25 years: Past and Future

Sonu Shivdasani, Soneva’s Guardian of the Culture (Founder, CEO and Joint Creative Director), looks back on the past 25 years and discusses what the next quarter century might hold for Soneva and the luxury travel industry.

In what ways will the hospitality industry become more sustainable over the next 25 years?

Within the next 25 years, I believe (and hope!) it will be rare to find a hotel that derives its energy from fossil fuels. You need energy for an economy to grow – up until now, there has always been a trade-off between economic growth and sustainability. Evolving technology and increasing social pressure will ensure that people come up with more environmentally sensitive ways to generate energy. I believe that renewables, most probably solar energy, will become very well established: solar power has already reached grid parity and will likely be the cheapest form of energy available to most destinations.

What environmental challenges will we face in the future? 

As economies continue to grow, waste is likely to become an even more serious issue. When populations increase, they generate more waste – be it food, materials, or recyclable resources. How will we manage this challenge?

In terms of plastics, I believe there will be significant advances in reducing our plastic consumption. I would be very surprised if, in 25 years’ time, we are still using plastics as extensively as we do today. I think that single-use plastics will have disappeared by then, and I don’t think we will be seeing plastic bags, bottles or straws – it will become the norm for hotels and other companies to use sustainable alternatives. What we choose to do with the rest of our waste, such as aluminium, glass or food, is going to be very important.

When we are no longer reliant on fossil fuels for energy (currently the major source of greenhouse gases), we will focus on other greenhouse gas emitters, such as the cattle industry and deforestation. In response, there will be a reaction against using tropical timbers (such as teak, ebony, wenge and balau) for construction and interiors.

As fossil fuels are replaced by cleaner, renewable energy sources, the beef industry will become probably the largest producer of greenhouse gases, from the cattle themselves as well as the deforestation caused by cattle farming. I believe that this will affect the way we eat: red meat will become a rarity on menus and beef will no longer be a part of our everyday diets, rather it will be considered something for special occasions.

Will it be possible to travel sustainably? 

Advances in sustainable technology and renewables will revolutionise the travel industry. With cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable forms of energy, long-haul travel will no longer be seen as taboo. Right now, there is already incredible work being carried out in the aviation industry to create more sustainable ways to fly. For example, Harbour Air, a US-based seaplane operator, has just successfully trialled a MagniX electric engine on a de Havilland Beaver aircraft. The MagniX is considered a more sustainable alternative to the Pratt and Whitney PT6 engines. We use these engines on both our Soneva Twin Otter that transfers our guests to Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani, and our Cesena Grand Caravans, that transfer our guests to Soneva Kiri. So, our own aircraft could harness the same electric technology over the next few years.

How will restaurants adapt to a more sustainable future? 

There is already a growing reaction against eating cows and other red meats by many people around the world– for environmental, ethical and health reasons, especially following COVID-19 where many more people are focused on improving their wellbeing. Our own experience is that just in the last twelve months at Soneva, our guests have reduced their beef consumption by more than 70% as we have evolved our menus to be more plant based. Beef and dairy products will become rare luxuries, similar to foie gras, caviar etc. Today, the beef industry is a mass-produced form of protein for people. This is not sustainable, and there are many other forms of protein whether it is animal or vegetable that are more sustainable options than beef.

I expect that vegetarian and plant-based dishes will continue to increase in popularity and become even more prominent and easily available in restaurants than they are today. As our lives become ever more exposed to stresses and pollution, I believe that menus will be increasingly pressured to become much more tolerant to consumers’ diets and preferences, too.

Successful restaurants will harness the power of ‘and’: the ones which succeed will be able to create delicious food that is worthy of Michelin stars and is healthy and is eco-friendly. Much like our own SLOWLIFE philosophy, there will no longer be a trade-off between taste, health and sustainability.

How will the luxury travel industry evolve? 

Looking forward, there will be two extremes, as we harness new innovations to create truly unique, personalised experiences but also focus on finding joy in the simplest pleasures. Advances in technology will allow for even more personalisation within the industry, both in terms of connecting with guests, as well as creating one-of-a-kind, offline experiences that they can’t find elsewhere. Luxury travel will increasingly become a way for guests to escape from their daily lives, offering rare experiences, remoteness from the outside world, more privacy, and the ability to disconnect from the bombardment of media and information. As the world becomes ever-more sophisticated, people will cherish and value the simpler things in life and the beauty of the natural. This is already evident at Soneva through the enduring popularity of our restaurants such as Khun Tuk’s, which serves home-cooked traditional Thai cuisine at Soneva Kiri, Soneva Jani’s the Crab Shack, and what Sobah serves at Soneva Fushi.

I also believe that food and gastronomic tourism will continue to be an important experience for travellers, while guests will also focus on their health and wellness.

What’s next for Soneva? 

At Soneva, we have always endeavoured to be a pioneer in the hospitality industry, from our ‘barefoot luxury’, focus on sustainability and commitment to existing in harmony with our local, natural environment, to our complimentary ice cream and chocolate parlours, open-air bathrooms and observatories at all of our resorts.

Over the next 25 years, we will continue to innovate, both reinforcing our existing concepts and also creating new, unforgettable experiences for our guests. We have so many exciting ideas already in development, from new restaurant concepts and innovations for our villas, to sustainable initiatives such as propagating coral around our islands to protect our reefs and support our delicate ecosystems. As we celebrate Soneva’s milestone 25th anniversary, we are very excited about what the future holds.

Are you allowed to share any big picture plans about what the next 25 years at  Soneva might look like?

We are now much more focused at Soneva than we were in the past, especially in our early years, so I believe that the next 25 years will bring many more innovations and exciting developments than the last 25 years.