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Gordon “Butch” Stewart on his new book ‘Life’s a Beach’

Gordon “Butch” Stewart on his new book ‘Life’s a Beach’

Breaking Travel News: Congratulations on the new book, Life’s a Beach. How did it come about?
Butch: ‘Life’s a Beach’ is actually the second book that tells my story. The first ‘All That’s Good’ was published in 2005 which, when you consider how quickly the travel industry moves, feels like a lifetime away and our guests and travel partners were eager to see a new version. Much like the resorts themselves, the story has evolved and even in those seven short years so much has happened: brand new resorts, fantastic new amenities, new marketing campaigns and award wins and more luxurious renovations than I could possibly hope to list!

BTN: Are you pleased with the final product? Is it an accurate account of your life story?
Butch: I’m delighted! The author, Jo Foley, came with tremendous credentials previously working for The Times and Woman Magazine and having also spent time in the region was a perfect fit. ‘Life’s a Beach’ tells the story from my first company in Jamaica, Appliance Traders, which I started in 1968, right through to the present day with all of the fun and games in between.
I’m also personally thrilled that, whilst the book focuses mainly on Sandals and myself, it enabled us to bring attention to some of the people who have been with me throughout this incredible journey and without whom we would never have reached the heights we have.

BTN: Sandals has been influential in shaping the all-inclusive marketplace and introduced many industry ‘firsts’ over the past 30 years. What aspect of the Sandals business model do you think has made it such a success?
Butch: Ever since day one, we’ve tried to be deliberately different: whether it’s the swim up pool bars, our exclusive butlers or the way we design our suites. However, I strongly believe that it is our people that differentiate us from the pack. When we first started all we had was our desire to do more than people ever expected – regardless of what it took. 30 years on, our ethos remains the same. Over the years we’ve fine-tuned our training and development programme to ensure that our team members provide the best guest service in the business. We like to use the phrase ‘We employ the smile, everything else we train’ to define our recruitment policy and it’s the main reason so many guests continue to return to our resorts.

BTN: Why did you decide to launch Sandals? Did the hotel group evolve in a way that you imagined it would from the outset?
Butch: We always joke that we started Sandals for all of the wrong reasons! We were desperate for foreign currency in order to run Appliance Traders and purchase products overseas to sell locally and when a rundown hotel in Montego Bay, The Bay Roc, as it was known then, become available it provided us with the opportunity to do just that. I had no experience in the hospitality industry and all we knew was that the hotel sat on the best private beach in Jamaica and was very close to the airport but we were determined to make it work.

The evolution since then has been one long rollercoaster ride: lots of excitement and fun and of course, one or two bumps along the way!


BTN: To what extent has Jamaican and Caribbean tourism changed since you launched Sandals into the marketplace 30 years ago?
Butch: The landscape of tourism has changed unrecognisably since we began operating not least because of the sheer number of visitors to the islands now. The increased number of visitors and the standards that people demand have risen exponentially which has meant a constantly evolving infrastructure and the diversity of accommodation and amenities available.

BTN: What does the region need to do to improve the tourism sector?
Butch: The tourism industry is of huge financial importance to virtually every country in the region which unfortunately often results in greater levels of taxation than a lot of the other regions we compete with. To that end, I would welcome greater support for tourism from government and communities in order to offer the finest products and experiences out there and to constantly improve what we’re offering people.

BTN: What advice would you give to hoteliers who are looking to launch in today’s marketplace?
Butch: There is simply no substitute for excellent service.

BTN: You have announced new developments as part of a $500 million plan to expand and enhance Sandals’ offering in the Caribbean. Will you expand beyond the Caribbean?
Butch: I’m lucky to be able to travel all over the world spreading the word about our wonderful resorts and still enjoy the surprise I see when people discover that we’re still just a family-run company from Jamaica. We do it because we live here and we love it and are not a big corporation who do it for business so there are no plans to expand outside of the region at the moment. Besides, where else in the world could you hold board meetings on the beach?

BTN: What is your favourite hotel experience and why?
Butch: I’m immensely proud of the countless awards we won over the years but it’s still the little things that make me tick. Simply nothing beats the smiles on the faces of our guests who have given us the opportunity to welcome them to our home for the first time.