Monday, March 27, 2017

Island Resorts

Interview: The Soneva Group’s Bright Future After Six Senses Sale

The luxury resort firm Soneva is responsible for some of the world’s most iconic private island resorts, and its founder, Sonu Shivdasani, sees a new path forward after his company’s recent transformation.

(Beach-side paradise on Soneva Fushi)

Headlines were recently made in the hospitality industry when it was announced that the Soneva Group, the creator of elite resorts throughout the Maldives, Thailand and Vietnam, among other exotic locales, had sold a large part of its resort portfolio. These resorts,which included the Maldives’ iconic Soneva Gili, primarily fell under the Six Senses and Evason brands, renowned among sophisticated world travellers for their philosophy of “Intelligent Luxury”.

A perfect escape for those in need of a respite from stressful careers, in the Maldives resorts, a motto of “No New, No Shoes” has attracted countless celebrities, executives and politicians. The Soneva Group will be keeping the Maldivian island resort of Soneva Fushi and the Thai resort Soneva Kiri, and intends to pursue more island developments in the future.

The purchaser of Six Senses, including the Evason resorts, is a US-based private equity fund manager, Pegasus Capital Advisors L.P. The firm has publicized its intentions to expand the ultra-luxurious Six Senses spas to 28, and move forward with resort development in new locations like China. The founder of Pegasus, Craig Cogut, described the allure of the brand.  “Six Senses is an internationally recognized brand built on unparalleled guest service and experiences,” he said, “while being a leader in sustainable hospitality with a strong sense of environmental responsibility.”

The Private Island News is pleased to have interviewed the visionary founder, Chairman and CEO of the Soneva Group, Sonu Shivdasani, to find out more about his ambitions for his firm after divesting the Six Senses and Evason brands.

(Soneva Gili's overwater bungalows)

PIN: The recent sales have been a major move for your company. How did the Six Senses resorts that were sold recently differ (in style or philosophy?) from the Soneva resorts you have kept?

SS: Six Senses to some extent was a more commercial version of Soneva. Soneva has always been the flagship of the group where our Philosophy and Values are at their best. They are excellent examples of our Core purpose which is to create Innovative and enlightening SLOW LIFE (Sustainable/ Local/ Organic/ Wellness/ Learning/ Inspiring/ Fun/ Experiences) and our Intelligent Luxury philosophy. Intelligent Luxury is about understanding what true luxury is for our guests today.

The wealthy of today come from a different context to the wealthy of the past when some of the more traditional luxuries were established. For guests who live in a cramped and polluted concrete jungle it is a true luxury to eat a freshly picked salad, grown in our organic garden while breathing fresh air and enjoying a beautiful view. Such an experience 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 create: Intelligent Luxury.

It is about understanding the daily lives of our guests and offering them experiences that are both ‘new’ – in that they are rare, unusual and exceptional to our guests but at the same time ‘true’ in that they are highly desired and cherished by our guests.

(The unspoiled wilderness of Soneva Kiri)

PIN: Do you intend to expand the current Soneva brand with any new resorts, whether inside the Maldives or internationally?

SS: We will grow Soneva slowly. We will never be big but we aim to always be the best wherever we operate. It is our intent to have five to ten Sonevas either open or under development by 2015.

Our focus will be principally Asia and Europe in destinations that the typical Soneva guests might visit. We plan to build another Resort in the Maldives. We plan to start construction in Sri Lanka in October. In addition, we own an incredible site on the island of Milos in partnership with a Greek family where we have about 400 Acres and five private beaches. We are in negotiations on sites in Ibiza and Bali and it is my hope that we may eventually have a property in London, Paris and also in New York.

PIN: What are your general future ambitions for Soneva?

SS: As mentioned above Soneva will develop Resorts and properties in resort locations and cities that cater to the highly sophisticated and wealthy traveler. We are also looking at other extensions of the Soneva brand which incorporates our SLOW LIFE (Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences) philosophy.

PIN: You have been quite the pioneer in eco-friendly development – are there any new ‘green’ technologies you are particularly excited about?

SS: A lot of our effort is on the Hotel Water campaign which was initiated at the last Soneva SLOW LIFE Symposium. This is a campaign to encourage the Hospitality Industry to ban branded water within their properties and just sell water that is sourced and bottled onsite. It is still our aim to make Soneva Decarbonising as a group by 2015.

Read more about the future of the Soneva Group: Link

See the resort details for Soneva Fushi, Soneva Kiri and Soneva Gili: Vladi Private Islands

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