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Sandals Resorts "More Quality Inclusions" conventions recently rolled into Long Beach, Calif. The event attracted 750 agents, including Chairman's Royal Club members, Certified Sandals Specialists and Preferred Sandals Agency owners, as well as not-yet certified agents, for a full day of activities including a trade show, general information sessions, lunch, breakout classes, dinner and evening entertainment.
"Agents are our central source of distribution," said Kevin Froemming, president of Unique Vacations, Inc., worldwide marketing and sales representatives for Sandals Resorts. "We have such a diverse amount of product, even within the brands. We depend on agents to communicate these differences to their clients."
Froemming noted that agents at the convention who were relatively unfamiliar with the brand were impressed.
"Our message about what we do for the agent and how we protect them really resonated," said Froemming. "We do things no other company does."
Froemming noted that agents will do well to focus on selling high-end travel.
"The all-inclusive guest has also evolved over the years. Today's customer expects more and more," said Froemming. "In the past, guests were content with a great beach and decent food. Today, the expectations are exponentially higher. It's not just the expense of the vacation - it's the time expense also. People have less time for vacations. They expect the vacation to be bulletproof."
According to Froemming, Gordon "Butch" Stewart, chairman of Sandals Resorts International has always been interested in distinguishing Sandals from other all-inclusive resorts.
"He decided to do things differently and focus on personalized service and diversification of restaurants," he said. "Running five restaurants out of one kitchen may be cost effective, but you have a head chef who is moving from one dish to another, making Italian food, Mexican dishes, sushi. At our resorts, 90 percent of our restaurants have separate kitchens. Butch brings in Italian chefs, French chefs and has them train our island staff. We get a chef who is leading the experience."
Sandals also distinguishes itself by not franchising its name.
"We own our resorts. We have one shareholder - Butch Stewart," said Froemming. "We typically add one or two resorts a year. If clients want a five-star product for $99, it's up to the travel agent to tell them it's impossible and then to show them what is possible."
According to Gary Sadler Sr. vice president of sales for North America for Unique Vacations, Inc., Sandals supports travel agents in growing their business.
"How do agents stay competitive in a stalled market? They get out there and do something. Remember the saying, 'If Mohammed won't come to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed?' That's what agents have to do," said Sadler. "Mail a brochure, send emails, get on the phone to their clients. Host a Sandals event. If you don't do things to make your business grow, it won't grow. It's a challenging time. The principle is to be proactive. We've flown out to California to convince agents to sell the product - we're leading by example, by being proactive ourselves."
Sandals Resorts International has invested more than $300 million into the resorts in the last few years. According to Sadler, nearly 50 percent of the resort inventory is suites. The company is also bullish on the success of its fully customizable destination wedding product.
"Our wedding product is new and visionary; gone are the days of the cookie cutter concept," said Sadler. "We've created a new approach to the destination wedding. We've also seen a great amount of support and interest from agents regarding destination weddings."
The event in Long Beach, Calif., generated a lot of excitement across the tourism landscape, at least partially from the announcement that Sandals had purchased the LaSource Resort in Grenada, its first property on the island. It will reopen as Sandals LaSource Grenada Resort & Spa. Once renovations are complete, the resort will have added nearly 100 rooms to offer a selection of 200 guestrooms, private cottages and bungalows, many of which will be concierge- and butler-level suites, including the brand's signature Rondoval suites. The reopening date is yet to be announced.