For the longest time, Caribbean Heritage Month has been celebrated during the month of June. While communities honor their Caribbean heritage with Junkanoo festivals, steel drum bands, and food trucks serving jerk chicken and Red Stripes, let’s acknowledge the obvious: There’s no better place to live, breathe, and celebrate Caribbean heritage than on the same islands where it originates — and which by no coincidence are home to all 24 Sandals and Beaches Resorts.
Guests of Sandals and Beaches can hear the true Caribbean spirit in the accents of team members and see it in their natural smiles. It’s always present. That’s because the majority of the team members company-wide work in the same communities where they grew up learning to swim, cook, create, sing, and, above all, make others feel at home with their quintessential warm hospitality.
Sandals Resorts’ founder, the late Gordon “Butch” Stewart, built Sandals and Beaches on the very same principle of hospitality that he learned from his own neighbors as a young boy growing up in Jamaica. His son, Sandals Resorts’ Executive Chairman, Adam Stewart, now carries out that commitment as a 6th-generation Jamaican.
“The Caribbean way of life is embedded in my soul,” Stewart says. “Words are simply not enough to explain our heritage, that's why we would rather invite people into it - because getting to experience the Caribbean… now that’s where the real magic happens.”
Of all the Caribbean influences on cultural experiences throughout the world (reggae beats, rum punch, and strong Blue Mountain Coffee, to name a few), treating each other like family could very well be the most profound of all. And the teams at Sandals and Beaches have done more to build that reputation than at any other resort brand.
“There is nothing like the beauty that permeates the region — the people, the food, the art, the nature,” Stewart says, “which is why we take every opportunity to celebrate it and share our four corners of the Caribbean with the world.”
In June, these are a few ways Sandals and Beaches took the never-ending celebration of Caribbean heritage to another level.
Whenever anyone refers to the Caribbean with words like “magic” or “beauty,” the mind immediately conjures images of the colorful sea, the lush mountains, and trees full of gorgeous fruit. The environment gives life, a fact that inspires all 18,000 employees of Sandals, Beaches, and the Sandals Foundation to be personally committed to preserving it.
In the Caribbean, a ‘home’ is not merely a house or a room. Home is in the sands, the breeze, and the ocean - and everything around it is crucial to the very existence of Caribbean people and their heritage.
As fate would have it, World Oceans Day comes every June 8, during Caribbean Heritage Month. This year, each time a guest booked a Sandals or Beaches vacation on World Oceans Day, the company donated $100 to island programs through the Sandals Foundation. The program directly improves the Caribbean ecosystem through coral restoration, mangrove planting, marine sanctuary education, turtle conservation, lionfish culling, and beach cleanups.
Patrice Gilpin is the Director of Public Relations for the Sandals Foundation. In a conversation during Caribbean Heritage Month, you could hear in her voice the passion of a caring neighbor when she said, “We want to transform as many lives as we can in every community.”
One of the most powerful transformations is happening through an artisan program that empowers island craftsmen and craftswomen to make a living by creatively using their hands, their local resources, and their appreciation for heritage. “The more guests we have at the resorts, the more lives we can transform,” says Gilpin. “They make it possible for us to go into the communities and share business management skills, product development skills, and marketing skills.”
With that in mind and in honor of Caribbean Heritage Month, Sandals and Beaches launched its ‘Rhythm and Blues Caribbean Sale', offering a number of incentives to get more guests to experience the Caribbean islands - from air credits up to $500 to $150 in spa credits at the award-winning Red Lane® Spa on eligible bookings.
As Gilpin said, more guests means more good for the Caribbean. The reach of that goodness extends far beyond the beaches and pools, to untraveled villages and rural areas where unique arts and crafts are being matched with more purpose.
“The favorite part of my job,” says Karen Zacca, Director of Operations for the Sandals Foundation, “is when I go up to the mountains to connect the craftsmen and craftswomen to resort guests through their work. Now these artisans are able to train young people so they can eventually carry on the local traditions.”
Zacca’s family heritage on the islands traces back more than a century. One of her drives takes her into Jamaica’s foothills where men and women have been weaving baskets, purses, and hats with a rare type of grass that grows here. The route from here to there passes through an outpost called Grateful Hill.
“Perfect, isn’t it?” Zacca says of the name. “That’s been the attitude on the island for as long as I can remember. These people express their gratitude through beautiful crafts. We can provide a platform. And resort guests can take something home to be reminded of the warmth and beauty of our Caribbean culture.”
For Sandals and Beaches Resorts, celebrating Caribbean Heritage is celebrating the Caribbean way of life. It’s the beautiful ocean, the rhythmic accents, the distinct tastes, the pure nature, and the loving people. But you can’t fully understand what Caribbean heritage means until you’re immersed in it. Because here, heritage does not come and go with the pages of a calendar. It’s beautifully alive, every moment of every day.