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Soneva celebrates 25 years of intelligent luxury



This month, the world-leading luxury resort operator Soneva will be celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Founded in 1995, today the brand is synonymous with ‘intelligent luxury’, renowned for crafting rare and authentic experiences for guests while pioneering sustainability across every level of its operations.

From October 2020 through to 2021, Soneva’s resorts will be hosting a calendar of events and celebrations to recognise many of the ground-breaking achievements and industry firsts the brand has made during its 25-year journey.

Soneva is the brainchild of husband and wife team, Sonu Shivdasani and Eva Malmström Shivdasani. After falling in love with the Maldives while on holiday, the couple discovered Kunfunadhoo, an unspoilt and uninhabited island in the enchantingly beautiful Baa Atoll, opening Soneva Fushi in 1995, the Maldives’ first-ever luxury hideaway. With its unique ‘no news, no shoes’ philosophy, the resort set a new standard in barefoot luxury which not only transformed the Maldivian tourism industry but also continues to inform Soneva’s role as a leader, trend-setter and innovator in the world of hospitality.

Over the last quarter of a century, the Soneva portfolio has expanded to become a collection of luxurious resorts, with each unique destination boasting breath-taking locations, tastefully appointed villas, one-of-a-kind experiences and a personalised, intuitive service, tailored to guests’ every need.

Soneva Fushi was followed by the launch of Soneva Kiri on Thailand’s fourth largest island, Koh Kood, in 2009. Soneva in Aqua, a 23-metre ultra-luxury yacht concept, set sail in the Maldives for the first time in 2015, combining Soneva’s inimitable resort experience with the freedom of a private charter. Most recently, Soneva Jani, located in the Maldives’ idyllic Noonu Atoll and surrounded by a sparkling private lagoon, opened its doors to guests in 2016.

The three Soneva resorts continue to garner a raft of prestigious international awards – in 2020 Soneva Jani was included in the Gold List of Conde Nast Traveler’s Best Hotels and Resorts in the world. In 2019, Soneva Fushi was included on the same list, while Bilanz’s ‘best hotel in the world’ award went to Soneva Jani, and Soneva Kiri was named the ‘number one resort in Asia/Thailand’ in Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards.

“Eva and I are incredibly proud to celebrate this milestone silver anniversary,” says Soneva Founder and CEO, Sonu Shivdasani.

“Over the last 25 years, we have created a new benchmark for luxury and experiential travel. As a business, we understand the importance of crafting enriching, exceptional experiences for our guests and will continue to evolve with their needs in order to surpass their expectations while remaining true to our sustainable ethos and intelligent luxury.”

Ever since the very first guests arrived at Soneva Fushi, Soneva’s journey has been one of ground-breaking firsts and industry leading innovation.

The concept of SLOWLIFE is at the heart of Soneva’s philosophy, where incredible experiences create unforgettable memories while having the minimum impact on the natural world and its fragile ecosystems. From cultivating organic gardens to provide herbs, fruit and vegetables within each Soneva property or building the first ever in-resort observatories with resident astronomers taking guests on fascinating journeys across the night skies, to screening a classic movie under the stars at the outdoor Cinema Paradiso, the SLOWLIFE ethos enables guests to rediscover and be inspired by life’s many opportunities and experiences.

As a pioneer for ‘barefoot luxury’, Soneva’s visitors are encouraged to take a well-earned break from the outside world – disconnecting from technology and handing over their shoes to feel the sand between their toes and reconnect with the earth.

“As modern life picks up pace, Soneva’s SLOWLIFE ethos offers our visitors a less hurried, more mindful and more appreciative look at the world,” says Sonu.

“Eva and I believe that something changes a little within our guests when they stay at a Soneva property – today, more than ever, we hope they share this experience and spread the word that it is possible to live in harmony with the world around us.”

Soneva’s unique and unswerving focus on its clientele remains much copied but never equalled.

The interior of every Soneva villa, whether Soneva Jani’s incredible overwater villas or Soneva Fushi’s castaway-inspired chic island retreats, or Soneva Kiri’s pool villas is overseen by Eva herself, with an impeccable creative vision that embodies chic laid-back luxury and celebrates each villa’s incredible natural setting.

Soneva’s famed outdoor bathrooms are a signature touch in every villa, allowing guests to shower and bathe under the sun or stars in the total privacy of their own secluded sanctuary.

