By OCTAVIA MUIR

Dreaming of a laid-back playground in paradise? Discover Soneva Fushi, one of the last family-owned resorts in the Maldives, located on the private island of Kunfunadhoo in the Baa Atoll, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Soneva Fushi defines tropical paradise with a love of the slow life.

IMAGE COURTESY OF SONEVA FUSHI

Its name is a combination of the founders Sonu & Eva Shivdasani. With Sonu’s management expertise and Eva’s style and design, the couple has crafted a resort that expertly blends a Robinson Crusoe fantasy with carefully considered luxury. Coupled with their overwhelming desire to protect the environment, they have conceived a unique philosophy of simple sophistication while at the same time, returning luxuriously to nature. 

‘No shoes, no news’, Soneva’s very own motto, only encourages guests to truly relish the barefoot luxury living at the resort. Its location grants guests an endless opportunity to explore the Island’s long sandy beaches that lead into the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Guests will find 71 thatched-roof luxury villas nestled on both the sunset and sunrise side of the island. Each one complete with their own stretch of beach and cushioned among dense foliage within touching distance of a pristine coral reef. 

IMAGE COURTESY OF SONEVA FUSHI

Soneva Fushi shares our desire and passion to protect our oceans which are increasingly under treat. The resort has developed to be as sustainable as possible with pioneering innovations. Their initiatives includes recycling waste, eliminating plastic, pledging to protect coral reefs and thinking and producing locally. Soneva is a forerunner in the eco-tourism space and the ideal destination for the world’s most conscious travellers.

Championing a radical shift to eco -waste management, last year saw the launch of The Soneva Namoona project. A part of a pilot scheme in partnership with the Maldivian Government that seeks to put an end to open burning of island waste in the Baa Atoll. Instead, at the resort food and organic waste, metals and bottles are chipped, ground down or composted, and turned into things of economic value, such as concrete building blocks and fertiliser. Plastic waste is either recycled or used to create useful new objects. Quite literally turning trash into treasures. Making it the first Atoll in the Maldives to achieve this scale of commitment to protecting the environment and reversing the ecological clock.

IMAGE COURTESY OF SONEVA FUSHI

Founder Interview: Sonu Shivdasani

We caught up with with Sonu Shivdasani, co-founder of Soneva, to learn more about the loving mentality and ethos that encapsulates his resorts. 

Sonu was born in England, studied at Eton College, Le Rosey in Switzerland, and later graduated from Oxford University. Together with his wife, Eva they had the opportunity to frequently travel to the Maldives. It was during these unforgettable trips that Eva and Sonu developed a dream of one day living there. Something they have now together turned into a reality.

IMAGE COURTESY OF SONEVA FUSHI

Tell us about the paradise that is Soneva Fushi and its ethos? What sets it apart?

“I first visited the Maldives with Eva during our honeymoon in 1986, and we fell in love with it. I had never seen anything quite like it. Eva loved the untouched simple way of life in the Maldives.

We decided we wanted to open a resort like no other, whilst ensuring we protect the environment. We believe that a company must have a clear purpose beyond turning a profit. It must serve and contribute to the society in which it operates and should not negatively impact the environment in which it is located. Together we combined our respective experience in management, style and design to develop a resort that would satisfy our desire for a dream destination for those who liked to travel in luxurious style. We bought an abandoned resort on far flung 100-acre Kunfunadhoo Island in the Maldives and set about creating our dream.”

Why should our audience fall in love with the Indian Ocean?

“The Indian Ocean has unique inhabitants not found in any other ocean. It is the best destination to go to if you are interested in diving and snorkeling as it is home to numerous endangered species such as turtles, dugong, sharks and whales. Last week our Marine Biologist and diving instructor spotted a very rare whale shark not far from Soneva Fushi. Last time we saw a rare whale shark was 7 years ago.

The Indian Ocean houses the largest population of manta rays in the world and we have a special excursion to swim with mantas for our guests. And of course, the color of the ocean is incomparable to any other destination in the world.”

IMAGE COURTESY OF BRITISH PHOTOGRAPHY AWARDS

Like LOVE BRAND & Co., Soneva has been created with a deep connection with the environment in mind, how does this manifest itself?

“Soneva distinguishes itself because we are about space, privacy and showing how sustainable materials can have a great aesthetic. We believe in bringing out the beauty of nature and this sets us apart. Intelligent luxury is about combining the traditional opposites of sustainability and wellness with luxury. We believe that these things actually complement each other.

