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$80M Emerald Bay profitable by 2014

Sandals will see a return on its $80 million investment in Emerald Bay by 2014, the resort’s CEO has said, as the company seeks to capitalize on the location’s natural assets.

Adam Stewart told Guardian Business that the Exuma property is now one of the most beautiful and desirable vacation spots in the world – and it’s a matter of time before the public recognizes that.

Up until this moment, he said Emerald Bay “has not made a single dollar yet”.

“Do I think 2012 will be the year we break the back of it? Yes I do,” he added. “We will have a fairly good winter and our reputation in the marketplace is getting better. With a little luck, the world economy will start to behave. 2013 and 2014 show that it was a good buy and it will contribute to the bottom line.”

The resort, acquired by Sandals in August 2009 from the Four Seasons, has undergone a near total transformation in recent years. Sandals has pumped tens of millions into the development and marketing of the remote resort, spanning 500 acres with a one-mile stretch of beach.

It boasts five restaurants, five bars, two pools, 150 slips, 183 accommodations and an 18-hole golf course. The company added 66 rooms this year after picking up a residential building adjacent to the resort to pull off the expansion.

More than 100 permanent employees have been added to the roster.

Stewart said the company wouldn’t have made the investment “if we didn’t think the future was bright for Exuma”. He told Guardian Business that the mystique and natural beauty of the landscape will appeal to tourists seeking a luxurious experience off the beaten track.

“When you land, you feel as if you’re in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

However, the key will be balancing the appeal of a remote location with appropriate airlift and adequate marketing. Acknowledging that airlift is “not easy”, Stewart said the government has been very supportive so far. Sandals has taken considerable risks by putting money forward to guarantee capacity for the airlines coming into Exuma so they don’t succumb to losses.

It’s a precarious business model for the resort chain, but one Stewart believes will pay off.

Marketing is the other essential ingredient to success, he pointed out.

“We have to be behind the gateway, making sure the demand is high enough so the airplane seats are full. This is not an easy task,” he told Guardian Business. “You get the services, you put your reputation on the line and then you market the heck out of it. The facility is gorgeous and the hotel has what it needs to be the best in the Caribbean.”

This month, the popular U.S. game show Wheel of Fortune was invited to film a series of shows at Emerald Bay. Stewart said this promotion, and many others like it, have reached a quarter of a billion people, serving as invaluable exposure and marketing for the property.

Given the higher price tag of Emerald Bay, part of the strategy of the resort will be to “push weddings hard”, the CEO said. Sandals recently unveiled its new wedding program whereby clients can more fully customize their experience.

The program is in collaboration with Martha Stewart, the celebrity lifestyle guru.

With tens of millions on the line, Stewart said the company is absolutely focused on ensuring the high-priced acquisition is a success.

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