The first time my wife, Eva, and I visited the Maldives, we were so moved by the unique environment of the place, it inspired us to open a resort like no other. So, we leased an abandoned resort on a far-flung 100-acre atoll and set about creating our dream.
While we wanted to create a resort that would satisfy our desires for a dream destination for those who liked to travel in luxurious style, we also had this overwhelming desire to protect the environment. The end result was born out of the philosophy of simple sophistication and returning luxuriously to nature, while also shouldering the responsibility of being custodians of the beautiful places we operate in.
Today, at Soneva, we strive to provide the blueprint for the hospitality industry using our core purpose of creating innovative and enlightening SLOW LIFE (Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wellness, Learning, Inspiring, Fun, Experiences) for our guests, and which also acts as our moral and operating compass.
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 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.
This is rare in the modern world, and combined with the space, privacy and comfort of our villas and rooms and the intuitive service provided by our hosts, we offer our guests what we call 'intelligent luxury'.
Sustainability also 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 that operates resorts in remote places of pristine natural beauty.
Five years ago, I noticed a huge number of plastic water bottles washed up on our beaches at Soneva Fushi. We decided not to point fingers at those who were allowing their water bottles to spoil our oceans while still serving bottled water in our resort. So, we took the decision to stop offering branded bottle water, and instead serve water filtered, mineralised, alkalised and bottled on site in reusable glass bottles. Half the revenues from our water sales go to the Soneva Foundation to fund the work of charities such as Water Charity and Thirst Aid.
The responsibility to one's immediate community is somewhat complicated for a company such as ours whose guests jet in from all over the globe. As a result, our social and environmental responsibilities are as much global as they are local. We, therefore, set up the Soneva Foundation to focus on change at a level far beyond the direct communities in which our resorts operate and to recognise our obligations to society in general.
Other initiatives by the foundation include a carbon levy on our guests' bills at 2 per cent of the basic room cost; funding the construction of a 1.5MW wind turbine in Tamil Nadu; planting more than 4,50,000 trees in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand; providing 1,25,000 cook stoves to families in the refugee camps in war-torn Darfur and 40,000 cook stoves to families in rural Myanmar; and [initiating] the 'Learn To Swim' programme for the children in the Maldives, in the hope that they will learn to love the ocean and protect it.
In conclusion, we have learned that with the most incremental of changes, a company can do an extraordinary amount of good without negatively affecting business aims.
Sonu Shivdasani is CEO & founder, Soneva group of resorts.