29 NOV 2010: If Gordon “Butch” Stewart wants Christmas to come early to agents, he’ll make it happen. If you were attending last week’s Sandals soiree in Toronto, those agents present like those who attended the luxury resort chain’s other ‘Sandals Difference’ stops in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary know the magic from the legendary resort impresario who invented swim up pool bars.

“Whoever can go between now and Christmas will get a complimentary 7 night vacation at any resort island you’d like to go to. So pack your bags and get going,” Stewart beamed from the stage to an over-capacity audience that resembled Oprah’s famous Favourite Things show recently spoofed on SNL.

That’s true Butch Stewart style with plenty of show-stopping surprises!

The packed house (over 550 agents) learned of this unprecedented offer as the Chairman was re-iterating how much he loved Canadians.

In addition, Air Canada Vacations president and CEO Zeina Gedeon has added $99 air-only rates for agents attending the show to St. Lucia, Antigua, Bahamas, Jamaica, and Turks and Caicos.

Why the holiday bash? Try Canada as the fastest-growing market for Sandals Resorts.

“We’re up 35% because of you.” Stewart told agents about the increase in business.

But before the evening’s frenzied announcement, Sandals reps and partners hob nobbed with agents at the Sandals marketplace.

Beaches & Sandals Resorts

At Beaches Resorts, accountant Raymond Anderson looks at all of the resorts. He says Sandals continues to work with agents offering what he describes as “amazing incentives” highlighting the Millionaire sweepstakes as an example.

Anderson was ready to reveal some of the interesting surprises on some of the resort developments. “Our Beaches in Turks and Caicos has been a very popular one. A lot of people want to get away at Christmas time and this property is one of the best in the world,” he offered listing programs like the nanny program, Big Bird, and XBOX Kinect technology as popular reasons.

When it comes to “the most” popular property this holiday season, Anderson smirks and says, “They are all performing well. We have 90% sold out rate for the holidays.”

For newlywed couples agents could consider the Sandals Whitehouse in southern Jamaica. “You want to enjoy each other so much and this property is more serene. It’s pristine and intimate and there’s so much to do there.”

Turks and Caicos

Over by Turks and Caicos Islands, Canada’s 11th province (some of us wish), the gracious rep Rosemarie Wilson was reporting good business for several reasons:

⋅ More lifts with great airfare from companies like ACV and West Jet Vacations.

⋅ Deals. “Most of the resorts are offering specials like stay seven pay for five.”

⋅ Property renovations. “The Sands at Grace Bay spent several million dollars in upgrades.”

⋅ New properties. “Beaches Resorts opened the new Italian Village and the Pirates Island Waterpark last year.” Not bad for a luxury resort that saw actresses Jennie Garth, Jenna Elfman, and Debbie Mazar at the opening party.

⋅ Festivals: The Conch Festival continues to be big. Thousands gather on Providenciales to nibble on conch chowder, conch fritters, and more conch.

Watch for a new festival in 2010 called the Maskanoo Festival. Scheduled this Boxing Day Rosemarie says it’s a combination of masquerade which is a TCI Christmas tradition and Junkanoo.

“Locals wear costumes from recycled material like cloth or plastics plus there will be workshops on how to make your own instruments and costumes.” How’s that for your environmentally friendly clients.

Direct flight time from YYZ: 3 hours 50 minutes

St. Lucia

St. Lucia is open for business. Major carriers are arriving says Alison Theodore, St. Lucia Tourist Board’s regional marketing manager for Canada.

“Thankfully the northern part of the island was virtually untouched by Tomas. If you touch down at the George FL Charles Airport on the island’s north side you would never know the hurricane happened,” she adds reassuringly.

Virgin Atlantic was so impressed with the quick hurricane clean-up Alison notes the company even issued a statement commending the island nation on how quickly things got back to normal. “It’s a good testimony on how quickly we could restore.”

For business check Air Canada Vacations, West Jet Vacations, Transat and Signature.

Antigua and Barbuda

If Butch Stewart says Antigua is an undiscovered gem, then that’s a place agents should definitely recommend to those finicky clients who want to explore the next ‘new’. Allison Ferguson, a destination rep, says there are great specials with Transat Holidays and Air Canada Vacations.

“There are great air only specials like Transat Holidays $299 in February deal.

“The deals are out there.” Our numbers are up; more Canadians are coming due to more flights.”

Direct flight time from YYZ: 4.5 hours

Back at dinner, Gary Sadler, senior vice president sales for Sandals Resorts, announced the continued commitment the luxury resort chain has with its travel agents. “We want your business. We need your business. Whatever it’s going to take to get that business of yours we are truly committed.”

He asked the crowd to name any hotel chain in which one of them has their chairman visit Toronto not once a year but twice a year every single year for the last five years. Answer: Butch Stewart.

Stewart re-iterated how commissions are important and how Sandals will never work with discount sites like Expedia. “Our love affair with the travel agent community has been for nearly 30 years now. It’s been the greatest romance because the travel agents are our backbone. There is NO discounting. That policy gets better and better and makes everybody stronger and stronger.”

Editor in Chief of Baxter Publications, Edith Baxter awarded Sandals with several Agents Choice awards including Best All-Inclusive consistently for 11 years; favourite hotel chain of the year four years in a row and the favourite environmentally friendly company award for the last three years.

Looks like the holidays have arrived and Sandals wants to be at the front of the line for your holiday bookings.

For Travel agents visit http://www.sandals.com/tas/

For agents who attended the Sandals Difference Conference - To book your $99 (taxes extra) Air Canada Vacations airfare visit aircanadavacations.com/agents

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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