The Luxury Travel Bible - Q&A Sonu Shivdasani

Q&A Sonu Shivdasani
Chairman & CEO Soneva Group

Sonu Shivdasani is Chairman and CEO of the new Soneva Group which owns the sublime Soneva Fushi in the Maldives and Soneva Kiri in Thailand.  He was the original creator of Six Senses luxury resorts and a number of dedicated spas scattered around the world. Back in February 2012 the decision  was made to sell his Six Senses and Evason brands and concentrate on creating resorts with private residences. Shivdasani is know for creating resorts which are both  eco-sensitive and superbly designed and  is a crusader for environmentally sustainable travel.  It all began when Shivdasani met his wife-to-be Eva at the Monaco Grand Prix. Together they then created their first resort, Soneva Fushi .  The resort remains with him on the new stage of his adventure - creating sublime resorts with residences that have unrivalled privacy.

What inspired you to create original resorts?
My wife, Eva, introduced me to the Maldives. She already loved them and I too fell in love. We decided to buy an island and build a home but were told we could only build a hotel or resort, which in turn had to be backed by a hotel group. This involved taking a ten percent stake in a start up hotel management company, eventually taking that over, designing and then building a resort from scratch. It was an enormous challenge, it took time and a lot of hard work but resulted in one of our greatest achievements, Soneva Fushi.
The environment and environmental issues have always been of enormous importance to us and from the beginning our aim was intelligent luxury - absolute luxury for our guests married to an absolute commitment to the use of local and sustainable materials, resources and skills.
Soneva Fushi was the flagship of Six Senses and the origin of its successful evolution [It is also one of the founding resorts for the Soneva Group].

Sonu Shivadasani
Sonu Shivadasani
What is the single most defining thing about the new Soneva Group?
Our continuing commitment to our guiding principal SLOW LIFE - Sustainable. Local. Organic. Wholesome. Learning. Inspiring. Fun. Experiences. The new Sonerva Group will concentrate on developing resorts with private residences, like Soneva Kiri and Soneva Fushi.
How do you and Eva Shivdasani complement each other when creating resorts?
Eva is the Creative Director for the group and oversees the overall design concepts, interiors and detail. I am the conceptual architect. So simplistically she is inside and I am the building! We respect each other's areas but remain open to opinion and healthy debate. As CEO I am of course involved in most aspects of the business, from sales and marketing, to future developments and normally work on 2 or 3 projects at one time.
What is the next big luxury travel trend?
Experiential holidays. Our core purpose is to create innovative and enlightening experiences that rejuvenate our guests. I believe that the 'snowball' of experience-led holidays has properly begun, just as 10 years ago the spa as a destination, bloomed worldwide. Another travel trend is  sustainable 'green' holidays. Privacy will also be prized highly in the coming decade. [We are selling Soneva Gili] in keeping with our decision to focus on developing private residences at Soneva branded resorts. Soneva Gili did not offer that potential. We will also focus on developing further Soneva resorts that will include a significant number of residential options. The Soneva Group is looking at other remote but accessible islands to re-create an additional resort in the Maldives with the potential to sell overwater private residences.
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a hotel is worthy of the 'luxury' tag?
It is the thought that is behind what is offered. Space and privacy are paramount for luxury hotels, with so many people living busy cramped city lives. Life's comforts, a comfortable bed, warm, attentive service, attention to detail. And of course, good food and wine.....but most importantly it is the thought that has gone into what is being offered on all levels.
Apart from your own, what are your favourite hotels/resorts? (and why)
Villa San Michele in Florence for its view, service and design. North Island - it's pristine.

What is your favourite city to visit?
Florence. And San Sebastian.
What is your best overseas restaurant experience?
I am very fortunate and there have been many.....Akelarre and Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Catalonia are both beyond magical destinations. El Bulli, El Celler de Can Roca......
What is your favourite airline for business or first class? Why?
Singapore Airlines - nothing comes close! The staff are given six months intense training. The service and attention to detail is incomparable.
Soneva Gili Villa Suite - Six Senses
Soneva Gili  - to be sold
What three things do you never travel without?
A Compass - I like to sleep with my head to the north.
A tape-measure - sometimes if the proportion of a room or space inspires me, I like to measure it.
A magnet - I believe that if you place a magnet on your head for ten minutes before landing and ten minutes afterwards, that it relieves most of the symptoms of jet-lag.
What is the one luxury travel experience you will never forget?
Flying in the A380 with Singapore Airlines - amazing. And boating in the Bahamas, a lovely area to travel in.
What is the most important thing (travelwise) that money CAN buy?
Space and privacy and a room with a great view.
What is the most important thing it can't?
True genuine warmth in welcome and service. Local influences, especially fresh and authentic local food and wine.


Villa San Michele, Florence:
Cellar de Can Roca, Girona, Spain :
Akelarre, San Sebastian,Spain:
Singapore Airlines:

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Updated 19/6/12
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