Go! Destination Marketing Caribbean Connection

Sandals Broadens its Market Reach with
Grand Pineapple Beach Antigua

by Mark Rogers

As the all-inclusive product has risen to become ever more deluxe, there is one “B” word we’ve come to expect: Butler. But for a large section of the market – those watching their expenses - there are three “B” words that suffice just fine: Budget, Beach and Buffet. These customers know what they can afford, and if a luxe vacation is out of their reach, they’ll gladly choose an affordable vacation within their grasp.

This is where Sandals Resorts International’s newest brand lands on the board. Their Grand Pineapple brand is currently represented by two properties, the Grand Pineapple Beach Negril and the Grand Pineapple Beach Antigua.

I recently flew into Antigua for a three-night stay at the 180-room Grand Pineapple Beach Antigua. Frankly, from the pre-trip research I did, I didn’t expect much. I envisioned a somewhat down-at-the-heels property catering to the lowest end of the market. Instead, I was impressed from the first moments of arrival. The property was originally built back in the 60s, which gives it credibility more recent builds can only dream of. The entrance evoked the classic Caribbean architecture of tin roofs and wooden shuttered windows.

The resort has been a Sandals property since 2008, but primarily marketed to the U.K. Renovation efforts have brought it up to a level where Sandals now feels confident selling the Grand Pineapple brand to U.S. travelers. Currently guests from the U.S. make up 20 percent of the business, but according to Courtney Miller, the general manager for Grand Pineapple Beach Resort Antigua, they’d like to bump the ratio up to 40 percent. “This depends on flights to Antigua out of the U.S.,” added Courtney.

Over dinner in the resort’s Pineapple Grill, I asked Courtney if he could give me a snapshot of the typical Grand Pineapple client.

“Most are looking for a reasonably-priced vacation and personalized service,” said Courtney. “This will always be a resort for everyone. The guests’ range of ages is wide, and we host both families and couples. In fact, it was originally going to be a Beaches, when we saw the market opening to a budget alternative.”

The next morning I took a walk-through with the hotel manager, Gerald McKitty. Commenting on the resort’s welcoming Caribbean style, Gerald said, “I like to call it, “going to Grandma’s house.’”

The resort recently completed a $1.2 million Phase I renovation that included the resort’s Beachfront and Tropical Waterfront Rooms. This summer they’ll begin Phase II of the renovation, which includes the Gardenview Rooms and Oceanview Rooms. When the renovation is complete, there will be WiFi in the rooms (for a charge) but there are no plans to swap out the current TVs for flat screen models.

The resort fronts a lovely bay named Long Bay. On my first night in my Tropical Waterfront Room, the waves supplied a wonderful backdrop to the evening. Gerald said, “We call this a Christmas breeze, where the waves are bigger; but you’ll hear the surf all year round at the resort.”

The blocks of rooms are lettered A-F; for those looking for connecting rooms, they’ll be found in the B block. Gerald confided that Adam Stewart, CEO of Sandals Resorts International prefers the Oceanview Rooms in B Block when he stays at the Grand Pineapple, while Butch Stewart, the chairman of Sandals Resorts International, favors accommodations in a Tropical Waterfront Room in the 500 series in B Block. Gerald also gave an insider tip, that the Gardenview Rooms numbered 127 & 128 also have partial ocean views, making them a particularly good value.


Selling Grand Pineapple
Travel agents need to place themselves on sure-footing when they book their clients into Grand Pineapple Beach Antigua. This is not a 5-star resort (execs place it between 3 and 4 stars) and for clients to expect that level of amenities and features would be ridiculous. As Gerald put it, “We’re considered the Courtyard Marriott of the Sandal’s brand.” In the current economic climate there’s a real need for budget alternatives. The agent message to clients should be: “You get what you pay for.” (Although the service, in my experience, was comparable to a 5-star all-inclusive.)

This caught my eye recently, in the January 2011 issue of JaxFax, from publisher Doug Cooke. I think it applies really well to Grand Pineapple.

Doug writes:
“Baby boomers and seniors account for 51 percent of all leisure travel spending and this is the demographic that is most likely to use the services of a travel agent. More importantly, they have the money to spend, which is good news because a recent Forrester Research Report found that 38 percent of travelers want to put less on their credit cards. As opposed to the conspicuous spending in the 90’s, saving money is now a point of pride for Americans and travel is their reward for their frugality.”

The vibe at Grand Pineapple Beach Antigua is definitely laidback. There are not a lot of organized activities, which seems to suit most guests just fine. One thing I noticed, since most guests are from the U.K., the bar area has a decidedly pub-like feel, with lots of easy-going conviviality in the early evening hours.

The resort has two pools and the usual run of watersports gear, from kayaks to Hobie Cats. The property lacks a kid’s club, although if there are a sufficient number of kids on property the resort will organize special activities for them. There are two spa treatment rooms, although it’s a low-key operation and according to Gerald it’s advisable to book treatments a day in advance. The resort currently does about 10 weddings a month. Tour operator Island Routes has a desk, and guests can book a variety of excursions. The travel agent contact for Grand Pineapple Antigua is Ms. Sanjay Ambrose (sambrose@grp.sandals.com).

There are several restaurants on the property. The most unusual of these is The Outhouse, a beach shack barbeque joint perched on a hill overlooking the ocean. (An all-inclusive ricky-tick place like this, with a colorful proprietor, deserves an article all its own, so tune in to next month’s Caribbean Connection for my account of visiting the restaurant’s feisty and loveable owner, Miss Mary.)

During my visit I ran into Donna LaHaise McDougall, a Canadian travel agent who was touring the property. Donna is a senior leisure consultant with McCord Travel Management Ltd. in Ottawa. I asked her if she would recommend Grand Pineapple Beach Antigua to her clients.

“I would definitely sell the upgraded rooms, especially the Tropical Waterfront Rooms,” said Donna. “I like the beach and atmosphere, and The Outhouse was fun, like really being in the Caribbean. Another plus is the visiting privileges at Sandals Grande Antigua. I would recommend Grand Pineapple for the right client, the client on a budget.”

Grand Pineapple Beach Antigua