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Sandals courts hundreds of travel agents

It was a hard job, but someone had to do it.

Nearly 200 travel agents descended on the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort yesterday as part of a greater marketing drive running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Patrick Drake, the general manager of Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort, said this batch included 190 travel representatives from Minnesota – providing the tourism leaders with some much-needed reprieve from cold weather.

“They’ve had their first snowfall already. To come down and get the exposure when the weather is this good will help us sell the product,” he told Guardian Business.

“There have been many changes to our properties and it is critical to our marketing plan.”

In all, Sandals will host more than a thousand travel agents coming into the busy winter season. In the coming weeks and months the resort plans to host contingents from Calgary, Chicago, New York and other busy metropolitan centers.

Over the past year or so Sandals has invested tens of millions in their properties, including a renovation to the Manor Building at the Nassau resort and large-scale construction at Emerald Bay in Exuma. The investment in travel agents becomes all the more important, Drake pointed out, as these representatives need to be aware of what Sandals has to offer.

“The way we structure it, is we actually charter a plane to these U.S. and Canadian cities,” he explained.

“The last couple of years we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars. It actually gives quite a boost to the economy as well, in terms of renting buses, cabs, and other spin offs, while promoting The Bahamas in general.”

With seven tours planned, Sandals actually scaled back from 18 after the passage and cost of Hurricane Irene to the business.

Adding that Sandals spends “more than most of the tourism boards in the region”, the comprehensive marketing push, Drake said, was first brought in three years ago.

“We realized that it was effective in terms of getting a first-hand feel,” he said.

“The music, the food, the view of the ocean. They stay at the properties it creates a much stronger effect.”

Indeed, with 17.5 million being invested in the renovation of the Manor Building in Nassau alone, Sandals is quite keen to fill the rooms down the road.

A total of 144 rooms will be “brand, spanking new”, according to Butch Stewart, the chairman of Sandals. They are 15 percent larger, far more luxurious and 42 of the rooms have been “pushed out” towards the ocean, he said.

The work is expected to be completed by the beginning of 2012.

Meanwhile, at Emerald Bay, the Exuma resort has added 66 additional rooms and two new restaurants. It acquired a residential building adjacent to the resort to pull off the expansion.

Work is ongoing to the resort’s golf course, as well as the construction of the Shark Shack – an exclusive golfer’s lounge.

All told, the company has poured $41.5 million into properties in The Bahamas for 2011.

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