|Travel Agent's Joe Pike takes a tour of the Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa in August.|
Ok, so the numbers aren't exactly staggering, but I recently noticed a gay couple during a visit to Sandals Barbados and then two lesbian couples during a tour of Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa a few weeks after.
Although these are the first three LGBT couples I've ever personally seen during my nearly 10 years of covering Sandals Resorts International, it's not entirely about the numbers. It's more about what this represents: A company's willingness to adapt.
And, hopefully, that willingness will rub off on the rest of the Caribbean.
Now, for those who are unaware, Sandals Resorts International is a Jamaica-based company. In fact, when Sandals Antigua Grande first opened in 1991, it represented the first Sandals hotel outside of Jamaica. Both Sandals Chairman Gordon "Butch" Stewart and his son, Sandals CEO Adam Stewart, are perhaps two of the most well-known hoteliers in Jamaica.
Now, here's why that is important to note: Jamaica, The Bahamas and St. Lucia are widely considered by most travel industry experts as being the least LGBT-friendly destinations in the Caribbean, mostly due to the deeply-rooted religious beliefs of those islands' locals. If you have a Jamaican company already adapting to the times and not only allowing LGBT clients to stay at a Sandals, but to welcome them with open arms, that gives me hope for the rest of the Caribbean.
I should note that this wasn't always the case. In fact, before 2004, the company's policy was "Couples only," and its definition of a couple was "one man and one woman," according to a Sandals Resorts representative. After 2004, the policy changed to "Sandals Resorts warmly welcomes all adult couples."
"We are told to view them simply as just another couple in love," said Kyle Christian, public relations manager for Sandals Grande Antigua.
To be fair, I should note that I didn't speak to either Butch or Adam Stewart for this story and I have no idea how either of them feel about same-sex marriage or the LGBT market in general.
But good businessmen do not jeopardize their empire by turning away clients because of their sexual beliefs. And there are few businessmen in the Caribbean smarter than the Stewarts.
So, kudos, Sandals! Now, lets see some LGBT clients at your St. Lucia, The Bahamas and Jamaica resorts.