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'Butch' Stewart takes inaugural RJRGleaner Hospitality Award

BY DESMOND ALLEN
Executive editor – special assignment
allend@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, November 13, 2017

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THE Caribbean's most decorated businessman, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, Saturday night added yet another to his bulging trophy chest, notching the inaugural Pioneer Award in the RJRGleaner Hospitality Jamaica Awards 2017 presentation at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, St James.

While the choice of Stewart, the Sandals Resorts International (SRI) founder and chairman might have been a no-brainer for the Marcia Erskine-led judging panel, the award was especially significant, because the RJRGleaner metaphorically stretched across the aisle to the head of their staunchest competitor, the Jamaica Observer.

Chairman of 1834 Limited, the former Gleaner Company, Oliver Clarke himself handed the award to Stewart and the packed auditorium erupted in applause and spontaneous standing ovation as proud son, Adam Stewart simultaneously raised the hands of the two business tycoons, symbolising friendship renewed.

Stewart later commented that he was impressed with the graciousness of Clarke, who had figured significantly in the sale of the Bay Roc hotel, now the flagship Sandals Montego Bay, that gave Stewart his fairy-tale start to the eventual hotel empire that now has touched eight Caribbean islands.

Taking a friendly dig at Clarke, Stewart recalled that the Clarke-led Jamaica National Hotel and Properties was charged with divesting failed or abandoned tourism properties coming out of the turbulent 1970s. In 1981, the then Appliance Traders Limited (ATL) boss told mediator Eric Bell that he was not prepared to pay “one cent more than 12 million” for the hotel, unbeknownst to Clarke, of course.

“So when Eric asked Oliver how much money the hotel was going for, he said $8.5 million. Hiding my delight, I responded “yuh mad?” said Stewart who, with a twinkle in his eye, turned to Clarke and shook his hand warmly, saying “thank you again”.

The Hospitality Jamaica Awards, now in its 3rd staging, under the leadership of western Jamaica media doyenne Janet Silvera, recognises excellence in the tourism industry. Nineteen individuals and entities walked away with trophies Saturday night, amidst cheers from a highly partisan crowd.

Stewart, introduced by his son, Adam, the first vice-president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), was honoured for revolutionising the all-inclusive concept, moving it from Jamaica to become the only super brand from the Caribbean and the top private employer and foreign exchange earner in the region.

Uncharacteristically emotional as he responded to the accolades, Stewart made much of the fact that he had employed “good people” – from the groundsman up to the executives — whose hard work and dedication had helped to build the Sandals Resorts chain to be the powerhouse it is today.

“Our approach was that we exceeded the expectations of the guests and we put training, training, training at the core of our organisation…We believe firmly that Sandals should make things better for Jamaica and the Caribbean,” said Stewart.

As he is fond of saying, the Sandals chairman suggested that “the Almighty had spent more time on the Caribbean than anywhere else, hence its beauty and tranquility” and His footprints were “prettiest in Jamaica – a god-blessed island”.

Stewart, who was supported by his seven children, other close family members, staff and friends, thanked his family, especially his wife, Cheryl, who showed patience while they sacrificed time with him at dinners, outings and other major occasions to allow him to build Sandals.

The award presentation ceremony drew out western Jamaica's crème de la crème, including Custos of St James Ewen Corrodus; Mayor Homer Davis; Minister Without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister Dr Horace Chang; Montego Bay business icon Tony Hart and his wife Sheila; Caribbean Hotel and Tourist Association President Josef Fortsmayr; and Carolle Guntley, tourism icon.

Among those attending also were: Gary Allen, CEO of the RJRGleaner Communications Group, and Chief Operating Officer Christopher Barnes; Jennifer Griffiths, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Tourism; Dr Wykeham McNeill, Opposition spokesman on tourism; Francis Tulloch, former Member of Parliament; Lennie Little-White, executive chairman of Mediamix; Karron Benjamin, assistant general manager, Montego Bay Convention Centre; Emanuel DaRosa, president and CEO of Jamaica Public Service; Kevin Hendrickson, 2016 Hospitality Personality of the Year; and Damian Mitchell of The Gleaner newspaper.

Artistry in Motion, contortionist Akino and the Khalil Motown Show set the mood for an entertaining evening, with emcees Dahlia Harris and Brian Brown.

 

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