Sonu and Eva Shivdasani

Sonu + Eva = Soneva. Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, the founders of Soneva Fushi, Soneva Jani (Maldives), and Soneva Kiri (Thailand) are a husband and wife team that fell in love with the Maldives long before they were the luxury hotspot that we think of today. Back in 1995, when Soneva Fushi first opened, it was the first of its kind in the Maldives for many reasons. The focus on low footprint, sustainable construction, but high luxury was new not only to the Maldives but to the hotel world itself. Not to mention, the construction of a spa on property, which would be expected at a resort of this caliber today, was uncommon for the destination at the time. Soneva pioneered a “castaway” sense of luxury targeted at those who, even back then, were traveling with a conscience. The aim was to allow guests to enjoy the beauty of the nature surrounding them without disturbing it by their presence. Little did they know back then that not only were they becoming trendsetters of “back-to-nature” luxury holidays, but also the transformation of the Maldives into a luxury vacation destination.

These pioneers of “intelligent luxury” met at the Monaco Grand Prix at a time when the British born Sonu was studying English Literature at Oxford University and Swedish born Eva was working as a model. In fact, neither one of them has had any formal hospitality training or schooling, which Sonu sees as an advantage, giving them a “fresh set of eyes” on their approach to the business. As the Soneva brand has grown and evolved, Sonu and Evaremain motivated by the creative side of hospitality, from the interior design of their resorts to “Inspiring a Lifetime of Rare Experiences," which has become the cornerstone of their brand. Sonu says it is the creation of new concepts that constantly keeps him motivated, even through the difficult times, noting he “can never stand still” and that he “[has] to go forwards, never backward.” The two are constantly looking for ways to make changes and to keep the brand evolving while facing the challenge of staying true to the brand’s DNA.

Sonu predicts that the next 20 years will carry with them an even greater pace of change than what the industry experienced over the last 20. Thanks to technological advancements, sustainable tourism has become not only good for the environment but smart business practice, resulting in a huge reduction in waste. Soneva guests have evolved from a luxury consumer to a meta-luxury consumer: one with authentic conviction. Materialism as a status symbol has been replaced with a desire for discovery, knowledge, and experiential. The traditional, material status symbols have become less important than authentic, unique, and one of a kind experiences. Sonu hopes that from this current pause in life as we know it people will reflect and reprioritize, establishing a greater focus on health, an awareness of nature, and sensitivity towards our impact on the planet. Global warming he states is the next and most looming global crisis, but one that will only continue to get worse unless we take immediate action. To put a positive spin on it all, Sonuleaves us with a quote from Lao Tzu “Good fortune has its roots in disaster” and he hopes that we all emerge from the current crisis wiser and better as a result.