Jaime Stewart-McConnell is not your typical member of the haute bourgeoisie. As the daughter of innovative hotelier, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, founder and chairman of the Sandals Resorts Caribbean empire, she has taken the company’s new boutique luxury brand, Royal Plantation, to pinnacle heights worthy of being singled out as Jamaica’s only member of The Leading Small Hotels of the World. It takes a lot to impress us, but impressed doesn’t even begin to describe it!
Stewart-McConnell’s ongoing path to success caught our attention after she proved herself by excelling in every level at Sandals Resorts. She was quickly able to make bold contributions to the success and expansion of her family heritage.
Comparable to Ivanka Trump who’s making headlines at her father’s real estate empire, Stewart-McConnell could be tabbed as the Princess of the Caribbean, a beautiful, young hotelier heading the luxury line of a company synonymous with the indulgent pleasures of the tropics.
Celebrating the region’s cultural heritage is an admirable feature that fulfills both the area’s inhabitants and the resort’s clientele, who get to enjoy an intimate cultural experience on top of the 5-star amenities.
Being part of Sandals Resorts and Royal Plantation is an extension of herself, literally. “It’s in our blood and we’ve never really known what else to talk about,” she explains. From primary school to college level education, Stewart-McConnell was learning the ropes of her future tenure. “As little kids we were always going to work. By age twelve we were working in the mailrooms stuffing envelopes and getting stuff out; by age thirteen we were being pulled out of school to go to trade shows. Looking back now, it’s just the most extraordinary exposure my dad made sure to give us. Then going through college, I did wedding trade shows, handing out brochures and even was a salesperson on Saturdays,” she recalls.
From stuffing envelopes as a child, to becoming the Managing Director of Royal Plantation, a boutique collection of properties in the Caribbean, Stewart-McConnell’s passion and love for the company is a deeply rooted sense of self that she proudly exudes.
Today, Stewart-McConnell, 28, is well on her way crafting her own path to success, despite the idea that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Having launched the Royal Plantation brand, the concept is all about her. Based on a balanced combination of her academic knowledge (acquired from Boston University where she double-majored in advertising and art history), her gracefulness, attention to detail, and ability to understand her responsibilities, Stewart-McConnell’s machinations of Royal Plantation are fresh yet traditional and definitely brilliant.
By age 24, Stewart-McConnell had won two major travel industry awards. She was named one of Travel Agent’s “100 Rising Stars” (by far the youngest of the bunch), and was honored as one of Travel Weekly’s “40 under 40.” Consequently, Stewart-McConnell was ready to focus her illustrious prowess and eminent energy in founding Royal Plantation, a project she crafted to perfection. “Royal Plantation is extraordinary because we are not like most cookie-cutter 5-star hotels that use the same footprint no matter the location. Royal Plantation prides itself on being unique, exceptional and authentic,” explains Stewart-McConnell.
Celebrating the region’s cultural heritage is an admirable feature that fulfills both the area’s inhabitants and the resort’s clientele, who get to enjoy an intimate cultural experience on top of the 5-star amenities. “Royal Plantation in the Bahamian Island celebrates the notion of island living. It is perched on a 50-acre private island and allows guests to give into their escapist fantasies. For those travelers seeking chic colonial glamour, the Royal Plantation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica is the ideal. The former locale was built in the 50s, a very glamorous time in Jamaica, and we have worked to preserve the integrity of this hotel to ensure guests enjoy an experience unlike anything else in the Caribbean,” illustrates Stewart-McConnell.
Even the second Jamaican Royal Plantation being built at Dragon Bay is a firm example of its indigenous surroundings. “Dragon Bay is like undiscovered Jamaica. The site boasts its own private cove and lush botanicals and rainforests. It really has that island hideaway feel. We have designed the resort to be built in and amongst the trees-no two resorts will ever be the same. It is going to be very chic and, like all of our hotels, enable our guests to interact with their natural surroundings without sacrificing the extreme comfort and service they have come to expect from the Royal Plantation brand,” she proudly explains.