IMAGE COURTESY OF SONEVA FUSHI

At our resorts, we insist that one does not have to destroy the planet or their body to indulge in luxury. When guests arrive at one of our resorts, we take their shoes and put them in a bag. Having no shoes and no news is very healthy and grounding. A lot of our competitors apply a dress code, whereas, at Soneva, you don’t have to wear shoes or trousers anywhere. Not only does that distinguish us from other places, but also it allows our guest to feel at home without the worries and obligations of their everyday lives. In our concept of luxury, a fresh salad from our organic garden becomes more appealing than a Mouton Rothschild and is certainly healthier. Open-air cinemas, an observatory and outdoor showers are all things that urban dwellers, however wealthy they may be, are deprived of. Our bathrooms may not have marble or gold taps, but our guests can take a shower while gazing at a full moon.”

The appreciation of nature is core to both brands, what does it mean to you and why is it so important?  

“The guiding principle of our brand is creating innovative and enlightening SLOW LIFE  for our guests, which acts as our moral as well as our operating compass, and has also provided a blueprint for the future of the hospitality industry.

Our vehicle for delivering the SLOW LIFE is our core philosophy of “Intelligent Luxury.” It is about combining the traditional opposites of sustainability and wellness with luxury. We believe that these things actually complement each other. At the heart of the matter is what true luxury means for our guests today. The definition of luxury is something that is a rarity, but the wealthy of today come from a different context to the wealthy of the past when some of the more traditional luxuries were established. In today’s society, luxury translates into peace, time and space. It is about the sand between the toes and dinner under the canopy of a billion stars, about reconnecting with oneself and the natural environment. For guests who live in a cramped and polluted concrete jungle, true luxury is to eat a freshly picked salad, grown in our organic garden while breathing fresh air and enjoying a beautiful view.

IMAGE COURTESY OF SONEVA FUSHI

Sustainability runs through our core and we are always striving to limit the negative environmental impact of our activities – something which is both difficult as well as critical for a company which operates resorts in remote places of pristine natural beauty. We may sometimes fall short of our own high standards, but we are very clear about our responsibilities as custodians of these beautiful places in which we operate.  

Operating in remote locations requires our guests to travel long distances. On average, a guest’s round trip will result in emissions of around 1 ton of CO2. Our guests have little choice but to fly to reach our remote locations. While emission free air travel is some way away and until airlines have that technology, we made the decision to offset the emissions of every guest flight by placing a carbon levy of 2% on our guests’ bill. This small levy, based on the villa rate, lets the Soneva Foundation invest in projects that have positive environmental, social, and economic impacts which offset carbon emissions from both guest flights and resort activities. We had no push back, our guests supported our initiative fully.”

Having a brand with a greater purpose is so important now, why do you believe that luxury should have a greater responsibility?

“I have spent my life working in the hotel industry and have devoted my career to building what is now a network of luxury resorts. I do not believe that this puts me at odds with conservation; but I am the first to say that the hotel and tourism sectors should admit where they have failed and take steps to bring about change. There can be no doubt that we, as an industry, consume far more than our fair share of resources. But I believe that all companies, hotel businesses included, must have a purpose beyond profit. They must play a greater role in the world beyond just enriching their shareholders.” 

What is your definition of sustainability and being environmentally aware?

“At Soneva, we have always used nature as an inspiration for our innovation. In fact, our organisational structure is inspired by the relationship of the planets to each other.

IMAGE COURTESY OF SONEVA FUSHI

Being sustainable does not have to be expensive.  For instance, we grow our own vegetables which saves us a lot of money from importing fruit and vegetables into our resorts. At our Waste to Wealth Centre, our cardboard and left over food is turned into compost, the branches that fall off the trees are put into a pyrolysis oven where we create charcoal, 83% of our non-structural building blocks are made from waste materials.  We are producing a very fine cold-pressed coconut oil from our waste coconuts, and of course in Glasscycle our state of the art glass blowing studio, we recycle all of our waste bottles and turn them into unique pieces of art.”

You are setting a precedent in eco tourism, what do you hope for the future?

“I have seen a huge growth within the eco-tourism luxury segment in the past few years, not only within the Maldives but also globally.  I think this is because owners and directors understand that it makes a lot of business sense to be more focused on sustainability, as the demand for environmentally and socially responsible travel is increasing.  It also makes sense financially if you do it the right way. Having said that, I do think that sustainability is here to stay and won’t disappear like other trends sometimes do.  Our earth’s resources are finite and we all need to be better guardians to protect the world we live in.”

Is there anything else about your brand that you might like to highlight or speak about?

“I would like to share with you some important videos”: Our “New Normal by Soneva” video, where I explain all the changes, we have made to create COVID – free environment on our islands to ensure the safety and health of our guests. As well as “The Meaning of Life” – where we share our Soneva vision on the meaning of life and what our guests cherish the most.”

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