When Sonu Shivdasani first visited the Maldives in the 1980s, it changed his life forever. He saw unspoiled beauty, views like nowhere else in the world and nature in some of its purest forms. He wanted to share it and, most importantly, protect it.
Shivdasani and wife Eva Malmström Shivdasani – who has been by his side in life and in business since they met in 1986 – set about leasing the Maldivian island of Kunfunadhoo. After no shortage of red tape and political obstacles, they opened Soneva Fushi on Kunfunadhoo in 1995. So began the concept of ‘barefoot luxury’ that now proliferates the Laccadive Sea and beach resorts the world over.
The key difference about the Shivdasanis’ outlook on luxury resorts is centred in their approach to the environment. They insist that the properties they build contribute to the society in which they operate and do not have a negative impact on the land, sea or local population.
Now, with two resorts in the Maldives, another soon to open and one in Thailand, the Soneva brand is one of the best-known on the planet for responsible luxury tourism. For his unwavering devotion to quality and protecting the environment, Sonu Shivdasani has been voted by the 50 Best Academy as the winner of the SevenRooms Icon Award 2023.
In the same year he launched Soneva Fushi, Sonu also debuted the Six Senses brand, which is now a household name with 21 properties in 17 different countries. It operated on many of the same principles as Soneva, with wellness, sustainability and luxury again at the fore, though in 2012 he sold it in order to focus on Soneva.
Soneva’s light touch towards nature takes many forms, although its stall was set out in building the original resort. No rainforest-sourced or unsustainable wood was used in construction, replaced with coconut husk, bamboo and recycled timber. This remains the case in the assembly of all properties in the portfolio today.
In 2008, Soneva introduced a 2% environmental levy on all stays. This contributes towards the Soneva Foundation, which invests in a variety of projects that have a positive environmental, social and economic impact, offsetting direct and indirect carbon emissions, such as resort activities and guest flights. The group also supports Whole World Water, which invests capital in community water projects across Asia and Africa.
In a world of global hotels where the concept of sustainability is often gloss and window dressing, Sonu Shivdasani is a pioneer of successful properties that genuinely keep the planet front of mind. With success already under his belt and with big plans for responsible growth in the future, Shivdasani is a visionary who has yet more to enact.