GROS ISLET, St. Lucia -- With the opening of Sandals Grande St. Lucian Spa & Beach Resort last fall, Sandals now has three couples-only properties on one small island.

St. Lucia also has a broad range of accommodations -- from intimate guesthouses to sprawling resorts -- each competing intensely for room nights.

Yet the three St. Lucia Sandals do not cannibalize each other's business but work together synergistically, according to Sandals officials.

"New business developed with the opening of Sandals Grande, which naturally spilled over to the other Sandals, each of which has a solid client base, repeat business and loyal customers," said Konrad Wagner, general manager at Sandals Grande.

Wagner reported 80%-plus occupancies for the resort's first winter season, with most of the guests honeymooners.

"These figures did not dilute the traffic at our two other resorts but enhanced the figures for all three," he said.

Encouraged by the Sandals "Stay at One, Play at Three" program, more than 50% of all Sandals guests visit the other Sandals to eat, drink, swim and tour the properties -- a chance to lure visitors back to the sister property they had the chance to check out. Locals and cruise ship passengers, meanwhile, can purchase a day pass for $80 to use the facilities at the three resorts.

Although three Sandals on one island can be confusing, there are some obvious differences that set each of the properties apart, Wagner said.

Sandals Halcyon Beach, 20 minutes from the Grande, "is smaller [170 rooms], more compact, more casual, very popular with U.K. honeymooners and has one of the highest repeat guest rates on St. Lucia, especially at Christmas," Wagner said.

Sandals St. Lucia Golf Resort & Spa at La Toc "was our first property on St. Lucia [it opened in 1993], is our largest with 327 rooms in 12 categories, has a nine-hole golf course and is part of Sandals Signature Spa Collection."

"St. Lucia as a destination has really captured the honeymoon market, and Sandals leads that traffic on the island," Wagner said. "Sandals Grande will continue to build its own upscale client base. Weddings are a big business, too. We host between eight and 10 weddings a day, several days a week."

The Sandals Grande underwent a $10 million capital improvement project to renovate, redo and "Sandalize" the 248-room, seven-acre beachfront property, formerly a Hyatt Regency.

Now, guests arriving at Sandals Grande know from the get-go that they are at a Sandals resort. The marble statues, the fountains, the plantation-style lobby, the Caribbean color schemes, the lovers' pool, the porte cochere, the cobblestone entranceway, the variety of restaurants, the hammocks, the wicker swings, the pool tower and the welcome gift of lotions, creams and shampoos are consistent with the other Sandals resorts in the Caribbean.

There are the non-Caribbean touches, too, such as the Olde London Pub, which is an authentic pub dismantled in London, shipped to and reassembled in St. Lucia and reopened as one of the resort's five restaurants. It mirrors in authenticity the Cricketers pub at Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort & Spa in Nassau, Bahamas.

In the transformation from a Hyatt, Sandals redid the existing spa and upgraded the facility to its own Ultra category, added a fitness center and introduced 24-hour room service for concierge rooms and suites. The company also redesigned the main pool and expanded meetings facilities and the tour desk operation to feature nearby hikes on Pigeon Island as well as tours of St. Lucia attractions and historical sites.

Still to come are another restaurant, an expansion of the existing Toscanini Italian restaurant, some additional suites, a fourth wedding gazebo and carpet and furniture updates in several blocks of rooms.

Sandals Grande employs approximately 600 people, "the best of the best," Wagner said. "We hired the attitude and trained the skill. St. Lucians are genuine hosts who are proud of their island and want to share its history with visitors."

Room Key: Sandals Grande St. Lucian Spa & Beach Resort
P.O. Box GI 2247, Gros Islet, St. Lucia
Phone: (758) 455-2000
Reservations: (800) SANDALS
General manager: Konrad Wagner
No. of rooms: 284 rooms and suites in eight categories.
Opened: Sept., 2002, following a $10 million re-do of the former Hyatt Regency St. Lucia, which opened in 2000.
Location: Northwest coast, 20 minutes from George Charles Airport near Castries.
Rates: Through Dec. 31, from $310 to $745, per person, per night, double for two-night minimum stay. Packages available.
Noteworthy: Smiling staff; Sandals' trademark fountains, statues and color schemes; variety of restaurants; plenty of hammocks.
Not worthy: The hour-and-a-half transfer from Hewanorra Airport in the south to the resort makes for a long day of travel.

Sales pitch

• Sell the chance to "Stay at One, Play at Three" Sandals resorts on St. Lucia. Exchange privileges allow guests staying at one of the Sandals resorts to use the facilities at each of the other two Sandals on the island, including a total of 14 restaurants. Complimentary shuttles transport guests between the resorts during the day and evening.

• Eight room and suite categories at Sandals Grande allow agents more latitude in booking clients' specific accommodations preferences.

• Agents can offer clients the option of a 15-minute transfer by helicopter from Hewanorra airport in the south to the resort in the north in lieu of the 90-minute land transfer. Although pricey ($100 per person one-way), the quick flight is appreciated by many travel-weary clients.

To contact report Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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