COVID-19 travel: an inside look at the Caribbean and beyond
Updated: Jul 24
An exclusive interview with travel industry leader and Deputy Chairman of Sandals Resorts International, Adam Stewart, as he shares his thoughts on current and future travel in a COVID-19 world
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, individuals, businesses and communities continue to adapt. 2020 is certainly the year of challenges and change – for all of us. Each day brings new openings and closings within the countries and communities that surround us.
While the Bahamas announced travel restrictions earlier this week to curb the spread of COVID-19, some welcome news came out of the island of St. Vincent today: news of economic growth and countless job opportunities for the island.
Sandals Resorts International, the all-inclusive luxury resort leader in the Caribbean, will soon open its fourth Beaches Resorts property in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Sandals and Beaches currently operate a total of 18 resorts; 3 Beaches and 15 Sandals in Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Antigua, The Bahamas, The Turks and Caicos Islands, Grenada and Barbados.
I had an opportunity to check in with Adam Stewart, Deputy Chairman of Sandals Resorts International, to get an inside perspective of how the COVID-19 era is transforming the travel industry. Stewart and I go way back, but that's another story for a different day!
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Paige Kornblue: There have been such unexpected developments in our world this year. What is your take on the travel industry at this point? How is it dealing with the current COVID-19 waves?
Adam Stewart: The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the world and particularly on travel and tourism is something nobody could have ever imagined. The travel industry is among the hardest hit industries and travel and tourism interests all over the world are still coming to terms with the fallout. I will say though that the travel industry is a resilient one – we’ve weathered many storms, literal and figurative and I’m optimistic that we will bounce back. Like many other industries we’ve had to pivot, think quickly on our feet and find innovative ways of adjusting to the threat of COVID-19 while finding ways to deliver memorable and most importantly, safe vacation experiences to our guests who have made the decision to travel. The industry is on a path of healing and restoration, it’s evolving and adapting, operations are changing but we are moving ahead with a focus on inspiring confidence in travelers and with the conviction that things will get better.
Overall, how would you describe the state of the islands and communities you operate, work, live in and know so well?
Sandals Resorts International operates in seven islands throughout the Caribbean region and in many of these islands tourism is a key economic driver, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs, supporting local communities and of course boosting economies. Our economies are largely dependent on the tourism industry and it’s no secret that the region’s economies have been hard hit by the impact of COVID on the tourism industry. In addition to lost tourism revenue, there has also been increased joblessness, with many businesses forced to lay off staff. With that said however, I am proud to say the Governments in all the islands where we operate have done a masterful job of navigating the crisis and the Caribbean region has seen some of the lowest numbers of positive cases and fatalities and impressive recovery statistics, with many islands now COVID-free. The region is now in a phase of active reopening and rebuilding, with many countries already opening their borders to visitors, guided by strict protocols and procedures, and a number of others looking to reopen in short order. Sandals and Beaches Resorts are among many other resorts which are officially open in Jamaica, Antigua, Saint Lucia and The Bahamas with more planning to reopen soon.
How has Coronavirus and the pandemic affected your operations?
In response to the pandemic, the fallout in the airline industry, the closure of borders throughout the islands where we operate and to protect our guests and team members, Sandals Resorts International was forced to close all resorts. As you can imagine this was not easy for us nor for our 15,000 team members across the region. During the pandemic and still today, we have maintained close relationships with all Governments and relevant tourism stakeholders who have guided and continue to guide our operations. As borders began to open regionally and after rolling out a robust Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness guide which outlines the stringent procedures guiding our operations as we move forward, and which received the nod of approval from all stakeholders, we slowly started to reopen our resorts.
Adaption is certainly happening in the travel industry. How do you see Sandals/Beaches adapting?
In response to COVID-19 we launched our Sandals Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness which includes several pre-emptive cleanliness measures that safeguard the guest from arrival to departure. New and enhanced protocols effective across all Sandals and Beaches resorts include advanced hygiene practices across all resort contact points including 18 key touch points and an enhanced triple check system and increased frequency for resort cleaning and sanitation.
We have embraced technology and introduced At-Home to In-Room check-in, allowing guests to check in online and proceed directly to their rooms upon arrival. Our restaurant menus are now accessible digitally to reduce recurring contact. We’re promoting physical distancing, while still maintaining the resorts’ relaxed experience and we’ve implemented distancing protocols guiding dining and the use of other resort amenities. Fortunately, the design and construction of our resorts makes this a fairly easy adjustment for all Sandals and Beaches resorts. We previously operated in a culture of hugs and handshakes and we’ve had to change that. We now have a new signature contactless Sandals greeting that you’ll see on your next stay with us.
What coronavirus precautions do your teams currently take?