With every detail considered – from in-villa wine vaults and exhilarating water slides to retractable roofs to view the night sky – each villa also comes with its very own Mr. or Ms. Friday butler, to ensure that every guest’s luxury castaway adventure is utterly perfect from the moment they arrive, until the time they depart.

Soneva’s ongoing Soneva Stars programme offers a kaleidoscope of one-of-a-kind experiences to Soneva’s guests. The fascinating programme includes a host of visiting Michelin-starred chefs, world-renowned astronomers, celebrated sports personalities, authors, therapists and practitioners and so much more.

Other unique features at Soneva that are geared towards pure enjoyment include the iconic ice cream parlours, chocolate rooms and deli rooms, open every day and complimentary to all guests, as well as The Den – a haven of fun and adventure for children of all ages.

Sustainability has always played a vital role in Soneva’s offerings and 2020-21 milestone year is an opportunity to reflect on the brand’s long-standing green, community-conscious vision – from the use of ethically-sourced and eco-friendly materials during construction, to the introduction of a carbon calculator and an environmental levy in 2008 to ensure that all Soneva properties remain 100 percent carbon neutral. The brand made history in 2015 by undertaking the hospitality industry’s first-ever Total Impact Assessment, which included environmental profit and loss, human capital and social capital.

Every few years, the SLOW LIFE Symposium unites environmentalists from across the world to tackle the planet’s most pressing ecological issues, while the Soneva Water campaign is a social enterprise that not only aims to eliminate plastics at Soneva’s own resorts through filtered, mineralised water served in recycled glass, but also distributes water to households, schools and businesses within the local communities.

Eco Centro, the Maldives’ first ever integrated waste management centre, opened at Soneva Fushi in 2007 – today 90 per cent of waste from the resort is recycled, from composting for the organic gardens, to making building blocks for construction and recycling plastics at the maker space.

Waste glass is upcycled at the Soneva Glass Studio, a first-of-its-kind art and hot glass studio that creates beautiful pieces for the resort’s restaurants and gift shop, as well as hosting classes with visiting master artisans.

Soneva has long supported a series of social and community causes through the Soneva Foundation. This has spanned a wide-range of global initiatives, including: the Myanmar Stoves Campaign and Darfur Stoves Campaign, a Gold Standard Foundation-certified project which distributed fuel efficient stoves to over 230,000 families in these countries; the Soneva Forest Restoration Project, planting more than half a million trees in Chiang Mai, Thailand; and a Wind Turbine project in Tamil Nadu, India, producing 80,000 MWh of clean energy which mitigated 70,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Most recently, Soneva launched its Soneva Namoona programme in the Maldives.

At the heart of the programme is Reduce, a radical reduction in the volume of plastic arriving on the islands. Soneva assisted in the establishment of a water bottling plant on the island of Maalhos to desalinate and mineralise sea water, which is distributed in reusable glass bottles, eliminating the need for water bottled in plastic.

Recycling and responsible disposal of waste forms the second strand of the programme. Maalhos is the first island to open a Soneva-sponsored Eco Centro with machinery that will include a woodchipper and a glass crusher.

The third component is to Inspire a love of the ocean and the environment. The belief is that through water sports, education and festivities that children will lose their fear of the ocean and learn to love it, and thus protect it.

At the request of their returning guests, Sonu and Eva launched Soneva Villa Ownership in 2011 – offering buyers the unique opportunity to purchase a Private Residence within Soneva’s resorts. A fully bespoke, ‘home away from home’ that is designed to meet each owner’s requirements, the scheme made history as the first and only developer in the Maldives to offer villa ownership on a renewable leasehold basis to foreign investors.

Only last month, Soneva’s brand new Water Retreats opened at Soneva Fushi and measuring 584 sqm./6,286 sqft, are the largest in the world.

Speaking during the launch of the new Water Retreats, Sonu added: “We are very proud to announce this exciting new phase for Soneva Fushi. When we first launched Soneva Fushi in 1995, we redefined tourism in the Maldives with our unique vision that pioneered the concept of sustainable luxury. After 25 years at the forefront of the global luxury tourism sector and as a bucket-list destination in the Maldives, we are always striving to evolve with our guests’ ever-changing needs.”

“While we will always remain true to the much-loved spirit and laid-back ethos of Soneva Fushi, the new Water Retreat villas will elevate our offering. Having overwater villas gives our guests the luxury of choice, to stay amongst the deep greens of the jungle with the beach just steps away, or wake up to panoramic views of the ocean. In late 2020 we also plan to expand Soneva Jani with additional villas, a new restaurant and a wellness centre. The future is looking very exciting.”

