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From Saint Lucia to Dunn’s River: Through Island Routes to Sandals’ Roots

Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

Travelling the Caribbean by island routes could be each a challenge and an adventure, but at all times an experience, as was mine from George F.L. Charles airport at Vigie to Norman Manley international in Jamaica, which took all of 14 hours and three flights, including a six-hour overnight stay, through Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago, from Tuesday to Wednesday.

Landing in Kingston and adjusting my mind’s clock to Daylight Saving Time, one other long ride awaited: from Kingston to Ocho Rios, along the Edward Seaga Highway.

The hours-long drive along Jamaica’s new, long but time-shortening north-south highway was one other island-route experience, the seemingly-endless pedestrian-free four-lane, two-way stretch mainly looking like a Highway to Heaven, with no sinners left walking.

But it surely was price every minute of my latest overseas project chronicling Caribbean life – this time a return to the roots of the route that led to the endearing and enduring story of a boy, a beach and a giant dream.

Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart grew-up walking the Ocho Rios beach every day, selling fish to hotels — and it was on one in every of those fishy walks that the roots of today’s Sandals hotel chain were planted.

One in all the hotels he sold fish to was the famed Arawak – and plenty of moons later, what gave the impression of a faraway dream within the island’s Blue Mountains was fast-forwarded into the primary Sandals Dunn’s River, where yet one more dream (this time shared between father and son) is about to be given what Saint Lucia’s Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott describes as ‘One other Life…’

Long before Dunn’s River, Butch began living the Sandals dream in Montego Bay, leading (4 many years later) to Sandals Resorts International (SRI) now owning the very best luxury-included hotel resorts across the islands — from Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados and Curacao (Sandals’ ABC islands) to Grenada, Saint Lucia and Turks & Caicos islands.

I’ve scribbled the Sandals story from 1993, when Butch’s vision saw him purchase a beach property at La Toc, in South Castries, into SRI’s first Saint Lucia property.

I saw Sandals Regency La Toc grow from a European-owned Caribbean hotel in April 1992 into one in every of SRI’s and Saint Lucia’s leading properties — and 30 years later, it still stands tall alongside SRI’s three other Saint Lucia properties: Sandals Halcyon, Sandals Grande Saint Lucia Resort & Spa and the Sandals Cap Estate Golf Course.

I covered the opening of Sandals Barbados in 2014 and Sandals Royal Curacao in 2022, witnessing Sandals first move outside the Caribbean Community’s English-speaking region into the Netherlands Antilles, combining the historic mixture of languages and scenic island life at the previous Santa Barbara hotel compound into the new tourism gem it shines in one other ‘ABC islands’ group (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao).

After 40 years scribbling the Sandals story, I can say today, no doubt or any fear of contradiction, that Sandals has been one in every of Jamaica’s best success stories – and a really significant contributor to Saint Lucia’s Treasury over the past 30 years

In lower than half-a-century, SRI has not only turn into a national symbol of Jamaican determination in pursuit of success, but in addition a pivotal example of how well-led Caribbean businesses can, in exemplary ways, not only stand the test of international competition within the region’s tourism business, but in addition a first-rate contributor to employment generation – and the general public purse, contributing over EC $260 million in annual tax payments here in 2022 alone, also training and employing over 2,000 Saint Lucians.

After the legendary ‘Butch’ boarded the final word flight to The Great Beyond (that we’ll all eventually take), his successor son Adam has (in two years) undertaken to enhance and expand on all SRI properties across the region, while continuing to offer longer life to his and his dad’s dreams by constructing new hotels, including the Buccament Bay resort under way in St. Vincent & The Grenadines.

SRI has also since linked with Adam’s alma mater, Florida International University (FIU) and The University of the West Indies (The UWI) to create the Caribbean’s first hospitality university in Jamaica – within the name of essentially the most iconic pioneering and groundbreaking investor within the globalization of the regional tourism and travel industry.

And after surviving COVID, SRI has also promised to create 5,000 Caribbean jobs across its Caribbean properties.

But clearly, the largest Sandals dream got here to life yesterday (May 19) through the reconceptualization of what SRI Executive Chairman Adam Stewart calls “a hotel with a legendary past and a legendary promise.”

As he explained to me, “Along this incredible stretch of Ocho Rios beach is where my dad grew-up — a spot near his heart, crammed with family and friends — and a few very big dreams…

“It was there, selling fish to local hoteliers that he witnessed first-hand Jamaica’s burgeoning tourism industry and have become awed by new visitors who arrived by air and shortly fell in love with our Caribbean playground.”

The SRI Executive Chairman added, “Rising from the unique site of the famed Arawak, Sandals Dunn’s River just isn’t only an homage to my father but to Jamaica, which he so deeply loved.”

Highlighting the auspicious nature of yesterday’s formal ribbon-cutting opening of Dunn’s River 2, Stewart acknowledged that “Every hotel opening has significance…”

But, with the pioneer in his dad still very-much in mind, he stressed that “For me and my family, this one is actually special, it’s personal — our last collaboration together and crammed with tremendous meaning and memories.”

Describing the opening of the wholly-reconceptualized Dunn’s River as “The Return of a Legend”, the younger steward of the Stewart Family’s ever-growing multi-national and regional exclusive and exquisite hospitality ended this manner:

“Now it’s our turn, with great responsibility and humility, to thrill the following generation of travelers to Sandals Resorts and to our home island of Jamaica.

“In this manner, my father’s story, our family’s story, the legendary story of Sandals Resorts, continues…”

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