Sandals Resorts Moves into the Meetings Market

Sandal Resorts helped invent the all-inclusive pricing model and they’ve been industry leaders in the region for decades. Within the last couple of years, the brand has built up its sales, services and infrastructure to attract incentive groups. Purpose-built with groups in mind, Sandals Emerald Bay in Great Exuma encompasses 245 villas and suites, with a Greg Norman-designed golf course overlooking the perfect crescent beach. For anyone who knows the Caribbean/Bahamas, few will argue that the most calm, bath-like crystal clear water is found in the Out Islands.

In Nassau, the recently renovated Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort is 15 minutes from the airport, and it comes with a private offshore island with permanent facilities for truly memorable day/evening events. It has 14,000 sf of meeting space and 10 F&B options.

We spoke with Jim Bullock, vp of group development, to learn more about Sandals’ attributes for groups. Everyone understands the inherent value of all-inclusive pricing, because you know the cost upfront and can budget accordingly. However, Bullock says the definition of “all-inclusive” varies among resort groups.

Prevue: Can you tell us what Sandals Resorts offers for large and small groups? 

Jim Bullock: Sure. Sandals offers true, all-inclusive luxury, personalized amenities and services on some of the world’s best beaches. The locations are chosen based on the quality of the beach. As far as meetings, planners can book a luxury group program and not compromise their budgets. A reoccurring theme is that there are great quality inclusions at Sandals, such as premium liquors and great F&B. Throughout the entire brand there are exceptional spas, unlimited scuba, golf, motorized watersports, fitness centers, land sports, airport transfers and much more. There’s more consistent quality and it’s all included.

When you are putting together a budget, you can put together a successful program where it’s all included in the price. There are 19 locations to choose from and each destination has its own personality.

Sandals is known for great value, quality and variety for groups. Some hotels in the Caribbean are so big, it’s easy for a smaller group to get lost. Sandals offers estate-wide buyouts for groups of 200-300 and they can take over the entire property during an incentive trip.

How has Sandals evolved into a meetings-friendly hotel group? 

While the brand is known as a destination for couples, there’s a side of Sandals that has evolved to meet the incentive market. Many of our resorts offer distraction-free meeting environments, flexible function space and ballrooms. We now have professionally trained meeting and event planners to expedite the process from start to finish. Beyond dedicated meeting rooms, there are casual spaces throughout the resort for groups to mingle, so they have their own space.

It seems like planners can create an exclusive event for their groups…

Yes. Whether we build a property from the ground up or if we acquire a hotel, we “Sandalize” the destination. It’s important to have spaces for groups and make sure that they can network with each other during their stay.

How’s the food? 

Nothing brings groups together like a great meal. The culinary experience for groups has greatly expanded. The quality of food, variety of dining options and the overall culinary experience has become increasingly important considerations for groups. Sandals was the first to create a specialty restaurant. Our Discovery Dining program includes up to 15 restaurants per resort. Each has its own ambiance and specialty chef. Groups can dine on their own timetables and can choose what type of cuisine they want to experience.

What does the unlimited scuba include?

It included lessons, certification and equipment. Sandals has some of the best diving locations in the Caribbean and the certified dive instructors are very talented. We really try our best to connect our guests with a great diving experience. Once you try it, you’ll want to return again and again. We get a lot that have never done it and others that are experienced. The water activities are very important at Sandals.

What are some of the attributes for groups at Exuma?

There’s no water like the water in Exuma anywhere else in the Caribbean. The Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma has 245 villas and suites. It offers incentive groups 13,000-sf of indoor meeting space, 13 restaurants and lounges, and activities. We have an 19-hole, par 72 golf course designed by Greg Norman that sits oceanfront. The Red Lane Spa is found at all Sandals properties, six tennis courts with a sunken stadium court, the largest zero-entry pool, water sports, scuba, snorkeling, sailing and outings on nearby islands.

How is Nassau well set up for groups? 

The property is only 40-minutes from Miami and has been recently renovated. The renovation included the guestrooms, the public space, the arrival experiences and we’ve added balconies to a lot of the guest rooms. The Sandals Royal Bahamian is a short 10-minute drive from the airport and has right over 400 rooms and suites. There’s 14,000-sf of function space, 10 dining options, the Red Lane Spa and an offshore island. The island is large enough to host a buyout and we see more and more groups doing that. The space has all the amenities and conveniences that a group needs for an event. It’s Nassau’s only hotel with a private offshore island restaurant and is ideal for groups to reserve for the day.

What does Sandals offer for CSR experiences? 

The Sandals Foundation brings Sandals closer to the corporate incentive market. Corporate and social responsibility are woven into the program and it allows groups to participate in half or full day teambuilding events. The foundation allows them to get involved with the local community. It connects corporate America with the community and it’s something that is beyond the bricks and mortar.