Training has always been important to us at Sandals Resorts International and even more so now as we navigate the “new normal”. Our team members have received robust training and reorientation, ranging from online training courses to hands-on training on the job. Our very thorough Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness guide details existing and upgraded standard operating procedures for all divisions and service areas within our operation and our team members have received extensive training on these procedures as well as on general COVID-19 prevention and response protocols. Our protocols map the procedures from guest arrival all the way through to departure and we’ve also implemented a number of new protocols which guide the way our team members conduct their duties, all in an effort to protect their health. Additionally, we have supplied all team members with personal protective equipment including masks and face shields and gloves where applicable, we’ve installed physical distancing markers and hand sanitizer dispensers throughout all our properties and have issued all team members with personal bottles of hand sanitizer.
What is your message to travelers?
I want to tell travelers to continue to travel. The world is still as beautiful as it was before and there is much to see, do and experience. Travel, but do it wisely and safely. In that vein, I encourage all travelers to carry out thorough research into the resorts or destinations they intend to visit. Familiarize yourself with the country’s entry protocols, do as much research as it takes to make yourself comfortable and confident in your decision to travel, plan accordingly and of course take all necessary personal precautions. The Caribbean is open for business and Sandals and Beaches Resorts are open for business. Our team members are waiting to welcome you back to paradise and we promise to take the best possible care of you.
What are some of the challenges moving forward?
We are still in a very delicate period of recovery and rebuilding and we are still in the midst of a pandemic. We’re now in a place where our focus is on adapting and pivoting as best as possible and responding to changes in the most responsible way. We will have some work to do to rebuild confidence among travelers but I am confident that by working together with our partners in the travel industry, relevant Governments, destination management experts and of course our teams on the ground, we will succeed in that effort.
Are small weddings and events more popular now than ever?
The size and nature of weddings and other similar events are guided by gathering protocols determined by each Government in the islands where we operate. Our operations are conducted with strict adherence to these protocols and so in many cases weddings and events have had to be smaller. This brings us back to your earlier question of adapting as even though events might now be smaller we are determined to provide the same unforgettable experience our guests have grown accustomed to and this forces us to think outside the box and generate new and creative ways to wow our guests while adhering to Government protocols and safety guidelines.
Why are Sandals and Beaches Resorts so unique?
Sandals and Beaches Resorts were founded on the mantra of giving the guest more than he or she expects. It was the mantra of my father and our Chairman, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, who impressed upon us the importance of exceeding guests’ expectations and today, this remains our guiding objective. From our breathtaking Over Water Bungalows, the first of their kind in the Caribbean, to our exquisite Five Star Global Gourmet ™, attentive and personalised Concierge and Butler service, unlimited land and water sports, and everything in between, we’ve taken great care to ensure that our guests never have to worry once they set foot on our resorts. Our guests are family to us and our extremely high return rate is evidence of the relationship we’ve built with our guests over the years. I always say we have the best team members in the world and I really believe it. Our team of dedicated and committed individuals are the stars that make this company so unique. We’re also blessed to operate in seven of the most beautiful islands in the region, with the most friendly and hospitable people and alluring and vibrant culture. Our destinations also play a major role in our appeal and we’re grateful to be able to share paradise with visitors from across the world.
More to know about Adam Stewart...
Along with his role as Deputy Chairman of Sandals Resorts International, Adam Stewart, a proud husband and father of three, also serves as Chief Executive Officer and Deputy Chairman of the ATL Group, which operates The Jamaica Observer Limited (Jamaica’s leading newspaper), Appliance Traders Limited (offers unbeatable sales and service of the finest line of household and industrial appliances) and ATL Automotive Limited (offers unrivalled sales and service of the Audi, Volkswagen, Honda, BMW, Mini, Porsche and Kia brands).
Also in Stewart’s portfolio is the tour company Island Routes Caribbean Adventures which offers unforgettable excursions and cultural experiences in 12 countries, a franchise partnership with Enterprise Holdings Inc (offering the Alamo, National and Enterprise brands in Jamaica), a partnership with Margaritaville Caribbean Group to create Caribbean Coffee Traders Limited and exclusive ownership of Starbucks® stores in Jamaica, currently with seven outlets and Starbucks® stores in the Turks and Caicos and Cayman Islands.
Stewart is the President of the Board of the Sandals Foundation, a non-profit organization that gives back to the island communities through community, educational and environmental projects.
He's also been known to wakeboard like a champ, run what I would consider a marathon before enjoying a good cup of coffee and serve in the role as dear friend to goodness knows how many people. Now that's what I call a deputy chairman of everything!
Is travel safe amid COVID-19? USA TODAY asks an expert and offers travel safety tips
Considering travel? Click here for resources and CDC travel guidelines
Some good news hot off the press!... Sandals announces brand new Beaches Resort in St. Vincent
How to visit Jamaica right now, courtesy of the Caribbean Journal
Photos kindly provided by Sandals Resorts International
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