Although cruise lines and all-inclusive resorts are competitors for Americans' vacation dollars, Sandals Resorts International chairman Adam Stewart spoke as a colleague at Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld on Friday because of their shared hardships during the pandemic.
"I'm a sixth-generation beach bum from the Caribbean, and I heard you guys were having a cruise ship party," Stewart told the crowd. "So I wanted to come by."
Sandals' expansion plans
During the pandemic, Stewart and his father Butch, who died in January, also decided that Sandals would aggressively expand.
Sandals acquired properties in Jamaica, St. Vincent and Curacao. "My dad and I got bored," he joked.
After Butch died, Stewart said he and his brothers and sisters got together to decide in which direction to take the company.
"We could sell the company, we could pause and do nothing or we could
double down," he said. "We decided to take this company to the moon and
double the size over the next 10 years."
Stewart ended his talk by thanking travel advisors "who have stood
behind our organization and have allowed so many people to thrive and
prosper in my neck of the woods called the Caribbean."
Stewart on cruising's pandemic-era struggles
Stewart said he "takes his hat off to each and every one of you and to the cruise executives that have had what can only be described as one of the most complicated situations in the history of travel."
He acknowledged the cruise industry's unique difficulties during the pandemic.
"Tourism doesn't operate without the entire ecosystem, so when cruise is not there and tours are not taking place and there is not the movement of people back and forth, something is just missing," Stewart said.
He called 2019 "the best year in Caribbean travel, period," and that the "unthinkable" happened in March 2020.
"Travel exposes us to the world. It's this incredible thing that's hard to explain. And we lost that," Stewart said.
While doing Zoom calls at home, Stewart recalled watching the "sky is falling" reports on cable news. That wasn't going to be his approach.
"In my home office, on my right I would look to a garden, and on my left I looked to the Caribbean Sea," he said. "The sky had never been clearer. The sand had never been whiter and the water had never been bluer. "So from the get-go, our organization took a policy decision that this too shall pass, and everything we're going to do on a day-to-day basis is for the resumption of Caribbean travel."