other equally successful brand, Beaches, brings similar concepts of uncompromised service and world-class amenities to everyone, focusing primarily on families. It’s brilliant in that many of its guests are former Sandals repeat guests, whose family has grown since their Sandals visits to now include a child or two, possibly even conceived during a past Sandals holiday – a clever way to keep a repeat customer that has outgrown your original brand in the fold. And like the staff at Sandals, Beaches employees genuinely care and extend that care to kids and teens at the resorts’ incredible and award-winning ‘Kids Camps’. And yup, you guessed it – those who know go and keep on coming back.
With all of the fantastic inclusions and plush settings, it’s easy to overlook the care the staff takes but I would wager that the resorts themselves wouldn’t be half as incredible as they are without the staff that they have. Cause after all, they are the Sandals secret ingredient.