Soneva Resorts, Thailand & Maldives – Most Inspiring Accommodation

winner[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his post congratulates Soneva Resorts for being recognized as a 2013 Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Awards Winner. This award recognizes the accommodation provider that excels in all of the above categories by taking into consideration all the key principles of responsible tourism (maximum positive impacts to the local community and minimum negative impacts to the environment) and awards innovation for this most inspiring accommodation of the year.

Soneva Resorts is the original barefoot luxury brand, and still one of the travel industry’s greatest innovators. The acronym SLOW LIFE (Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences) explains the Soneva philosophy. Intelligent Luxury, is all about creating unforgettable, enlightening experiences that rejuvenate each guest’s love of SLOW LIFE. It’s about illuminating lives whilst treading lightly on the earth.

Our favourite things about them!

  • Excellent sustainable business model incorporating social, economic and environmental aspects.
  • Internal and external impact assessment.
  • Mandatory sustainability training.
  • Wheelchair accessible.
  • A great personal touch to guest communications with “Mr./Ms Fridays.”
  • Concrete emission calculation and reduction goals.
  • Soneva just go so far beyond business as usual… innovation after innovation, active and creative on serious issues.
  • UNESCO Biosphere, shark protection, coral restoration project (30 tonnes of rock), waste to wealth centre, 85% waste recycled, serious engagement with the carbon calculator which avoids dis-ingenuity, Carbon sense fund 450,000 trees planted, whole world water initiative…
  • An established operator with good track record on responsible approaches to sustainable tourism practices.

Inspiring Management

  • Internal and external social and environmental impact assessments made.
  • Engage guests through information in rooms, personal interaction, personal tours, website.
  • Size, layout and location of all buildings planned to integrate the native vegetation into man-made structures and to maintain the natural charm. Large, vegetated parts of the island are unspoilt to provide cooling, shading, fresh air and natural experiences. Villa numbers are kept low.
  • All timber used from sustainable managed, certified sources.
  • Wheelchair accessibility to some villas.
  • Fushi property delivered international event on their SLOW LIFE concept, with international leaders to inspire wider audience on sustainability.
  • Founded WHOLE WORLD Water campaign through their SLOW LIFE Trust.
  • 2/3 properties Long Run Alliance Members; use own Soneva Carbon Calculator annually.
  • Won numerous awards for sustainability.

Community Engagement and Development

  • Hold annual Soneva Nature Trip (through NGO Eco Care, sponsored by Soneva) most influenial environmental awareness event in Maldives. Locals (including 100 students) do various activities, conduct audits and learn about environmental issues.
  • Financially supported Thalassemia Prevetion and Relief programme of screening blood donations (Maldives has highest genetic blood disease prevelance in world).
  • 92% local staff, 50% of management are local people.
  • Staff training target of 9 hours per month, each staff member has own My Development Plan. Mandatory sustainability training for all staff.
  • 50% food from local area (80% organic), lots grown at properties.
  • Each villa assigned with own butler, from local area, who engages guests with local customs etc.
  • 90% staff live onsite, provide good living conditions with access to recreational activities and three meals a day.
  • All staff paid above national minimum wage.
  • Monthly meetings with island leaders to maintain relationships and receive feedback.

Cultural Preservation

  • Do and Don’t guide provided (dress etc).
  • Invite local women to showcase cooking and invite guests to their home to learn.
  • Use locally produced materials for design e.g. coconut ropes.
  • Sale of local crafts through Soneva Gallery.

Resource Efficiency

  • 3% renewable energy – installed 70kW solar PV in 2009 (then biggest on Maldives), expanding to 350kW which will result in 50% reduction in diesel consumption.
  • Each villa has its own Little Green book with information on responsible tourism.
  • 100% self sufficient in water (45% rain water harvested, 45% desalination, 10% deep wells).
  • Water saving: aerators, low flow shower heads, water saving toilets.
  • Monthly monitoring of resource efficiency with targets and bonuses if achieved.
  • Soneva Carbon Calculator includes travel, freight etc – 2011-12 footprint was 42, 500 tons (15% from energy, 76% guest travel).
  • Established Carbon Sense Fund, 2% levy on room bill for carbon mitigation projects (reforestation in Thailand, SLOW LIFE in Myanmar, stoves project in Sudan).
  • Output treated sewage and grey water is mixed with brine to reduce salinity then released into sea.
  • Less than 15% is non-recyclable waste and sent away.
  • Established Eco Centro Waste to Wealth centre with Manager, handles and monitors all Fushi waste.
  • 85% food waste recycled, used on own herb garden.
  • Garden waste composted or bio-charcoal.
  • Working to improve chemicals by working with Eco Lab, hope to install rechargeable batteries.

Protection of Natural Areas and Wildlife Conservation

  • Baa Atoll, where Soneva Fushi is situated, recently achieved UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status. In-house marine biologist involved in establishment of management team for Biosphere Reserve, resort will contribute financially.
  • Soneva Fushi worked with local NGOs to lobby for shark protection and in 2010 a national Shark-fish ban was implemented.
  • Soneva Fushi has own Marine Biologist who trains staff on conservation.
  • Follow IUCN ‘no no’ red list for F&B, work with local fishermen for sustainable fish, prioritize organic food.
  • 66% area left undeveloped (e.g Soneva Fushi island has largest forest cover in Maldives).
  • Use of native salt and drought tolerant plants reduced need for irrigation.
  • Soneva Kiri established coral restoration project – 1,850 corals or 27 species were transplanted, 30 tons live rock incorporated.
  • Offer 3 nights free stay to guests in low season who contribute to community/conservation work.
  • 3 hours per week set aside for marine biologist to monitor reefs, working with IUCN, to development management plan.
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T+L 2012‘Most Inspiring Responsible Tourism Accommodation Provider’ Award is sponsored by Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia.

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