In addition to Dragon Bay, the Royal Plantation family recently welcomed the Island of Fowl Cay to the celebrated boutique collection. Situated in the spectacular Exuma Cays, the 50-acre private paradise sits just 70 miles south east of Nassau and offers just six exclusive homes. Stewart-McConnell hopes to expand the luxury island to include a spa, personal butlers, villa expansions, and a collection of over-water guest pavilions in the near future.
In staying true to the resort’s mantra, when Royal Plantation came to fruition five years ago Stewart-McConnell solely focused on “the little things,” as she puts it. Not conceptualized as an all-inclusive resort but rather as à la carte service, the Royal Plantation boutique collection was an absolutely new concept for Sandals Resorts. Thus Stewart-McConnell was faced with three challenges: building a collection of luxury boutique properties, differentiating that new luxury brand from every other one out there, and introducing an à la carte plan to the master of all-inclusives. Stewart-McConnell’s strategy was simple and innovative, and she spent her time “looking at every detail and making sure it’s the finest in the hotel. We had to create a quality product that was both intimate and yet retained some element of excitement.”
Stewart-McConnell’s ability to achieve the resort’s uniqueness, combined with her award winning skills has propelled Royal Plantation into an internationally acclaimed ascendancy. Under her governance, the resort has been unequivocally recognized as one of Condé Nast’s “Readers Choice Awards” in both 2006 and 2007, and has been a definite mentionable as the “Caribbean’s Leading Resort” in 2005 and 2006 by the World Travel Awards.
Such milestones are concrete proof of her father’s illimitable trust in her capabilities. Mr. Stewart was confident that his daughter would be the perfect managing director for Royal Plantation. “Today’s younger generation has grown accustomed to the finer things in life, so in turn we have created programs at both Sandals and Royal Plantation to meet this growing demand for luxury products. Jamie was an easy pick for Royal Plantation. Even though she is young, she understands the true meaning of ‘luxury’, and that ‘authentic luxury’ is the most important aspect of the Royal Plantation brand. Of course, Jamie was born into the company which made it an even easier pick-and seeing Royal Plantation’s success, I couldn’t be more proud of her!” exclaims Mr. Stewart.
Stewart-McConnell has the keen ability to respect her managerial role without compensating her loyalty to her family. As the sister of the newly appointed CEO of Sandals Resorts, Adam Stewart, she makes it clear that her priority is set on her family, which by extension encompasses the resort enterprise. “Right now I do whatever I need to do to support the men in my family, Adam and Dad. Whether it’s making their life easier to drive the company where it’s going, I’m right behind them giving them whatever time and assistance they need. I’m the extra hand they need to get the job done.”
Staying as true to her family as members of the mob would stick to their family affiliations, Stewart-McConnell explains her duty and devotion to the company as such an extension of her dedication to her family. “The company is important to us. My dad spent twenty-five years building this company, and our goal as his children is to do whatever we can to build upon and exceed the superior standards he has set in the marketplace today. My father puts every second of every day into his children and we owe it to him to make sure that the integrity, intimacy, and passion for what he has created with Sandals, Beaches, and Royal Plantation will always remain intact. This is why our company will never go public,” says Stewart-McConnell.
With Sandals’ expansion into a new line of lifestyle products, Stewart-McConnell asserts that she’s looking forward to expand the Royal Plantation brand outside of the Caribbean region. “We’ve been invited to go to Dubai and Mexico but part of our success is not trying to be everything to all people. It’s just to be the best of what we can be in our niche market. Of course, with our lifestyle products line going into retail there are new horizons for us to consider. I would be delighted to go to Dubai and Mexico with our company but it needs to be the right time. I think our time is coming.”
In the middle of managing one of the most illustrious 5-star resorts in the Caribbean, and assisting the commanding forces behind Sandals Resorts, last year Ms. Jaime Stewart became Mrs. Jaime Stewart-McConnell. A newlywed still young at heart and ready to tackle life’s obstacles, she readily admits how “it’s difficult trying to balance being a performer for the company and being a wife,” but we’re not worried because she’s already proven she has the skills to juggle it all.