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NEWS THE INTERVIEW


UNIQUE


Reopening resorts Things are starting to look up for the Caribbean hotel brands. Sandals Grande Antigua Resort


& Spa reopened to guests from the US earlier this month, while several reopenings are planned in Saint Lucia, Grenada and the Bahamas in early July and Turks and Caicos Islands at the end of July. Initially, just a handful of


resorts will reopen, with bookings “consolidated” to those that are up and running, but all properties are due to open by November 1. Thompson says: “Just getting


Antigua open was a big first step, and to see that customers were adapting to the protocols was a huge benefit. We’ve got some great feedback from guests. “We have planned opening dates


in that the resorts will be available to take international guests. The only challenge from the UK is the flying schedule.” Sandals has also revealed new


hygiene protocols across its resorts, with measures such as reducing the


travelweekly.co.uk


number of people on each airport transfer, setting up online check-in to avoid queueing on arrival, and stepping up the cleaning of rooms and public areas. Thompson says: “All aspects of


the resort have been looked at. The [measures] may differ by island; it depends on what the government decides has to happen. “The face masks issue was a big


one because you don’t want to go on holiday and sit on the beach with a face mask on. That’s not going to work, and that’s not what’s happened. “[In Antigua], people are adapting


to it. Some people are wearing them all the time if they want, others at selected times as they’re walking around the resort.”


Working with agents Over the past week, agents have been invited to take part in virtual megafams around each Sandals and Beaches resort, with 83 agents signing up to the first Jamaica-focused session. During the lockdown, 175 agents have


completed Sandals’ online training, and 100 have taken the course for family-focused sister brand Beaches. “We’ve actually seen agents new


to us making bookings for the first time during this period, which is a positive sign,” says Thompson. “We have been proactive in staying open and in touch with travel agents.” Membership of the group’s Sandals


Specialist or Chairman’s Royal Club schemes will be automatically renewed next year without the need to requalify, while free nights earned as part of the Sell & Go rewards programme have also been extended. “I’d like to thank every single


agent we’ve been dealing with over the last three months to protect our business,” says Thompson. “In return we’ve been protecting


their livelihoods and commission. It’s definitely a symbiotic relationship: we both need each other, and ultimately, I think we’ve probably strengthened our relationships even more over the past three months. We will be there to help agents recover as they will be there to help us.”


Weddings “We’ve seen people who have already booked honeymoons for next year upgrading to add their wedding – they can’t afford their £20,000 UK wedding any more and at Sandals, it’s free.”


Families “We’re seeing quite a few multigenerational bookings at Beaches as families look to go away together – last week, we took a £92,000 booking for a family to Beaches Turks & Caicos for next July.”


Premium “Half of our bookings are for premium-class air travel, and this will increase because of the perceived need to social-distance on the aircraft – we’ve seen more people upgrading their flights.”


Homeworkers “Travel agents will be more flexible as homeworking goes from strength to strength – we’re improving things like our online availability calendar to help agents booking in the evenings.”


25 JUNE 2020


11


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PICTURE: Julie Lomax Photography


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