Sandals meets the unique needs of group travel
Story and photos by GREG COATES
What’s a great way for an agent to pad their wallet? Easy, sell groups.
And who better to sell groups to, and get help from, than Sandals Resorts International?
Booking a group with Sandals has never been easier. The magic numbers are 5 and 3 – five rooms, three-night minimum.
Grant Lawlor, national groups manager, Unique Vacations Canada Inc., told Travel Courier that booking groups with Sandals is easy and lucrative for agents, and noted that it often leads to repeat business.
“Groups tend to travel every year,” he said, adding that, while at the resort, they’re already asking, “where are you taking me next year?”
And the benefits of group travel can be numerous: sixth or 12th free room credit, Club or Concierge upgrades, Butler upgrades, complimentary cocktail receptions with hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, group portraits and complimentary group dinners.
Beyond the traditional Weddings & Honeymoons and MICE (corporate meetings and incentive) groups, Lawlor said extended family getaways and social groups are trending big these days, with social groups being basically anything that doesn’t include a wedding or corporate function. It can be a group of friends or a group of people with shared interests such as tennis, golf, yoga, spa, culinary/wine (think cooking classes) or photography.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that Sandals is a couples resort, so it can’t be 10 guys on a golf getaway. At Sandals, 20% of a group can be made up of singles, so 10 rooms booked, two can be singles.
Available Sandals’ activities for groups are endless and can include such things as PADI-Certified scuba diving (and all equipment); Snorkelling trips (and all equipment); Hobie Cats, paddle boards, kayaks; professional instruction for water sports; private offshore islands at Sandals Royal Caribbean and Sandals Royal Bahamian; green fees at golf courses in select resorts; beach volleyball, basketball, pool tables; day and night tennis; fitness centre with state-of-the-art equipment; day and night entertainment, including live shows, motorized water sports at select resorts.
Special limited-edition events and experiences centred around six distinct themes, music, culture, sports, culinary, voluntourism, and social interests, are also available.
“It’s all about value,” noted Lawlor. “Agents can say, ‘look at what I’ve secured for you, at no extra charge.’ You’re the hero.”
For meeting and incentive groups, Sandals offers a broad range of meeting facilities, from expansive ballrooms to intimate boardrooms.
For wedding groups, the more rooms booked, the more bells and whistles.
“The wedding couple can choose what they want, rather than be told what they get,” said Lawlor. “It could be anything from a room upgrade to a beach bonfire. Brides and grooms don’t want to be told what they get, we let them choose. It’s much more flexible for the client.”
He added that Sandals is one-stop shop with couples getting a day-by-day itinerary that they sign off on.
“You’re dealing with one person (a planner) at the resort who sets it all up,” said Lawlor.
Booking a social or wedding group at Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts is now easier than ever for agents, thanks to their new Group Code option. Once the first room is booked, either through a preferred tour operator partner or with Unique Vacations, agents can request a group code. As additional rooms are booked, the group code can be applied to those reservations, essentially linking the individual bookings together to create a group. Once the five room minimum is met, everyone receives the added group concessions.
“Group code is a growing part of our business and something that agents should definitely consider,” says Lawlor. “There is zero risk for agents, so there’s no penalty if they don’t reach our group minimum of five rooms.”
Sandals recently announced that a group booking incentive continues for Q1 2019. Agents who book any type of group – social, corporate or wedding – of five rooms or more at any Sandals or Beaches resort through March 31 will be entered for a chance to win a three-night stay of their own. No entry form is required.
The contest is valid for all contract groups, booked with either a Canadian tour operator partner or Unique Vacations Inc. Restrictions apply, and it is not valid for agents in Quebec.
Sandals offers plenty of options for agents booking groups throughout the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Antigua, Grenada, and Barbados. Two of Sandals most popular resorts in Jamaica are the newly renovated Sandals Montego Bay and Sandals South Coast.
The “all-new” Sandals Montego Bay is Sandals’ flagship property. Features include new banquet and meeting facilities, new lobby and main bar, new swim-up suites, new over-the-water wedding chapel, new Latitudes over-water bar and three new restaurants.
Sandals South Coast is all about luxury and seclusion. Set on a two-mile stretch of Jamaica’s south coast’s most pristine white-sand beach and nestled within a 500-acre nature preserve, the resort features three distinctive European Villages. New features include Over-the-Water Bungalows, an over-water bar and an Over-the-Water Chapel.
Also working with Sandals is Island Routes, helping provide guests with unique, off-the-beaten-path authentic tours and experiences across the Caribbean.
Top selling tours in Jamaica, for example, include Reggae Catamaran Cruise, Deep Sea Sport Fishing, and the Jamaica Bobsled, Sky Explorer, Zipline & Dunn’s River Falls combo. Also available are Jamaica Swamp Safari Village Tour, Horseback Ride ‘N’ Swim, Bob Marley Museum and Kingston Highlight Tour and Rick’s Café Sunset Experience.