Last night (Nov. 22) wasn't your average Sandals Resorts event.
Rather than 600 travel agents, which is typical for one of the luxury company's celebratory functions, just 96 travel agents, hand-picked by Sandals, attended a travel agent appreciation dinner at the York Mills Gallery.
And, as Maureen Barnes-Smith, director of sales and marketing, Unique Vacations Canada Inc. promised, she'd have everybody out the door before 9:00 pm— but not before guests had a fresh cup of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, flown in specially for the event.
Sandals' partners from the Bahamas, St. Lucia, Barbados, and the U.S. were invited too.
"These agents that we've invited here tonight have been very loyal to Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts," said Garth Laird, senior national director of sales, Unique Vacations Inc., Miami. "First and foremost, tonight is about saying thank-you to our travel agent partners for their continued support and dedication. As the world has evolved and become more advanced with technology, in this industry there's a belief that there's no need for a person to sit down and create those customized packages for a customer. We're still saying to our travel agents that they're still a very important part of our distribution channel. No matter what we do, the agents are a big part of making it happen."
Helping agents grow
Sandals Resorts may not have invented the all-inclusive concept, but the brand has definitely revolutionized the concept, as they continue to improve and refresh a great deal of their product.
The company has also introduced new technologies and marketing tools in order to help agents learn the brand inside and out and help them achieve top-seller status.
Some of the most significant changes will take place as early as next month. As CJ Smith, national business development manager, Unique Vacations Inc. points out, it all starts with Sandals Montego Bay.
"We're constantly innovating and adding things in the industry to really set us apart, and because we're constantly reinvesting into our own resorts, one of the things that we're always doing is asking ourselves, 'What's next?'" Smith told PAX.
"Our over-the-water suites were the first of their kind in the Caribbean at Sandals Royal Caribbean and Sandals South Coast, and next, we're adding over-the-water chapels at Sandals Montego Bay. We're always trying to imagine and re-imagine 'luxury included', because that's the difference—setting ourselves apart from the typical all-inclusive."
Going the extra mile
Since day one, Sandals' philosophy has always been to give the customer more than he or she will ever expect.
It's about giving customers more than what they paid for and providing extra special touches that they'll never forget or find anywhere else.
At Sandals Royal Caribbean or Sandals Montego Bay, for example, all Club and Butler guests receive luxury private car transfers in a BMW. It's a five minute ride, but being picked up in the car is a much better experience than a typical airport shuttle.
"Looking at this from an agent perspective, what we're thinking about, what kinds of programs we have to date that agents really love, and what programs can we improve on so at the end of the day, they have the ability to earn from selling the product and the brand, and they see a benefit of doing business with us," Laird said.
Committed to agents
Sandals has introduced several new initiatives to travel agents, which were presented at the event.
The following options are now available:
Cash Splash: monthly draws of $500 on any direct booking, or, $750 on Club bookings, or $1,000 on Butler bookings. Direct bookings do not need to be registered.
Points to Paradise program: Every booking that agents make earns points towards a personal vacation. Agents can also earn stays at any Sandals' property once enough points are accumulated, at no extra cost.
Sandals Resorts also runs weekly webinars exclusively for their agents. Launched approximately one year ago, in the first six months, Sandals was voted as one of the top webinar series in the world, regardless of industry. The company also prides itself on still providing classroom training to agents, alongside its digital webinar services.
"The more comfortable you are [with Sandals products], and the more knowledgeable you are, as a customer, I feel the confidence of the agent when they're speaking, and thus, you see those agents [who have enrolled in a webinar] doing better across the board," Laird explained. "Our best agents are always on the training programs."
SANDALS NEGRIL: Renovations were done three years ago. All bathrooms have been renovated, and balconies have been added. The property includes 226 suites on 12-acres of land.
SANDALS GRENADA: The soaking tubs out on the balcony are finally a big hit, after privacy curtains were installed— no more being able to see what your next door neighbour's up to at midnight!
SANDALS BARBADOS: This new build opened last December. Fifty brand-new suites just recently opened. Barnes-Smith warned agents to book this property early—guests hoping to enjoy the over-the-water suites should plan to book at least 14-18 months in advance. "And as for that glass pool, please, please remember that everyone can see what you're doing in there!" she joked. The resort also has the first-ever bowling alley for the Sandals brand.
Thanking Canadian partners
Maureen Barnes-Smith, director of sales and marketing, Unique Vacations Canada Inc. took a moment to thank Air Canada Vacations, WestJet Vacations, and Air Transat, who are all preferred partners of Sandals Resorts.
"These partners have year-round service to every destination that we offer," Barnes-Smith told the crowd. "Air Canada Vacations just introduced a third weekly flight to Grenada, and there are daily flights into Montego Bay (Jamaica) and Nassau (Bahamas), and multiple flights into St. Lucia, Antigua, Turks and Caicos, so if you're not sure which flight you need, remember that we're creating individual flight flyers for every single tour operator in Canada, so your clients can get to Jamaica, any way, anyhow."