Agents React to Sandals’ First Expansion Outside of the Caribbean

Riviera Maya, Mexico // Photo by Suriano

After more than a decade of speculation, Sandals Resorts International will officially be expanding to Mexico and Travel Agent recently chatted with some expert agents to see how they felt about the big news.

“We have always heard this could have been an option, but never had any validation until the article came out,” says Mark Hennigan of Dreamer’s Travel in Hampstead, MD. “I think it could have a huge impact on the other adults-only resorts in Mexico. Sandals has a huge following and clients always ask, ‘When is Sandals going to Mexico?’ Now they know.”

During our recent coverage of the Caribbean Hotel Association’s Caribbean Travel Marketplace in The Bahamas, Travel Agent chatted with Adam Stewart, CEO of Sandals, and learned that the Jamaica-based company will be expanding out of the Caribbean for the first time in the form of a Sandals resort in the Riviera Maya.

“I think there are already some great adults-only resorts in Mexico, especially in the Riviera Maya area,” says Hennigan. “What this does is give our clients options other than the Caribbean and clients love options. Sandals is a great Caribbean product now being offered in a destination that has so much history, culture, lifestyles, activities and service. It should be nothing less than amazing.”

Stewart told us he expects ground to break by the end of the year. It will be a new build. When asked if it would be in Playa del Carmen, Stewart told us it would be "further north.” Travel Week in Canada is also reporting that “a second Mexico property in Cabo San Lucas may also be in the works.” Travel Agent attempted to confirm this, but Cathy Decker, who does public relations for Sandals Resorts International, could not confirm or deny this. 

“Since many of the Mexican resorts are moving into Jamaica, it was only a matter of time before Sandals went into Mexico, in my opinion,” says Kim Goldstein of Journeys Travel Inc in Richmond, VA. “I love the Sandals and Beaches product and Mexico is one of my favorite destinations, so it will be great to have the best of both worlds.”

But while some agents are excited about Sandals’ new venture, others feel like the all-inclusive chain needs to put some more attention into its Caribbean properties before expanding outside the region. 

“At first impression, I'm a little indifferent,” says Nicki Squittieri of Legacy Travel in Chicago. “I really wish that Sandals would invest more in some of their older properties in the Caribbean that are starting to show some wear before they build a new resort. Their flagship property in Turks is, of course, beautiful, but there are some in Jamaica that could really use some TLC.”

But although Squittieri doesn’t necessary agree with the timing of the expansion, she did add that it could be a very positive development for both agents and Mexico.

“It's good to see Sandals expand,” she says. “I think it's good for the industry to see hotels grow like that. I've loved watching Hyatt expand over the past year or two. And if it brings more travelers to Mexico, then it's a win-win.”

This was the first time Stewart shared specifics on the expansion following his father's recent announcement at the 14th Annual Sandals Travel Agency Recognition (S.T.A.R.) awards on December 4 at Sandals Whitehouse European Village & Spa in Jamaica. It was at that show that Gordon "Butch" Stewart, Sandals Resorts International chairman, told attendees that Mexico was the future.

Here are some other notable reactions from the expert agents we spoke to.

Penny Sheldon, owner of Penny Sheldon Travel in Boise, Idaho

“I truly believe that Sandals will bring a new level of excellence with more inclusions that are not traditionally offered in Mexico. Sandals brings a different type of all-inclusive to Mexico. Diversity is always good in the market and Sandals has a proven track record. I think it's a win for Mexico and Sandals.”

Tom Varghese, owner of Travel Tom in Rockville, Maryland.

“I think Mexico already has some of the best all-inclusive products in the market today. I think with the entry of Sandals into the market, this will add another layer of competition and luxury that will benefit the consumer overall.”

Michael McHugh of Dream Makers Vacation Services in Lancaster, PA.

"I thought it was interesting. Mexico has some nice all-inclusive resorts at a lower price point. They do not include as much as Sandals, like snorkeling and scuba, and most do not have as strong of a brand as Sandals. It will be interesting to see what happens to the Mexico market when Sandals arrives. A Beaches resort would be great—many resorts in Mexico do not have waterparks on property. We look forward to sending our clients to Sandals in Mexico." 

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