To view Soneva’s full 25th anniversary campaign including a curated collection of videos by Bruno Aveillan, and Soneva’s gallery of old photos since 1995, please visit: 

An Insider

Abdulla Wisam: A journey of excellence and growth in the Maldivian hospitality industry



In the heart of the stunning Maldives, where luxury resorts and crystal-clear waters come together to create a paradise on Earth, there are individuals who work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that every guest’s experience is nothing short of exceptional. One such individual is Abdulla Wisam, whose remarkable journey in the hospitality industry is a testament to his dedication, passion, and unwavering commitment to providing the best possible service to guests.

Abdulla Wisam’s journey in the hospitality industry began right after completing his schooling. In 2003, he embarked on his professional career by joining Dhoveli Beach Resort & Spa, where he gained his first taste of the world of hospitality. It was here that he discovered his passion for creating memorable guest experiences and building relationships with visitors from around the world.

After his initial foray into the industry, Wisam’s career path continued to evolve. His dedication and hard work caught the attention of industry leaders, leading him to take on roles of increasing responsibility. His time at Meeru Island Resort saw him as an Outlet Cashier and Night Auditor, roles that allowed him to develop a deep understanding of the operational aspects of a resort.

Wisam’s determination and eagerness to learn led him to the iconic Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, where he started as a Recreation Attendant. Over time, he showcased his exceptional skills in guest relations and management, and he was promoted to the position of Front Office Supervisor. His journey with Four Seasons served as a stepping stone for what was to come next.

In 2014, Wisam joined the W Maldives, a resort known for its luxurious offerings and unparalleled guest experiences. Starting as a Welcome Team Leader, he quickly rose through the ranks due to his impeccable guest service skills and innate leadership abilities. His promotion to Guest Experience Manager was a testament to his ability to not only meet but exceed guest expectations. He was then transferred to The St. Regis Maldives as the Assistant Front Office Manager with the pre-opening team.

As his career trajectory continued its upward trajectory, Wisam took on the role of Front Office Manager at prestigious resorts such as Milaidhoo Island, Raffles Maldives, and The Standard Maldives. These roles allowed him to refine his management style, hone his problem-solving skills, and contribute to the overall success of each resort.

Wisam’s journey eventually led him to COMO Cocoa Island, a resort renowned for its unparalleled luxury and exquisite attention to detail. Joining as the Front Office Manager, he embraced the challenges and responsibilities that came with the position. His dedication, combined with his innate ability to create genuine connections with guests, led to his promotion as the Director of Rooms.

Wisam’s journey in the Maldivian hospitality industry is a remarkable tale of perseverance, growth, and a genuine passion for creating exceptional guest experiences. His diverse roles, spanning from recreation to guest experience management, have equipped him with a holistic understanding of the industry. His commitment to continuous improvement and dedication to delivering top-tier service have not only benefited the resorts he’s been a part of but have also contributed to elevating the reputation of Maldives as a premier luxury travel destination.

As Wisam continues to shape the guest experience landscape at COMO Cocoa Island, one can only imagine the heights he will reach and the impact he will make on the ever-evolving hospitality industry of the Maldives. His journey stands as an inspiration to aspiring hoteliers and a testament to the boundless opportunities that await those who are truly passionate about their craft.

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Fan Club

A remarkable tale of wanderlust: Naito Takashi’s 103rd journey to the Maldives



The azure waters of the Maldives have long been a magnet for travelers seeking paradise on Earth. Among these wanderers, one name stands out – Naito Takashi, a Japanese tourist whose boundless enthusiasm for the Maldives has led him to visit this tropical haven a staggering 103 times. His unwavering love for this island nation, coupled with its mesmerizing beauty, has turned his visits into a remarkable testament to the allure of the Maldives.

For the past 24 years, Naito Takashi has visited Maldives between three to five times annually, embarking on a journey that has spanned more than two decades. His tale is one of dedication, passion, and a deep-rooted connection with the captivating landscapes that the Maldives offers. Each visit is not just a vacation; it’s a renewal of his profound relationship with the natural wonders that have captured his heart.

Naito Takashi’s 103rd arrival to the Maldives was met with a warm and heartfelt welcome from none other than the Tourism Minister himself, Dr. Abdulla Mausoom. This gesture symbolizes the deep appreciation the Maldivian people have for their loyal and devoted visitors. The ceremony held aboard the M/V Blue of the Fun Azul Fleet was a fitting tribute to a traveler who has become an honorary ambassador of the Maldives.

