Never underestimate the value of human capital
Guardian Business Editor
Published: Jan 03, 2012
Adam Stewart is the CEO of Sandals Resorts International – a position he has held since November 2006. He oversees all areas of operations for the resort empire founded by his father, Gordon “Butch” Stewart. Coincidentally, he was born the same year his father purchased his first hotel and launched the Sandals brand.
Prior to becoming CEO, Stewart was director of resort product, responsible for all on-property operations and revenues.
Sandals currently operates 21 properties in five countries throughout the Caribbean.
Guardian Business: What is the biggest challenge facing your business or sector?
Adam: A well trained and educated population is an asset to any industry. It is a daunting task for small countries with limited resources to ensure that its citizens are ready to take advantage of the opportunities offered by an industry when they arise. As an employer, it is always desirable for us to have a large pool to draw from and it becomes an ever-increasing challenge when that pool becomes smaller and smaller.
GB: How has your business or sector changed since the financial crisis?
Adam: Obviously the travel industry worldwide suffered after the downturn in the global economy, but for us this only meant that Sandals had to continue to do what we do best. We focused on giving the best value for money a person can get anywhere. We continue to provide excellent service at all of our properties and we continue to provide more inclusions than anyone else on the planet. We have even gone further and invested in upgrades to our already wonderful properties. Sandals Grand Riviera along with our first property here in The Bahamas, Sandals Royal Bahamian – where we are spending more than $17 million to renovate the 64-year-old Manor Building – are possibly the best examples of this.
GB: Can you describe a life experience that changed how you approach life today?
Adam: Family has always been important to me but it takes on such a different dimension when you bring another life into the world. Certainly the births of my children have changed my life.
GB: Has the high cost of energy hurt your business? What solutions have you initiated or considered to combat it?
Adam: High energy costs are a challenge for any business anywhere in the world. However, Sandals Resorts International has not only made a commitment to reducing these costs, but also reducing our environmental footprint in the five countries in which we operate.
Just this past July we launched a new environmental management program called “Sandals Earthguard powered by EarthCheck”. EarthCheck is the world’s leading environmental management, benchmarking and certification company. Sandals Earthguard is designed to reduce our environmental impact, improve bottom line efficiencies and increase the benefits host communities receive as a result of sustainable tourism.
The partnership SRI has with EarthCheck provides our group with access to a set of tools and data that is the very best there is out there. With EarthCheck science at the heart of the Sandals Earthguard program, our management team will be able to meet the more complex and demanding reporting needs of a new carbon economy and have better insight into the operational efficiencies of each resort. Sandals Earthguard allows us to take practical, meaningful action and we believe it will come to be seen by the industry as the most comprehensive and credible environmental program in the industry.
GB: What makes The Bahamas unique when it comes to business?
Adam: One cannot underestimate The Bahamas’ proximity to the North American market and the warmth of the Bahamian people as invaluable assets in operating a touristic product. The country’s environment is another factor. Our property at Sandals Emerald Bay has what is possibly the best beach in the entire group.
GB: What excites you about business?
Adam: What excites me is the opportunity a successful business has when it comes to giving back to the communities which contribute to its success. For 30 years, Sandals Resorts International has done just that. In March 2009, we launched The Sandals Foundation to continue our philanthropic efforts. We focus on three areas: community, education and the environment. We have dedicated ourselves to making a difference in the lives of people across the Caribbean. We are no longer selling a resort on an island – we are selling a destination. We have to find a way to give back to the sons and daughters, mothers and fathers – the people who power our resorts.
GB: What should young businesses keep in mind in this current economic climate to survive?
Adam: Never underestimate the value of providing amazing service to your customers. Even with the economic downturn, across the group Sandals has been doing remarkably well with attracting repeat business. This is because we not only focus on providing the best atmosphere, best food and drink we possibly can, but because we hire the best people who have bought into our philosophy of giving the guest more than he or she expects.
For instance, even though the incentive group business has taken a hit after the economic downturn, at Sandals Royal Bahamian we already have bookings for 11 sizable groups for the first two months of 2012 alone. Our sales team at the property credits this to word of mouth and repeat clients trusting us once again with their travel dollars. This wouldn’t happen if Sandals didn’t take care of its customers.
GB: How would you describe or classify the ease of doing business in The Bahamas?
Adam: The very nature of business means that it is challenging. There is nothing easy about it, no matter where you go. The question you have to ask yourself is: Is the venture worthwhile? Sandals has been doing business in The Bahamas for the past 15 years and we have, as recently as January 2010, deepened our commitment to the country with the opening of Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma. As I have said before, we are reinvesting millions of dollars at our Sandals Royal Bahamian property and this is after spending millions expanding our property in Exuma. We operate 21 properties in five countries throughout the Caribbean, so we wouldn’t have made this kind of commitment if we didn’t love the people of The Bahamas and didn’t believe that doing business in The Bahamas made sense.