More than one million people take this to heart at Sandals: You are family, and this is home.
“When I was in Barbados four weeks ago, a couple came up to me and said, ‘Hey that’s the Sandals logo tattooed on your ankle. It won’t wash off, will it?’ No, it’s real. I don’t want it to wash off, ever. If it’s on my skin, it’s a part of me.”
More than a million people around the world share the same sentiment about Sandals. It might not be inked forever on their bodies, but as trite as it might sound, Sandals has become ingrained in their souls.
Picture: The long white-sand beach of Sandals Barbados.
“It’s far different from any hotel brand,” Warsh says. “The beaches are incredible. The food, the service, the suites, all of it is incredible. But the relationships make the biggest difference. Whenever I travel to a Sandals Resort, I never feel like I’m going away. I’m going home.”
There are 16 Sandals Resorts across the Caribbean, which means Warsh has 16 homes. Tuesday nights are extra special at each one of them. Dinner tables are set the way they’d be set for family reunions. Filets and lobsters fill the plates. Friendly energy fills the warm evening air. At one resort, Sandals Montego Bay, about 60 couples laugh, call out names, and tell stories, even though most had never met before tonight. They’ve come from places like San Jose, Chicago, London, and Lexington.
“Everyone is excited to be here, including the staff,” says Megan Martin, who manages the Sandals Select Rewards Program at Sandals Resorts International. The Tuesday night dinners are simple acts of gratitude for all returning guests, or as the staff calls them, “loyal family members.”
Last year, the number of Sandals’ loyal family members surpassed 1 million.
“It’s humbling that so many people from around the world consider Sandals home,” says Martin. “And to think, it all began with one resort in Jamaica, and one returning couple 40 years ago.”
But what keeps guests coming back year after year? Why do couples walk into a Sandals Resort as honeymooners and return every time they have a special family event to celebrate — anniversaries, birthdays, the kids’ birthdays?
“There was something magical the first time Giancarlo and I walked into Sandals Grande St. Lucia,” says Amelia Salerno Farinacci of the couple’s two-week honeymoon at Sandals in 2008. “The panoramic views. The beat of steel drums. The romance. The feelings of happiness and joy.”
There are now four Farinaccis — mom, dad, son, and daughter. They spend milestones, like 5th birthdays, with their “other family” — the staff at Beaches Turks and Caicos and Beaches Ocho Rios.
“These trips are part of our journey through life together,” says Amelia.
Picture: The Salerno family, loyalty members who took their love for Sandals to Beaches with their kids .
For Warsh, his journey started 15 years ago. He’d traveled to other resorts in the Caribbean, always looking for one where he didn’t feel like just an occupant of space. His travel agent directed him to Sandals. "You’ll feel right at home there,” she said. In early 2007, the team at Sandals Halcyon in St. Lucia welcomed Warsh for the first time.
“I haven’t gone to another hotel brand since that trip,” Warsh says. He’s stayed at almost all of the Sandals locations, sometimes for two weeks at a time. A few days before one of his trips, in February 2016, Warsh had to undergo emergency surgery and thought he’d have to forego the cost of his trip. To his surprise, Adam Stewart, SRI’s Executive Chairman (then CEO) messaged Warsh’s mother on Instagram: “JT is family. He has Sandals Life Insurance forever. Tell him to get better so he can come back for free.”
Nearly six years later, Warsh still sounds surprised: “Who does that?”
Likewise, who has a resort logo tattooed on an ankle? Who orders a license plate with the letters S-A-N-D-A-L-S? Who has a boat wrapped in the Sandals logo? No wonder Warsh says, “I’m always thinking about when I’m going back.” For the record, he never waits longer than about four months. He’s just like a million loyal Sandals family members who long to hear those Caribbean voices saying, Welcome home. We’ve been looking forward to seeing you again. How are your dogs?
“We see competitors trying to be more like us,” says Martin, “but we have never changed. This is who we are.”
As you’d expect from a big family, this one has stories — literally a million of them. Loyal guests have named babies in honor of their favorite Sandals team members. They’ve made quilts from Sandals t-shirts and started traditions to spend Thanksgivings at the resorts with their Sandals family.
Picture: Loyalty member, Jason Warsh relaxes and takes in the Caribbean sun while on vacation at Sandals Resorts.
Then there’s Ed and Paula Baldrian from New York. As you read this, the couple just returned from their 90th vacation with Sandals Resorts, Christmas at Sandals Halcyon. (“You don’t need much more than bathing suits and cover-ups,” Paula says.) The Baldrians have spent more than 1,000 nights at Sandals since their maiden trip to Sandals Grande Antigua in 2004.
“As soon as we got back to New York from that first trip, we said ‘Let’s go back.’ So, we went back for 10 days. Then we went to St. Lucia, Grenada, and Negril. Sometimes we stay for three weeks, and we always, always have our next trip planned.”
Picture: Sandals Halcyon, the location of the Baldrians 90th vacation with Sandals Resorts.
Martin has worked both on-resort and at the corporate level with Sandals for 24 years and counting. Her mind is full of Sandals family moments. Among her favorites are standing as a witness for fairytale weddings. She became such a fixture in framed memories that couples would tell their kids, “Mommy and Daddy are going to Jamaica to see Megan for a few days,” as if telling them they’re visiting a sister. Some of those growing families now go to Beaches Resorts so the kids can see for themselves why the parents are so loyal.
“True loyalty is natural and it’s mutual,” says Martin. “A lot of our guests remember us by name and go out of their way to make sure they vacation at the resorts when we’re there. “It’s so incredible.”
But the flipside is also incredible— when the Sandals team members remember the names of guests, their kids, their parents, and their pets.
Picture: The beautiful Sandals Barbados.
“I come back because they care about me as a person,” says Warsh.
Personal skills are at the core of Sandals training. Look at each person and remember the color of the eyes, their perfume, and how a couple always holds hands. Say their names out loud. Ask questions … and listen.
“A Sandals guest is never a room number, they are part of our family” says Martin.
Over the past 40 years, Sandals staff has even been known to stay in touch with loyalty guests by sending handwritten letters. In the words of Warsh, Who does that?
“The best part of our work is developing lifelong relationships,” says Martin. At home, she has a keepsake box with neatly kept Christmas cards and birthday cards from Sandals guests. “I’ve been getting them for more than 20 years.”
The difference between a loyalty program and loyalty for life is even obvious at a dinner table (a four-course meal at Sandals is served with a conversation) and on a perfectly made bed (the housekeeper might leave a surprise note on the pillow).
“It doesn’t matter where you come from,” says Warsh. “Being at Sandals improves your relationships, your happiness, and your life.”
His thoughts from Canada are squarely on the beach at Sandals Barbados. A month from now, his feet will be there, too. In the meantime, he can take off his boots and socks and look at his ankle. It’s always there: a reminder of home.
To hear more exciting stories from our Sandals Select Rewards Members like Jason Warsh and Amelia Salerno, make sure to listen to the Sandals PalmCast 'Sandals Select Guest Spotlight - Love and Loyalty' episode 9 and episode 12.