This article is dedicated to the late Gordon “Butch” Stewart, hotelier and a businessman that I admired for many years. Even though I did not know him personally, I know of him and his significant contribution to the tourism industry in the Turks and Caicos Islands and of course the rest of the Caribbean.
I remembered when I returned home in 1991, a hotel structure was on Grace Bay and apparently was there for a while and it was supposed to be Sheraton Hotel. It didn’t look like that hotel was going to complete. According to Hon. Washington Misick, (the Chief Minister at that time), the Developer (John Armour) wanted to amend and extend the development agreement. However, Hon. Misick agreed to the request provided the developer purchased a performance bond. The Developer purchased the bond from Zurich Insurance and as a result the project was completed and became known as the Royal Bay Resort. In 1996 during the reign of Hon. Derek Taylor as Chief Minister, Mr. Butch Stewart purchased the hotel and transformed it into Beaches Resort which was in my opinion the beginning of the transformation of the tourism industry in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Beaches is the largest resort with 758 rooms and has over 1800 employees. According to an article in the TCI Sun, “Beaches pays more than $600,000 a month, $2,5Million in payroll a month, $700,000 to Fortis a month, and $19million to Provo Airport from arriving guests and $2million annually to taxi drivers”
Butch Stewart and his contribution
Mr. Stewart was born on the island of Jamaica and came from humble beginnings. He started out in business from the age of 12 when he bought a canoe and used that canoe to get fish and in turn sold them to hotels. In 1968, he founded Appliance Traders Ltd selling air conditioners. Then in 1981, he bought two derelict and abandoned hotels and this became the beginning of the Sandals Resort. Sandals Resort is the leading all-inclusive resort for couples in the Caribbean and there are currently 15 located all over the Caribbean. In addition to Sandals, there are 3 Beaches Resorts which are for families.
Mr. Stewart was a risk taker, a man of action, a great negotiator and he has left a legacy that will be hard to fill. He was criticized by many (including myself) in many Caribbean Islands including the Turks and Caicos but because of him, he revolutionize the economies of the Caribbean islands. His company spent millions of dollars on marketing and developing a household brand called Sandals and Beaches. The Caribbean islands benefited from his marketing because the islands were marketed the same time as the Resorts. In fact his marketing budget was more than most of the islands of the Caribbean individual budgets combined. Because of the Brand, the Turks and Caicos Islands were able to get additional airlines to the country due to the demand. Mr. Stewart was also a community oriented person and established community foundations, adopted schools and assisted the communities tremendously. Apparently, he also ensured that his employees were taken care of based on the remarks below.
Employees’ remarks about Butch Stewart
Because I did not know Mr. Stewart personally, I asked two employees from Beaches to describe him. One employee said “He was amazing. Great charisma, very approachable. Hospitality Giant icon. Every word that came out of his mouth was something to learn. Very friendly.”
Another employee said “He was one of a kind man who will never be replaced. Imitated but never replaced. He was very respectful and would never pass a team member without acknowledging them with a kind word or short conversation. He believed in taking care of the team members so that they can take care of the guests. A part of our mission statement says “we are family that cares about our team members, our environment and the countries in which we operate.” During the pandemic, team members were given some sort of compensation or food packages including thousands of gallons of water. There was a time where some of the landlords put some of the team members out of their apartments because they could not pay the rent any longer and as a result some of them were housed on Beaches property for free and were fed daily. Mr. Stewart was kind and respectful to all. He will be sadly missed.”
Mr. Stewart was indeed a hospitality icon. I always wondered what the Turks and Caicos Islands would have been like if Beaches did not come here. In 1995, we only had 79,000 tourists by airline. Today we have over 400,000 tourists arriving. Of course, I cannot give full credit to Mr. Stewart for this because in 2003 to 2007 under the reign of Michal Misick, the country spent quite a significant amount of money on marketing becoming a Household name. However, I still believe that the introduction of Beaches to the Turks and Caicos in 1996 triggered the start of a vibrant tourism industry and for that, I am grateful. Thank you for Mr. Stewart for your contribution to the Caribbean. Rest in Peace.