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Paradise Doesn’t Have To Come at a Price: How an Island-First Approach to Tourism Supports Caribbean Communities

5 min read
Paradise Doesn’t Have To Come at a Price: How an Island-First Approach to Tourism Supports Caribbean Communities

Nestled in a valley among lush mountains and the cobalt-blue Caribbean Sea, Sandals Saint Vincent and The Grenadines unlocks a new island destination for Sandals Resorts guests. It is scheduled to open on March 27, 2024.

At first glance, the resort looks like a picture postcard from a dream vacation. Is bringing an international, all-inclusive resort to a tropical paradise good for the island’s people and ecology? Sandals’ recent launch in Curacao may provide insight into this critical question.

Pictured here, Vincy Overwater Two-Story Villas reimagine Sandals’ iconic overwater villas with a bi-level design that includes an expansive, open-air rooftop area for lounging, day and night.
Photo Credit: Sandals Resorts.

Future Goals

In anticipation of the Sandals Royal Curacao opening in June of 2022, the resort partnered with AFC Ajax, a soccer team from Amsterdam, and local recycling company Limpi to develop the Future Goals soccer program. Providing nearly 100 goals and more than 600 soccer balls to the island’s children, the program’s focus on recycling, team building, and community has impacted nearly 50 schools across the island.

During the development of the program, Executive Chairman of Sandals Resort International Adam Stewart said, “Curacao is a new island for Sandals and a new opportunity to expand our impact — and ‘football’ is the soul of the Caribbean.”

The soccer goals were made of fishing nets sourced from the ocean and recycled plastic waste. Fishing nets lost at sea, also known as ghost nets, comprise nearly half the world’s “plastic soup” — a term for the accumulation of waste, including plastic, that ends up in the ocean and on the beaches of Curacao.

Stewart continued, “If we can give children the tools to play and in the process teach them about protecting our planet — that is a ‘goal’ in and of itself.” Since its inception in 1981, Sandals Resorts has taken an unparalleled approach to supporting the communities where it operates.

Sandals began its work in Curacao through its philanthropic arm, the Sandals Foundation. The foundation operates under three key pillars: education, environment, and community. Sustainable projects include coral reef restoration, tree and mangrove planting, marine sanctuaries, and beach cleanups. As of June 2022, they have helped rid the planet of over 440 tons of trash.

The Future Goals program repurposes plastic waste and fishing nets lost at sea into soccer goals for local primary school children in Curaçao and beyond.
Photo Credit: Sandals Resorts.

The Sandals Foundation

“Future Goals brilliantly encapsulates Sandals’ unwavering commitment to empower our islands in the Caribbean,” said Heidi Clarke, Executive Director of the Sandals Foundation. “Enveloping ourselves in the destination was part of the blueprint as we rolled out the plans for Sandals Royal Curacao — and a sign of our promise to generations to come.”

This past year, in particular, the Sandals Foundation focused much of its efforts on food security throughout the Caribbean. Across the world, food security remains a concern, and this is an even greater reality in the Caribbean islands as import-dependent economies are susceptible to international food supply-chain challenges.

Climate change has adversely affected traditional farming practices. To cultivate sustainable futures, the Sandals Foundation is committed to providing the skills and tools to create resilient food supply systems and food forests in local schools and communities by providing essential equipment and training and by investing in climate-smart farming techniques.

Sandals Mini Cooper at Sint Michielsbaai Flamingo Habitat Curacao
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Island Inclusive Dining

The resort sought to deliver all-new experiences that drove the customer beyond the resort gates. One such program is Island Inclusive Dining, where qualified guests receive a $250 credit to dine out at select restaurants around Curacao.

Luke Mathot, Sandals’ Vice President of food and beverage product innovation, explains the motivation behind the Island Inclusive Dining initiative by saying, “We want our guests to feel the very magic we felt when picking Curacao as a new home for Sandals — from its landscapes to its flavors to its people — and everyone knows one of the most powerful ways to really understand a destination and its culture is through its food.”

Kome, one of the participating restaurants, states their sustainability practices on their website, “We take our commitment to sustainability seriously, using eco-friendly products and working directly with local farmers and artisans to reduce waste and ensure the freshest, highest quality ingredients for our dishes.”

Luuk Gerritsen, Kome’s General Manager, explains how they manifest this intention by working with as many local suppliers as possible for produce, like Hofi Cas Cora and Zen Farms. They only serve locally caught fish from self-employed fishermen. Most of their cleaning materials are organic and environmentally friendly, and they avoid single-use plastics.

These options aren’t always the cheapest, but the small things add up. “Since its inception, we’ve been a part of this program [Island Inclusive Dining],” says Gerritsen. “It gives us a way to reach the all-inclusive public with a higher spending budget.”

Exterior Kome Restaurant Curacao
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The “Sandals Effect”

Curacao relies heavily on the tourism sector, with 81% of its labor force working within the service industry, according to Country Reports. Increased tourism has an impact on the livelihoods of locals as more visitors provide not only more jobs, but also the opportunity for growth within organizations. As teams grow to support more customers, additional management opportunities arise.

The influx of tourism spending around the island of Curacao is stimulating the economy, and Curacao is on track to make history. In July 2023, a year after the opening of Sandals Royal Curacao, the island experienced its best-performing month so far, setting it on course to achieve a historic milestone of half a million annual visitors. Notably, 2023 also marks the first time stayover arrivals surpassed 300,000 in the first seven months of the year.

The opening of a resort touches almost every part of an island’s economy, from added business for taxi drivers to the supply chain. Many publications have called this the “Sandals Effect” because the company is keen on weaving itself into the community. It impacts the entire island, from youth soccer to job creation, a boost in arrivals, and much more. Judging from the impact in Curacao, Sandals will help keep Saint Vincent and The Grenadines beautiful and bountiful for generations to come.

This article originally appeared on Media Decision.

Hi! We are Ed and Jenn Coleman aka Coleman Concierge. In a nutshell, we are a Huntsville-based Gen X couple sharing our stories of amazing adventures through activity-driven transformational and experiential travel.

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