Sandals Task Force – Your mission, if you accept it, is to ‘Sandalise’ the Caribbean
Shawn DaCosta (second left), Sandals Resorts International’s chief operating officer, looks on as Curacao Prime Minister Gilmar Pisas (second right) is greeted by Sandals executive Arlene Lindo and Executive Chairman Adam Stewart, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Sandals Royal Curacao on June 24, 2022. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

WILLEMSTAD, Curacao — In the hospitality sphere Sandals Resorts has always been the place to work but the prospect of travel, learning new cultures and languages has added a new lure to the attractiveness of the Caribbean’s leading hotel chain.

Responding to increasing demand from the islands for its world-class brand — a guarantee of instant global tourism exposure — and in order to support its own aggressive push to spread its wings across the region, Sandals has established a task force — comprising some of its most experienced and skillful team members — to be deployed to new resorts.

“The main mission of the Sandals Task Force is to provide human capital support to our resorts where required. This includes, but is not limited to on the job training support, and working in key team member position(s) to enhance operational effectiveness and efficiency,” explained Sandals Executive Chairman Adam Stewart.

“We are building future leaders by providing exposure to various islands and cultures. It is gratifying to see how enthusiastic the team members are and to witness their energy and commitment to the mission,” he added.

The biggest movement of the task force to date has been to Dutch-speaking Curacao where Sandals, on June 1, 2022, opened Sandals Royal Curacao, its first resort outside the English-speaking Caribbean, embracing the exciting challenge of operating in a new culture and language.

To meet its deadline to fulfill destiny’s promise to create history in Curacao meant doing things never done before, as Chief Operating Officer Shawn DaCosta, a 30-year veteran of Sandals, admitted on opening day.

“We have nearly 1,000 staff at the Curacao resort, and to infuse the Sandals culture of excellence we brought in 200 of our employees from Jamaica and the Caribbean to impart their understanding of the roots and origin of Sandals and how we have managed to achieve so much success in over 40 years,” DaCosta disclosed.

“This is the first time we selected 200 of our best team members, as ambassadors of their home country and the brand, to become part of the opening team for periods ranging from three months, six months, nine months and one year — to ensure that all our service standards are realised,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

DaCosta said language was expected to be the biggest challenge to the project but the team had approached it as an opportunity for staff to learn the different languages such as Dutch, Papiamento (a sort of dialect) and Spanish, which are widely spoken in Curacao.

“Although we are strong in the English-speaking Caribbean and will always be, we have demonstrated the ability as a company to step into another country which is not English-speaking to grow and develop our brand,” DaCosta said confidently.

Since the opening of the 351-room hotel the number of task force members has been ramped up to 350, with another 100 expected in the near future. They are drawn from Jamaica, St Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Turks and Caicos and Grenada.

The team members at Sandals Royal Curacao represent departments such as accounts, bar, butler, Club Sandals (for high-end guests), cost control, engineering, entertainment, EPIX, front office, gift shop, housekeeping, kitchen, loyalty & travel, restaurant, Red Lane Spa, sales, watersports and weddings.

General Manager Kevin Clarke, who rose from his job as a waiter at Sandals Negril, was sent to Curacao two years ahead of the opening and suggested that the mingling of staff from across the Caribbean had been a hit, saying:

“The welcome from the prime minister, other government leaders, industry stakeholders, the communities making up this beautiful Dutch isle, and our new additions to the Sandals team of employees, have been truly exceptional…

“I am still in total awe of how vibrant and colourful the culture and the experiences are, and the warm and welcoming nature of its people.”

Task force members were also deployed for the reopening of Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau in January this year — recruited from Barbados, St Lucia, Grenada, Turks and Caicos, Exuma and Jamaica. They represent the departments of accounts, bar, butler, engineering, entertainment, EPIX, housekeeping, kitchen, resort shop, restaurant, Red Lane Spa, watersports, and weddings .

Some have also been deployed to Sandals Emerald Bay, The Bahamas, drawn from Jamaica and representing the butler, front office and Red Lane Spa units.

The programme is headed by a task force manager based at Sandals Resorts International’s head office in Montego Bay, with support from the Learning and Development and the Human Resource departments of each resort.

Commenting on the work of the task force in Curacao, Sandals CEO Gebhard Rainer, an international hospitality expert, argued that the resort chain was aware that to achieve its usually high resort standards there would require a realisation that “we are an international company — authentically Jamaican but a truly international company — that has come to Curacao”.

“We realise that it takes a different approach and a cultural expansion of the mind. It requires us to realise that we are now dealing with a different jurisdiction with European laws, and a consumer that has high expectations of us to help them experience their dreams of a great vacation,” said Rainer.

He believes that Sandals Royal Curacao presents the perfect opportunity to show that Sandals can go to the next level in both product and service. Fortunately, the company started with a great asset in that the entire local Curacao team had been “showing real energy, passion and enthusiasm that is truly enlightening and refreshing”.

Executive Chairman Stewart suggested that the task force concept is here to stay when he indicated, at the grand opening party for Sandals Curacao last week, that the resort plans to plant its flag in the four corners of the Caribbean.

He said Sandals Royal Curacao marked the opening of the hotel chain’s very first resort in the Dutch Caribbean but constituted “an exciting part of our plans to expand and celebrate the multifaceted and beautiful mosaic of culture, food, art, and language of the region”.

New team member recruits, who went to Beaches Turks and Caicos in 2021, gather for a photo opportunity.
Sandals Barbados General Manager Nicholas Simmons (centre) poses with team members before their departure for Sandals Royal Curacao.
Keisha Henry (left) from the Loyalty and Travel Department, Sandals Ocho Rios, welcomes two of the first guests at the newly opened Sandals Royal Curacao on June 1, 2022. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)
Melissa Phillips (right), loyalty and travel manager, is on the job at Sandals Royal Curacao. From left are General Manager Kevin Clarke and guests, Steven and Gabriella Houridis of New York. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)
SRI CEO Gebhard Rainer speaking of the move to the Dutch-speaking Caribbean. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)
Team members from Sandals Grande Antigua on the task force to Sandals Royal Curacao
Desmond Allen

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