EVEN Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, the undisputed king of vacation, was on the edge of his chair watching his son, Adam, hold one of the largest gatherings of travel agents spellbound as he sold Sandals Resorts, Jamaica, and the Caribbean on a nippy Toronto night.
It could have been paternal pride, but it was clearly more.
“I have never witnessed a more spectacular hotel presentation,” Stewart later told a group, all of whom agreed that they had been awed by Adam Stewart, the young CEO people frequently describe as a carbon copy of his great father.
On this daunting Thursday night in the sprawling Toronto Congress Centre, Adam showed why the World Travel Awards (WTA), the oscars of the travel industry, had named him a month before as their ‘Rising Star’. Tonight he was more. He was Sandals’ and Caribbean tourism’s superstar.
The World Travel Awards doesn’t name just anyone a Rising Star. The individual has to satisfy the exacting demands of a global media partner network that includes the International Herald Tribune, CNBC Arabiya, Newsweek, ASTA Network, National Geographic Traveller, Access New York, Travel & Leisure China, Khaleej Times, Outlook Traveller, Trade Arabia, TTN, Trav Talk India, Publituris, ABTA Magazine, Breaking Travel News, eTurboNews and Travel Daily News International.
“Our sole purpose is to create dreams,” young Stewart told his captive audience of about 1,000 travel agents who had come from all over Canada to participate in the annual convention that has turned the North American country into the fastestgrowing market for Sandals and its sister resorts — Beaches, Royal Plantation, and Grand Pineapple.
“What we created five years ago can’t do today, and what we are doing today won’t do two years down the road,” the younger Stewart said. “This year we are into our 31st year and my father has decided that we are going to work harder, work smarter and offer more. That is the DNA of our organisation.”
He described Sandals as a cult. “We love to be number one. We don’t like number two. We’ll do what it takes to innovate, recreate, trailblaze but we will be number one. That is our determination.”
Stewart noted the largest turnout of travel agents to a resort convention, saying: “The fact that 1,000 of you have taken the time to come here is humbling and awesome.”
The Toronto leg of the conventions last week Thursday was one of several stops on a blitz of major cities including Atlantic City; Houston; Dallas; Chicago and Los Angeles.
‘Butch’ Stewart, the veteran of these conventions, drew prolonged applause and a standing ovation as he stood to address the function, telling them that “travel agents are the backbone of our organisation”.
“We have had a 30-year love affair with travel agents and that will continue into the foreseeable future,” said the Sandals Resorts International chairman.
Vice-president for sales, Gary Sadler, declared that no other hotel chain in the world could get a thousand travel agents to take a day off to attend a convention to learn about the products they were already selling.
“No other resort sends its chairman and CEO to spend a day with travel agents,” he added.
Sandals and its principal drew enthusiastic praise from Air Canada’s Vice-President Zeina Gedeon who said she had “never met any other person more passionate about excellence in business than ‘Butch’ Stewart”.
Travel agent Jennifer Borgh told the Jamaica Observer, of which Stewart is also chairman, that she had done well for herself selling the Sandals resorts, specialising in weddings and honeymoons.
“It’s just great working with Sandals and I am currently a Sandals certified specialist, which is a great achievement for me,” said the bubbly Borgh, who noted that she always looked forward to the conventions.
The Octogenarian publisher of the popular Baxter Travel Media group, Edith Baxter, was on hand to present three awards, including that for Canada’s favourite resort to Sandals, an award chosen by travel agents and tour operators. That was the icing on the cake.
Canadian songbird Chantal Kreviazuk preceded and ended her scintillating performance with testimonies of her personal experience with the Sandals and Beaches hotels, calling it “the greatest vacation I have ever taken with my family”.
“I don’t get involved with anything that’s not meaningful to me. I find Sandals to be very classy and filled with integrity. It’s the reason I wanted to perform here today,” the singer said.
All the major tourism boards in the Caribbean displayed promotional booths in the convention hall, including Grenada, whose minister of tourism Dr George Vincent attended and praised the Stewarts for their outstanding contribution to Caribbean tourism.