Saint Lucia
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Growing-up with Sandals!

Memories can be fruitful and tasty.

Growing-up dangerously, walking the La Toc, Castries coastline, with Hospital Road friends, on Sundays, to Yellow Sands Beach, we had fun timing raging waves to hop-skip-and-jump slippery rocks, caring nothing about risking a dangerous, disastrous, or even deadly mis-step.

Simply adventurous boys and girls from Hospital Road, we’d head to the La Toc beach after Mass, Sunday School or Catechism, our only concern being seen or heard by the landowner (Swithin Schouten), or his pack of fierce dogs we always heard through the bushes, but never saw.

Then one day, we saw the Yellow Sands coconut trees being chopped-down, to learn from the watchman that it was “to build a big project…”

What turned out to be the start of Hotel La Toc ended our Sundays at Yellow Sands – and began the island’s first major beachfront hotel, at the entrance to Port Castries.

The hotel would transition two owners before being purchased in 1993 by Sandals Resort International (SR), the company built by Jamaica’s legendary Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, by-then established as a well-respected local flagship group in his native homeland.

Back then, a loud debate was raging in Saint Lucia about perceived advantages and disadvantages of the new All-Inclusive (Pay up-front) concept being introduced here by Sandals, versus the traditional (Pay-as-you-go) European Plan.

The argument was that All-Inclusive hotel guests hardly left or spent a cent outside what they’d already paid for up-front, while European Plan guests tipped taxis, spent at restaurants and purchased from craft vendors.

Time soon turned that argument on its head and the island’s tourism industry has since grown with a perfect mixture of both types of travel plans – and local operators ”upping” their game to meet the new challenges.

Today, Sandals and its local competitors coexist and cooperate to together continue reviving and rebuilding the sector they all depend on and the country is again benefitting, big-time.

I was already 17 years a journalist and covered the opening of Sandals Regency La Toc 30 years ago; and in May 2022, I also attended the soft launch of the Palm Beach extension at Sandals Halcyon at Choc Bay – another Sandals property I have childhood connections with.

I assisted my dad, Charles Bousquet, on Saturdays, as a pre-teen helmsman, on a tug named ‘Lundy Gull’ that towed the steel, blocks, cement, stones, sand and other construction materials to build the Halcyon Beach Club’s ‘Fisherman’s Wharf’.

Back then (60s and 70s), the Palm Beach Club at Choc was the Number-One Castries nightspot and weekend hangout, next to the Palm Beach tennis court, where I also never finished learning to play ‘lawn tennis’ on Saturdays — and thereafter walk across, towel in hand, to purchase a ‘Bentley’ soda beverage at the nearby Halcyon Beach Club (for $1.05) to qualify to enter the empty swimming pool…

And then came Sandals Grande, along the causeway joining the mainland to Pigeon Island, where, as a Sea Scout at St. Mary’s College (SMC), we used to swim from Gros Islet — very mindful of the strong tides – and the “sticky” Black Sea Eggs that carpeted the shallow ocean floor below our bare feet.

Decades later, as Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony’s Press Secretary, I attended a lecture by ex-US President Bill Clinton (in a ballroom at The Grande later named after him) — and there I also once sat with ‘Butch’ Stewart on his birthday.

My wife Marie and I delivered a crafted and polished tripod purpleheart-and-leather stool as a birthday gift that he accepted humbly, as “a rare occasion…”

Thirty years after La Toc, I can well look-back at Sandals’ Saint Lucia journey and appreciate the unique role it has played here — and here’s why:

In three decades, Sandals had purchased four properties here and now pays the highest private sector taxes, at an annual average of $260 million.

Over 80,500 guests visit Sandals’ three Saint Lucia resorts annually, together with a steady average of some 1,400 guests every day of every year.

Sandals employs over 2,000 staff, with countless Saint Lucians also working at other Sandals Caribbean properties, including members of special ‘Task Force’ teams sent to train new staff at new resorts.

Sandals also softly-opened it’s Palm Beach extension at Halcyon in early April – and I was there too, with my head-full of fond memories of my first night out at Palm Beach Club with the girlfriend I had been running-off to Yellow Sands at Lat Toc with — and eventually married.

And now, after opening Sandals Royal Curacao last year, SRI is about to open another (Dunn’s River) resort in Jamaica next month — and yet another is under way at Buccament Bay in Saint Vincent & The Grenadines.

SRI has, over four decades, stamped the Caribbean’s brand on the global tourism and travel stage, repeatedly winning top titles at annual World Travel Awards (WTA), World Tourism Association (WTA) and World Tourism Council (WTC) ceremonies, thus highly-acknowledged as an established global industry player.

Sandals, which also owns the Beaches family resorts brand — remained open, with staff working and cared-for, during the COVID pandemic’s two lockdown years, in the process developing its own related health and safety protocols that set an industry standard.

And during the pandemic it also continued working with partners on establishing the Caribbean’s first hospitality and travel university, while also promising to create 5,000 new jobs regionally, over five years.

As with everything good, anyone wishing to criticize SRI can seek and find, even invent reasons.

But, growing-up with Sandals at home, I can and do join fellow Saint Lucians in showering SRI with due praise for what the group that grew out of an appliance trading company and a renovated hotel at Montego Bay in 1980 has shown the Caribbean — and the world — about determination, fortitude and resilience being universal attributes that have never been impossible to achieve – and excel at.