Soneva are creators of luxurious and sustainable resorts. They are a thriving community working hand in hand with the environment to craft beautiful, beyond bespoke experiences where discovery is a way of life. Here, RLI spends some time with the CEO & Co-Founder, Sonu Shivdasani to learn more about the concept behind the brand and why its operating model has brought such tremendous success.

The story behind the brand began back in 1987 when Sonu Shivdasani first visited the Maldives with his wife Eva – Soneva Co-Founder – and he immediately fell in love with the picturesque views and simple way of life.

Together, after considerable time and effort, the couple launched their first resort called Soneva Fushi in the Maldives’ Baa Atoll in 1995 where it redefined tourism in the Maldives and soon became known as the country’s premier island destination.

This original site was followed by Soneva Kiri on the island of Koh Kood in Thailand in 2009, the 23-metre luxury yacht, Soneva in Aqua in late 2015 in the Maldives and then the opening of Soneva Jani came the following year, which is also in the Maldives in the Noonu Atoll.

“At Soneva, we have always endeavoured to be a pioneer in the hospitality industry, whether that is through the opening of some of the first spas in resorts in Asia, introducing private pools to villas and open-air bathrooms, or including observatories and private cinemas at all of our resorts, we always strive to offer the very best to our guests,” explains Sonu Shivdasani, CEO & Co-Founder of Soneva.

Soneva Kiri, Thailand

The company’s latest initiative, Soneva Soul was launched in December last year and this transformative wellness brand combines ancient healing with modern science to reconnect mind, body and soul. It is guided by the principle of ‘lifestyle evolution, tailoring personalised care plans to help guests realise their utmost potential and achieve their long-term wellness goals. Soneva Soul offers each guest a truly personalised pathway to health, happiness and fulfilment – meaning that no Soneva Soul journey will look the same.

In the months to come, the company has a number of exciting new projects that they will be introducing, including new one-bedroom beach villas at Soneva Jani as well as some new family experiences at the Jani site which are due to launch in July.

“Soneva Soul will also be introducing some new specialist wellness treatments such as Hyberbaric Oxygen Therapies and Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments. Next year we will also be hosting a wellness festival – Soul, which will be held over a ten-day period and feature some leading Indian practitioners for a series of insightful talks, presentations and specialist wellness offerings.”

Soneva Kiri, Thailand

On the topic of new properties, Sonu explains that the first thing they look at is the location itself and what, if any, infrastructure is in place, or is it a place where they need to build from the ground up. Next, they look at what experiences they could potentially offer their guests – whether they are getting to enjoy the local marine life up close or does it embrace their Slow Life philosophy and commitment to operating sustainably. Finally, does the location or property have a sense of place and culture? By this Sonu means does it embrace its local surroundings and people and integrate them into the overall resort experience.

The company are all about offering customers what they call ‘rare’ experiences. They have a lot of repeat guests, so it is also about offering them a reason to return to the resorts year after year.

“Throughout the year we offer a rich array of guest activities and experiences to ensure that every stay is unique, whether this involves gazing at the stars through one of the largest telescopes in the Indian Ocean at our observatory, learning to free dive or snorkelling with our Marine Biologist,” Shivdasani explains.

Both e-commerce and social media are important aspects of Soneva’s overall marketing mix. They maintain a strong presence on social media to attract Millennials and Generation Z consumers and they do this by engaging on a regular basis with high-profile celebrities, sports stars and influencers from around the world, and their Instagram following has recently hit 1.1 million.

Soneva Soul Island Spa at Soneva Jani
Medhufaru Island, Manadhoo, Maldives

In addition, they also maintain a presence on LinkedIn which focuses primarily on disseminating our business news and high-priority projects whilst for younger audiences; they are starting to grow their TikTok engagement as well.

The website accounts for around half of their bookings and they continue to invest in this area to make the guest online booking experience easier and more seamless. With this in mind, over the coming months, they will be launching a new online retail platform as well so that their guests can experience Soneva at home. Finally, they are exploring the Metaverse to identify if there are any synergies or avenues for them to work within.

The topic of sustainability is more relevant than ever, and this is part of the DNA of the company, and they ensure that in all aspects of the business they operate in the most sustainable way they possibly can.

“At the resorts for example, we are proud to say that 90 per cent of our solid waste is recycled. We view waste as a valuable resource and have created a sophisticated Waste-to-Wealth programme. Since its inception the programme has generated over USD 2.5 million in value from waste handling and vegetable production,” says Shivdasanni.

Soneva Fushi, Maldives

As owners and operators of their resorts, Sonu and Eva can focus on their philosophy and enhancing that. They are able to evolve and innovate rapidly as the world changes. He feels this is a key driver of the Soneva brand and that a visit to a Soneva resort will clearly show how different they are from any other luxury experience that exists in the market where they operate.

“We believe that luxury is defined as something that is rare or uncommon for the consumer and with this in mind, the experience we have created for our guests is as far removed from an urban scenario as possible, letting them indulge in things they rarely get to do in their daily lives.”