05 Feb Soneva celebrates 25 years of intelligent luxury
In 2020, world-leading luxury resorts operator Soneva will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. Founded in 1995, today the brand is synonymous with ‘intelligent luxury’, renowned for crafting rare and authentic experiences for guests while pioneering sustainability across every level of its operations. Throughout 2020, Soneva’s resorts will be hosting a calendar of events and celebrations to recognise many of the ground-breaking achievements and industry firsts the brand has made during its 25-year journey.
Soneva is the brainchild of husband and wife team, Sonu Shivdasani and Eva Malström Shivdasani. After falling in love with the Maldives while on holiday, the couple discovered Kunfunadhoo, an unspoilt and uninhabited island in the enchantingly beautiful Baa Atoll, opening Soneva Fushi in 1995, the Maldives’ first-ever luxury hideaway. With its unique ‘no news, no shoes’ philosophy, the resort set a new standard in barefoot luxury which not only transformed the Maldivian tourism industry but also continues to inform Soneva’s role as a leader, trend-setter and innovator in the world of hospitality.
Over the last quarter of a century, the Soneva portfolio has expanded to become a collection of world-leading resorts, with each unique destination boasting breath-taking locations, stylish and sustainable accommodation, one-of-a-kind experiences and a personalised, intuitive service, tailored to guests’ every need. Soneva Gili (which has since been sold) opened in the Maldives in the year 2000, followed by the launch of Soneva Kiri on Thailand’s Koh Kood island in 2009. Soneva in Aqua, a 23-metre ultra-luxury yacht concept, set sail in the Maldives in 2015, combining Soneva’s inimitable resort experience with the freedom of a private charter. Most recently, Soneva Jani, located in the Maldives’ idyllic Noonu Atoll and surrounded by a sparkling private lagoon, opened its doors to guests in 2016. The three Soneva resorts continue to garner a raft of prestigious international awards – in 2019 alone this has included a place on Conde Nast’s Gold List of the world’s best hotels and resorts for Soneva Fushi, the Bilanz ‘best hotel in the world’ award for Soneva Jani, and Soneva Kiri being named the ‘number one resort in Asia/Thailand’ in Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards.
“We are incredibly proud to celebrate this milestone silver anniversary,” says Soneva Founder and CEO, Sonu Shivdasani. “Over the last 25 years, we have created a new benchmark for luxury, experiential travel. As a business, we understand the importance of crafting enriching, exceptional experiences for our guests and will continue to evolve with their needs in order to surpass their expectations while remaining true to our sustainable ethos and intelligent luxury.”
Initially, the Soneva brand was managed under Six Senses BVI, founded by Sonu and Eva, alongside their award-winning Six Senses Resorts & Spas and the Evason luxury resort and spa management company. In 2012, the Shivdasanis sold the Six Senses and Evason resort and spa management contracts, as well as Soneva Gili, to focus firmly on Soneva’s ‘One Owner. One Operator. One Philosophy. One Brand’ strategy.
Ever since the very first guests arrived at Soneva Fushi, Soneva’s journey has been one of ground-breaking firsts and industry-leading innovation, which will be celebrated throughout 2020’s anniversary festivities. The concept of SLOW LIFE is at the heart of Soneva’s philosophy, where incredible experiences create unforgettable memories while having the minimum impact on the natural world and its fragile ecosystems. From cultivating organic gardens to provide herbs, fruit and vegetables within each Soneva property or building the first ever in-resort observatories with resident astronomers taking guests on a fascinating journey across the night skies, to simply screening a classic movie under the stars at the open-air Cinema Paradiso, the SLOW LIFE ethos enables guests to rediscover and be inspired by life’s many opportunities and experiences. As a pioneer for ‘barefoot luxury’, Soneva’s visitors are encouraged to take a well-earned break from the outside world – disconnecting from technology and handing over their shoes to feel the sand between their toes and reconnect with the earth.
“As modern life picks up pace, Soneva’s SLOW LIFE ethos offers our visitors a less hurried, more mindful and more appreciative look at the world,” says Sonu. “We believe that something changes a little within our guests when they stay at a Soneva property – today, more than ever before, we hope that they share this experience and spread the word that it is possible to live in harmony with the world around us.”
Soneva’s unique and unswerving focus on its clientele remains much copied but never equalled. The interior of every Soneva villa, whether Soneva Jani’s incredible over-water villas or Soneva Fushi’s Robinson Crusoe-style island retreats, is overseen by Eva herself, with an impeccable creative vision that embodies laid-back luxury and celebrates each villa’s incredible natural setting. Soneva’s famed al fresco bathrooms are a signature touch in every villa, allowing guests to shower and bathe under the sun or stars in the total privacy of their own secluded sanctuary. With every detail considered – from in-villa wine cellars and exhilarating water slides to retractable roofs to view the night sky – each villa also comes with its very own Mr or Ms Friday, to ensure that guests’ luxury castaway adventure is utterly perfect from the moment they arrive, until the time they depart.
The ongoing Festival of Colour offers a kaleidoscope of one-of-a-kind experiences to Soneva’s guests. Based on colours inspired by the resorts, the fascinating programme includes a host of visiting Michelin-starred chefs, world-renowned astronomers, celebrated sports personalities, authors, therapists and practitioners and so much more. Other one-of-a-kind features at Soneva that are geared towards pure enjoyment include the iconic ice cream parlour and chocolate room, open every day and complimentary to all guests, as well as The Den – a haven of fun and adventure for kids of all ages.
Sustainability has always played a vital role in Soneva’s offering and 2020’s milestone year is an opportunity to reflect on the brand’s long-standing green, community-conscious vision – from the use of ethically-sourced and eco-friendly materials during construction, to the introduction of a carbon calculator and an environmental levy in 2008 to ensure that all Soneva properties remain 100 percent carbon neutral. The brand made history in 2015 by undertaking the hospitality industry’s first-ever Total Impact Assessment, which included environmental profit and loss, human capital and social capital.
Every few years, the SLOW LIFE Symposium unites environmentalists from across the world to tackle the planet’s most pressing ecological issues, while the Soneva Water campaign is a social enterprise that not only aims to eliminate plastics at Soneva’s own resorts through filtered, mineralised water served in recycled glass, but also distributes water to households, schools and businesses within the local communities. Eco Centro, the Maldives’ first ever integrated waste management centre, opened at Soneva Fushi back in 2007 – today 90 percent of waste from the resort is recycled, from composting for the organic gardens, to making building blocks for construction and recycling plastics at the maker space. Waste glass is upcycled at Soneva Glass Studio, a first-of-its-kind art and glass studio that creates beautiful pieces for the resort’s restaurants and gift shop, as well as hosting classes with visiting master artisans.
Soneva has long supported a series of social and community causes through the Soneva Foundation. This has spanned a wide-range of global initiatives, including: the Myanmar Stoves Campaign and Darfur Stoves Campaign, a Gold Standard Foundation-certified project which distributed fuel efficient stoves to over 230,000 families in these countries; the Soneva Forest Restoration Project, planting more than half a million trees in Chiang Mai, Thailand; and a Wind Turbine project in Tamil Nadu, India, producing 80,000 MWh of clean energy which mitigated 70,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
At the request of their returning guests, Sonu and Eva launched Soneva Villa Ownership in 2011 – offering buyers the unique opportunity to purchase a Private Residence within Soneva’s resorts. A fully bespoke, ‘home away from home’ that is designed to meet each owner’s requirements, the scheme made history as the first and only developer in the Maldives to offer villa ownership on a renewable leasehold basis to foreign investors.
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