Sandals Resorts International (SRI)’s $230 million plan to expand its considerable all-inclusive resort holdings across Jamaica, made official in a May 26 groundbreaking ceremony, represents a strong vote of confidence for the country and Caribbean tourism following the pandemic-driven travel shutdown.
Adam Stewart, SRI’s executive chairman, released details of the plan at the ceremony, at which he announced the Sandals Dunn’s River project, which includes the re-development of the Sandals Dunn’s River hotel property and the construction of an adjacent Sandals Royal Dunn’s River resort.
Stewart said SRI is also launching a $250 million renovation of its new Beaches Runaway Bay Resort in Ocho Rios. At the ceremony, he called the sweeping resort initiative a “commitment to [SRI’s] wider expansion plans in its home country.”
Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s tourism minister, added SRI “has been one of the key players in Jamaica’s tourism sector for many years, and we are pleased they will be expanding their presence in the destination.”
Bartlett added, “The acquisition and development of three new [SRI] properties in Ocho Rios is yet another example of the significant investments we are seeing in Jamaica that will enhance our tourism infrastructure, increase our offerings and ultimately job opportunities for our workers.”
Stewart said SRI officials banked on the Caribbean’s inherent natural beauty and engaging cultures as a reliable draw for visitors coming out of the pandemic. He noted SRI never halted its national television advertising as the pandemic progressed.
“This illustrates the confidence we have always had as a family in the Caribbean,” he said Wednesday in an interview with TravelPulse. “When Sandals shows that confidence it sends a very strong signal to investors in the region.” He said the Jamaica project will create 2,100 construction jobs at Sandals Dunn’s River and 1,300 permanent hotel positions.
“Sandals was the first resort chain to re-open in Jamaica and inside the Caribbean in almost every island we have resorts other than the Bahamas,” Stewart said. “We’ve brought more staff back to work and more travelers back to the Caribbean than any other travel company,” he said.
“At Dunn’s River we bought the hotel for $30 million, and all-in there will be $230 million of development. That gives you an indication of the kind of transformation we’re planning,” Stewart said. “With the Sandals Dunn’s River and Sandals Royal Dunn’s River side by side, there will be nothing like it in Jamaica. We’re in the process again of taking the company to the next level.”
Meanwhile, SRI is also expanding its footprint across Caribbean destinations . “We are in the midst of a transformation at Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau, a $37 million renovation,” said Stewart.
“We start construction in two weeks in Curacao for opening in 2022 and right behind that we start construction in St. Vincent for opening in Q1 2023,” Stewart said. “So if you take the three hotels in Jamaica, the Royal Bahamian, Curacao and St. Vincent, the company is developing six hotels at the same time.”
Stewart said future booking trends show that not only is 2022 looking to be a strong year in terms of Caribbean visitor growth, but fall bookings, traditionally weak for generations, are stronger for 2021 than at any time in his company’s history.
“We’ve grown up in a generation of people that love to travel,” Stewart said. “There were many things to come out of COVID good and bad, but one of the good for sure is it reminded us how important travel is and leisure travel in particular.”
The death earlier this year of his pioneering father has not halted the vision they shared, Stewart said. “Even when my dad was with us, we were making decision on moving forward. Rather than going into a lockdown, we utilized the time to really re-think everything and consider what the next generation of Sandals resorts would look like.”
He added, “My dad would be smiling down today because this was so much a part of the time we spent so during the pandemic working together [and] thinking about this resort and what we were going to do.”
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