The M/V Blue, Fun Azul Fleet, holds special significance for Naito Takashi. As an avid diver, he has found his perfect companion in this cruise boat specialized in diving charters. The vessel offers schedules tailored to explore the best dive spots around the Maldives’ islands, making it an ideal partner for a diving enthusiast like Naito Takashi. The crystal-clear waters of the Maldives have witnessed countless underwater escapades orchestrated by this intrepid traveler.

The Maldives’ Ministry of Tourism has lauded Naito Takashi’s enduring passion for the nation’s beauty. Their tweet acknowledging his multiple visits serves as a testament to his unique and cherished relationship with the country. He has witnessed the ever-changing landscape of the Maldives, from its pristine beaches to its vibrant marine life, and has undoubtedly contributed to the thriving tourism industry.

Naito Takashi’s story also reflects the profound impact that travel can have on an individual’s life. His unwavering commitment to exploring the Maldives has not only enriched his own experiences but has also brought attention to the natural wonders of Maldives. It stands as a reminder that the act of traveling is not just about ticking off destinations from a bucket list; it’s about forming connections, fostering appreciation, and creating lasting memories.

As Naito Takashi continues his journey through the Maldives, his story resonates as an inspiration to fellow travelers and a tribute to the unyielding allure of this island paradise. His 103rd visit is not just a numerical milestone; it’s a celebration of an extraordinary bond between a traveler and a destination, a bond that has grown stronger with each passing year and promises to endure for years to come.

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Amari Raaya Maldives opens its gates to paradise



In a grand celebration of luxury and nature’s wonders, Amari Raaya Maldives resort has officially opened its doors, welcoming its first guests to experience a slice of paradise in the Maldives. The exclusive event was attended by the resort’s management team, as well as Atul Chordia, Chairman of Panchshil Realty, the developer behind this magnificent project.

Nestled on a pristine natural island in the heart of the Maldives’ Raa Atoll, Amari Raaya promises to be a sanctuary for travelers seeking an unforgettable escape amidst the archipelago’s breathtaking beauty. From the moment guests arrived via Manta Air seaplane, they were greeted with warm hospitality and a taste of Maldivian culture, as they were presented with traditional cultural items and treated to mesmerizing Maldivian dances.

Atul Chordia, the visionary behind Panchshil Realty, and Yuthachai Charanachitta ONYX Hospitality Group’s CEO marked the official opening of the resort by cutting the ribbon, signifying the culmination of a labor of love and dedication to creating a unique haven for luxury travelers.

With 187 villas offering a variety of luxurious experiences, Amari Raaya ensures that every guest’s stay is truly exceptional. Visitors can choose from an array of accommodation options, including the Beach Villas, Beach Pool Villas, and interconnecting Family Beach Villas, perfect for creating cherished memories with loved ones.

For those seeking unparalleled luxury and seclusion, the Ocean Villas and Ocean Pool Villas provide panoramic views of the azure waters teeming with marine life. Sunset enthusiasts can revel in the breathtaking beauty of the Maldivian dusk from the privacy of their villas, opting for the Sunset Ocean Villas or Sunset Ocean Pool Villas, promising an unforgettable experience.

Amari Raaya Maldives goes beyond offering captivating villas; it has curated an extraordinary culinary journey for its guests. With eight distinct dining options, visitors can embark on a gastronomic adventure that caters to every palate. From the signature Amaya Food Gallery, serving famous street food and hawker delights, to the rooftop bar Ampers&nd, where guests can savor sunset snacks and cocktails, the resort promises to delight all epicureans. Poolside Italian favorites, freshly caught seafood infused with Maldivian and Asian flavors, and the fun and playful experience of enjoying mobile snacks and drinks served from a bus all add to the culinary magic of the resort.

In the evenings, guests can find a sense of community and immerse themselves in the local culture through live music, traditional Boduberu nights, and regular cultural events and festivities, making every moment at Amari Raaya Maldives an enriching and memorable one.

Amari Raaya Maldives is developed by Panchshil Realty, a name synonymous with excellence in luxury real estate in India. The resort is managed by Onyx Hospitality, renowned for its exceptional and personalized hospitality experiences.

With its official opening, Amari Raaya Maldives invites travelers from around the world to discover the allure of the Maldives in unparalleled comfort and style. As guests arrive at this oasis of luxury and natural splendor, they are sure to find themselves enchanted by the timeless beauty of the islands and immersed in an experience that will linger in their hearts forever.

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