The pioneering resorts operator marks a milestone quarter century of rare guest experiences and a peerless sustainable ethos.
This month, the world-leading luxury resort 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. From October 2020 through to 2021, 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 Malmström 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 luxurious resorts, with each unique destination boasting breath-taking locations, tastefully appointed villas, one-of-a-kind experiences and a personalised, intuitive service, tailored to guests’ every need. Soneva Fushi was followed by the launch of Soneva Kiri on Thailand’s fourth largest island, Koh Kood, in 2009. Soneva in Aqua, a 23-metre ultra-luxury yacht concept, set sail in the Maldives for the first time 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 2020 Soneva Jani was included in the Gold List of Conde Nast Traveler’s Best Hotels and Resorts in the world. In 2019 Soneva Fushi was included on the same list, while Bilanz’s ‘best hotel in the world’ award went to Soneva Jani, and Soneva Kiri was named the ‘number one resort in Asia/Thailand’ in Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards.
“Eva and I 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 and 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.”
Ever since the very first guests arrived at Soneva Fushi, Soneva’s journey has been one of ground-breaking firsts and industry leading innovation. The concept of SLOWLIFE 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 fascinating journeys across the night skies, to screening a classic movie under the stars at the outdoor Cinema Paradiso, the SLOWLIFE 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 SLOWLIFE ethos offers our visitors a less hurried, more mindful and more appreciative look at the world,” says Sonu. “Eva and I believe that something changes a little within our guests when they stay at a Soneva property – today, more than ever, we hope 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 overwater villas or Soneva Fushi’s castaway-inspired chic island retreats, or Soneva Kiri’s pool villas is overseen by Eva herself, with an impeccable creative vision that embodies chic laid-back luxury and celebrates each villa’s incredible natural setting. Soneva’s famed outdoor 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 vaults and exhilarating water slides to retractable roofs to view the night sky – each villa also comes with its very own Barefoot Butler, to ensure that every guest’s luxury castaway adventure is utterly perfect from the moment they arrive, until the time they depart.
Soneva’s ongoing Soneva Stars programme offers a kaleidoscope of one-of-a-kind experiences to Soneva’s guests. 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 unique features at Soneva that are geared towards pure enjoyment include the iconic ice cream parlours, chocolate rooms and deli rooms, open every day and complimentary to all guests, as well as The Den – a haven of fun and adventure for children of all ages.
Sustainability has always played a vital role in Soneva’s offerings and 2020-21 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 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 the Soneva Glass Studio, a first-of-its-kind art and hot 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.
Most recently, Soneva launched its Soneva Namoona programme in the Maldives. At the heart of which is Reduce, a radical reduction in the volume of plastic arriving on the islands. Soneva assisted in the establishment of a water bottling plant on the island of Maalhos to desalinate and mineralise sea water, which is distributed in reusable glass bottles, eliminating the need for water bottled in plastic. Recycling and responsible disposal of waste forms the second strand of the programme. Maalhos is the first island to open a Soneva-sponsored Eco Centro with machinery that will include a woodchipper and a glass crusher. The third component is to Inspire a love of the ocean and the environment. The belief is that through water sports, education and festivities that children will lose their fear of the ocean and learn to love it, and thus protect it.
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.
Only last month, Soneva’s brand new Water Retreats opened at Soneva Fushi and measuring 584 sqm./6,286 sqft, are the largest in the world.
Speaking during the launch of the new Water Retreats, Sonu added: “We are very proud to announce this exciting new phase for Soneva Fushi. When we first launched Soneva Fushi in 1995, we redefined tourism in the Maldives with our unique vision that pioneered the concept of sustainable luxury. After 25 years at the forefront of the global luxury tourism sector and as a bucket-list destination in the Maldives, we are always striving to evolve with our guests’ ever-changing needs. While we will always remain true to the much-loved spirit and laid-back ethos of Soneva Fushi, the new Water Retreat villas will elevate our offering. Having overwater villas gives our guests the luxury of choice, to stay amongst the deep greens of the jungle with the beach just steps away, or wake up to panoramic views of the ocean. In late 2020 we also plan to expand Soneva Jani with additional villas, a new restaurant and a wellness centre. The future is looking very exciting,” he concluded.
To view Soneva’s full 25th anniversary campaign including a curated collection of videos by Bruno Aveillan, and Soneva’s gallery of old photos since 1995, please visit: https://soneva.com/25-years-of-soneva