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HOW SANDALS' BIGGEST MARKETING GAMBLE PAID OFF

Marketing director Jenny Sowerby explains why the hotel company worked with a team of street artists on a London mural, while agents share how their own feature walls have become a talking point with customers
HOW SANDALS' BIGGEST MARKETING GAMBLE PAID OFF

Back in January, a unique piece of artwork was on display on London’s Whitechapel High Street, at the south boundary of Shoreditch. The hand-painted mural of a man swimming alongside a turtle in the ocean blue – spanning almost 10 metres wide and 14 metres high – was designed to inject some Caribbean sunshine into grey winter days just at the point in time that passers-by would be craving it most.

The mural fed into Sandals’ strategy of courting a younger audience – the team chose street art as a way to communicate with millennials, a key target for 2024.

 Jenny Sowerby, director of marketing, Unique Vacations, sales and marketing representatives of Sandals Resorts in the UK, explains: “In the last 18 months, we’ve been going on a big journey with our brands. We’ve gained new insights into our current and future audience, and we’re looking to increase awareness among a slightly younger demographic. We have a loyal customer base, but we want to acquire new customers too.”

 After considering various sites, they settled on Shoreditch. “The area had great footfall,” adds Sowerby. “We checked how our target audience indexed there and we felt confident it would be a great fit.”

 Sandals approached London-based advertising agency, Global Street Art and the mural was spray-painted by three artists over the course of three days.

People who walked past could see the mural on its way to being completed. It was a cheery image in the wind and the rain,” says Sowerby.

 The mural was supported by tube and bus advertising, and a social media competition was launched on Blue Monday offering the chance to win a holiday to Antigua.

“That helped us tie the mural in with something more tangible,” says Sowerby, “and encouraged people to engage with the brand. The campaign resulted in 255,000 impressions, 16,000 likes and 9,000 comments.”

While an estimated 510,000 people a week would have clapped eyes on the mural between 8 and 31 January, Sowerby acknowledges the difficulty in tracking its immediate impact. Instead, she explains, Sandals conceived the project for long-term gain:

 “It was a branding piece to help us get cut-through at a busy time of the year. The benefit will be felt in the longer term with our brand awareness.”

 Although Caribbean artists have contributed artwork in Sandals resorts, this is the first time Sandals has used street art for marketing purposes.

“There’s an appreciation for good-looking street art, and we think there’s huge scope for different marketing like that,” says Sowerby.

TRADE ENGAGEMENT

With the same goal of stopping customers in their tracks, Sandals has been helping agents to install Sandals walls in their stores.

 “We have brochures, pull-ups, posters, we’ve done car wraps for agents, all sorts. We’re very open to working with agents on their own vision of how to present us to their customers,” says Sowerby.

 Education is pivotal to understanding the brand, she adds, urging agents to take Sandals’ online training course; to follow the dedicated trade Facebook page, with its weekly offers and common questions answered; and to make use of the agent hub, which has dedicated resources including images, banners and fact sheets. Focusing on social media can be the most cost-effective marketing solution, she advises, given the investment that Sandals is making in shareable video content.

LOVE ISLANDS

Another way that Sandals’ marketing has evolved is by introducing destination focuses. Now your customers will see more inspirational island content across all marketing, not just images of the resorts. For example, advertising for Sandals Royal Curacao, which opened in June 2022, has featured island capital Willemstad – a perk of the Butler Suites is the use of a Mini to explore the island.

 “There’s a misconception that all-inclusives are just for fly-and-flop,” explains Sowerby. “What’s important to people has changed. For our UK customers, it’s as much about the destination as the resort, and our new dinearound programme has been hugely popular.”

 The same tactics have been used to promote Sandals Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which opened in March this year. “Like Curacao, Saint Vincent is not as well known, so we need to educate people about why they should go to these islands,” says Sowerby.

 For all the investment in video content and out-of-home advertising, Sandals has also moved back to direct mail. “In a world that’s so digital heavy,” Sowerby notes, “it’s becoming a real luxury to pick up a magazine.”

 And the good old-fashioned glossy magazine lends itself to telling the story of the family-owned Caribbean hotel brand and highlighting the important work of the Sandals Foundation.

 “From the UK, our customers can go anywhere they choose,” she says. “Our story, and our 40-year-heritage, is one of things that separates us from the rest.”

KATHERINE MASTERS, Features editor

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