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Bahamas thanks ‘Butch’, Sandals travel agents for helping economy to grow

Sunday, May 18, 2014    

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Los Angeles, USA -- Bahamas Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe received a rapturous reception following his keynote speech at Sandals Resorts International's travel agent unveilings in Los Angeles last week.

Having whipped the large crowd, comprising some of North America's top travel agents, into a frenzy of excitement, the minister was given a standing ovation for a speech that championed the Caribbean as a destination and praised the travel trade and Sandals Resorts for their contribution to its development.

"We have to appreciate that we're not just talking about a hotel brand, we're talking about a commitment by a Caribbean man who understands the ideology of Caricom. It was very important for me to be here to say thank you to 'Butch' Stewart and cause the people who sell both the product and the destination to understand that they are contributing to the social and economic development of these islands," said Wilchcombe.

"Because of the travel agents and Gordon 'Butch' Stewart, many Bahamians I know have meals on their table, roofs over their heads, are able to visit the hospital and see their doctor and educate their children. It's all because of the efforts they have made and the tourism industry in general, which in our case contributes more than 60 per cent to the GDP," he added.

"It's important that we stop and put everything into perspective. I wanted to say thank you to those travel agents and have them understand what they're doing: you're not just making commissions by selling resorts, you're also helping the growth and development of countries and the prosperity of people," Wilchcombe said.

"Many of the countries in the world have now latched onto tourism. When The Bahamas began tourism 50 years ago, we recognised many people came to The Bahamas in search of sun, sand and sea. We've discovered that they look for sun, sand and sea and they want service but they also want to have an appreciation of the culture of the destination. If you go to The Bahamas, you get

what the Bahamians do, if you go to Grenada, you get what the Grenadians do, and so on," the tourism minister said.

"Travel agents have been able to hold our countries in their hands and speak to the world about the future of this country and realise that the tourism industry can improve your country's resilience, its sustainability, cause rapid growth and its ability to provide jobs.

"Each island has unique features, and Sandals has been able to use these unique features to sell the destination. Sandals co-brands with the destination. In the case of the Exumas in the Bahamas, we were having difficulty seeing growth in the economy and because of Sandals we're seeing more airlift and more recognition," Wilchcombe said.

"In Sandals, you're talking about one of the world's most renowned brands. They've created an international appeal. It helps in 'the draw' and people become familiar with the destination because of the brand. If you have a brand like Sandals connected to your country, it will cause growth.

"Over 20 years ago we needed new brands and new inventory. When Sandals came onboard, we were an instant hit again and you're beginning to see it in Exuma (150 miles from Nassau). You will see it all the places where Sandals is. You see it in the Turks and Caicos, you'll see it in Grenada, you'll see it in Barbados," he said.

Effusive in his praise of Stewart, the Sandals chairman, Wilchcombe further commented: "He is renowned for marketing; in fact, he has been able to master it, and no one does it as good as he does. You see Sandals everywhere and it becomes part of your psyche and it is imperative for us as Caribbean men and women to celebrate him.

"Not only has he caused his own personal growth as a hotelier but he's gone into islands that were suffering and has been able to cause economic and social growth that impacts families, lives, and generations," said Wilchcombe.

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