Monday,  February 24, 2020  11:09 pm

Sandals hosts agents on Gordon “Butch” Stewart’s yacht in Toronto

Sandals hosts agents on Gordon “Butch” Stewart’s yacht in Toronto
From left (of Sandals): CJ Smith, Grant Lawlor, Maureen Barnes-Smith,Tonya Hawryluk, Donné Nixon, Glenroy Walker, Giselle Williams.
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Travel agents got to experience their own episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in Toronto Harbour last night (Aug 13th) as Sandals and Beaches Resorts hosted a trade appreciation dinner aboard Lady Sandals, company Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart’s own private yacht.

“Tonight is about saying thank-you to our travel agents,” Maureen Barnes-Smith, director of sales & marketing at Unique Vacations Canada (the sales and marketing arm of Sandals and Beaches Resorts), told PAX, moments before the luxury vessel cast off into Lake Ontario towards the Toronto Islands, where it anchored for a couple of hours.

From left: Tonya Hawryluk, director, group business; Grant Lawlor, national groups manager; CJ Smith, senior regional sales manager; Chef Glenroy Walker, group senior executive chef; Giselle Williams, BDM, Toronto & Ottawa; Maureen Barnes-Smith, director of sales & marketing; BDM, Donné Nixon, Alberta & NWT.

The 40-metre yacht (which was once owned by actor Nicolas Cage) is hosting exclusive dinners for Sandals’ travel and corporate partners in Toronto all week, treating guests to fine dining and spectacular views of the Toronto skyline.

“As long as [Mr. Stewart] has owned [the yacht], he’s made it available to us for appreciating our travel partners,” Barnes-Smith said of the swanky, multi-level vessel, which earned its fair share of “oohs and ahhs,” finger points and pictures from neighbouring sailboats and kayakers as it sailed through the harbour.

The nearly 50 travel agents who were invited to the dinner were a mix of top sellers and new sellers, Barnes-Smith explained.

Travel agents who attended the event were a mix of top sellers and new sellers, organizers say.

What do travel agents mean to Sandals and Beaches Resorts?

“Everything,” Barnes-Smith told PAX. “We have more than 25 employees here in Canada, and every person’s job is to work with travel agents. They’re such an important part of our distribution channel.”

As the busy fall and winter season approaches, the Caribbean-based, five-star, luxury-included brand will be amping up its presence in Canada’s travel trade communities, starting with more than 30 agent appreciation and workshop events this September.

Lady Sandals is Sandals Chairman Gordon "Butch" Stewart's private luxury yacht. It was once owned by Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage.

That, in addition to the brand participating in various trade shows hosted by tour operators.

“Whoever has a show, we’re there,” Barnes-Smith said.

The brand’s newly-launched “How We Earn Our Stars” campaign will play a key role in how Sandals and Beaches Resorts educates and informs the trade (and consumers) about its products and offerings, Barnes-Smith explained.

“It explains what five stars means and what it encompasses across the entire product line” Barnes-Smith told PAX.

Travel Edge's Heather Cooper and the Travel Agent Next Door's Sam Burgess enjoy the deck on Lady Sandals.

The campaign is designed to explain the five-star experience of a Sandals or Beaches property, from dining options to accommodations to service and staffing.

“[The campaign] gives you a full, 360-degree view of what it means to be a five-star, luxury-included vacation,” Barnes-Smith said.

Sandals Resorts, which is for adults only and geared towards couples, can be found on idyllic beaches in Saint Lucia, Jamaica, Antigua, The Bahamas, Grenada and Barbados. Beaches Resorts, the family-friendly arm of Sandals, operates in Jamaica and Turks and Caicos.

Now Destinations' Amanda Katchutas (left) and Michael James Babiak with Sandals BDM Donné Nixon.

Gearing up for fall & winter

Spotted on board Lady Sandals was Giselle Williams, a business development manager for Toronto and Ottawa.

“The yacht is absolutely stunning,” Williams told PAX. “Our Chairman really believes in doing more than just the regular business-to-business type of relationship. We’re doing a bit of light sailing, and celebrating the hard work of our agents.”

When asked what travel agents should be thinking about as the busy season approaches, Williams went straight to the point.

"The yacht is absolutely stunning," said Giselle Williams, a business development manager for Toronto and Ottawa.

“Register your bookings within 30 days of making them,” she said, noting the various incentives and perks (such as free stays) that come with doing so.

Williams also urged agents to use the many sales tools that are available to them.

“Get to know your local BDM. We’re your biggest sales tool. Let us know how you want to grow your business,” she said. “And come to our workshops. That’s where we give a lot of information.”

CJ Smith, a senior regional sales manager, reiterated that notion in a pre-sailing presentation to agents.

“You have so many support systems that you can tap into,” Smith told guests, referencing the brand’s various business development managers, inside sales teams and call centre reps.

Smith urged agents to grow their social media presence and to seriously consider a Sandals-branded wrap for their cars.

“It’s a driving billboard, really,” he said. “It’s your call to action and it is 100 per cent free to do.”

Travel experts Barbara Scrocco (left) and Robert Rizzo of TravelOnly enjoy the sunset from Lady Sandals.

Also seen on board was Grant Lawlor, the brand’s national groups manager, who flew in from Halifax to participate in the sailing.

Lawlor reminded agents that it only takes five rooms for a three night minimum to form a group booking at Sandals and Beaches. 

 “Any common interest amongst people is a group,” he said, noting the benefits and inclusions that come with group bookings. “It doesn’t have to be a wedding or a meeting or incentive. It can be a fitness or yoga group or even five couples hanging out for a week in paradise.”

After its week in Toronto, Lady Sandals will continue its voyage east to greet partners in Kingston, Montreal, Quebec City, and Halifax. The luxury yacht will leave Canada for the New England coast come mid-September.

Travel advisors can visit Sandals’ agent portal by clicking here