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What does the future of luxury travel and sustainability look like?

Business Life 19-06-2020

As we continue with our Soneva series, in the second of our three-part series, we find out from Sonu Shivdasani, Co-founder and CEO of Soneva Group, how the luxury travel industry can take steps for a more sustainable future.


How do you think the hospitality industry could become more sustainable over the next 25 years?

Sonu: You need energy for an economy to grow. Until now, there has always been a trade-off between economic growth and sustainability. In 25 years, I believe it will be rare to find a hotel that derives its energy from fossil fuels. Evolving technology and increasing social pressure will ensure that people come up with more environmentally sensitive ways to generate energy. I believe that renewables, most probably solar energy, will become very well established. Solar power has already reached grid parity and will likely be the cheapest form of energy available to most destinations.

AWM: What environmental challenges do you think we will face in the future?

Sonu: As economies continue to grow, waste is likely to become a serious issue. When populations increase, they generate more waste, be it food, materials, or recyclable resources. But how to manage this challenge?

I believe there will be significant advances in reducing our plastic consumption. I would be very surprised if in 25 years’ time, we are still using plastics as extensively as we do today. I would hope single-use plastics will have disappeared by then, and I don’t think we will be seeing plastic bags, bottles or straws. It will become the norm for hotels to use sustainable alternatives. What we choose to do with the rest of our waste, such as aluminium, glass or food, is going to be very important.

When we are no longer reliant on fossil fuels for energy (currently the major source of greenhouse gases), we will focus on other greenhouse gas emitters, such as the cattle industry and deforestation. In response, there will be a reaction against using tropical timbers for construction and interiors, such as teak, ebony, wenge and balau.

AWM: Will it be possible to actually travel sustainably?

Sonu: Advances in sustainable technology and renewables will revolutionise the travel industry. With cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable forms of energy, long-haul travel will no longer be seen as taboo. Right now, there is already incredible work being carried out in the aviation industry to create more sustainable ways to fly. For example, Harbour Air, a US-based seaplanes operator, has just successfully trialled a MagniX electric engine on a de Havilland Beaver aircraft. It’s quite conceivable that our own Twin Otter and Cessna aircraft could harness the same electric technology over the next few years.

AWM: How will restaurants adapt to a more sustainable future?

Sonu: As fossil fuels are replaced by cleaner, renewable energy sources, the beef industry will become one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases, from the cattle themselves as well as the deforestation caused by cattle farming. I believe that this will affect the way we eat; red meat will become a rarity on menus and beef will no longer be a part of our everyday diets. At Soneva, we have already removed beef from all of our restaurant menus, available by special order only. Conversely, vegan and plant-based dishes will continue to increase in popularity and become even more prominent and easily available in restaurants than they are today. Successful restaurants will harness the power of ‘and’. The ones to succeed will create delicious food worthy of Michelin stars and is healthy and eco-friendly. Much like our own SLOWLIFE philosophy, there will no longer be a trade-off between taste, health and sustainability.

AWM: How will the luxury travel industry evolve?

Sonu: Looking forward, there will be two extremes, as we harness new innovations to create truly unique, personalised experiences but also focus on finding joy in the simplest pleasures. Advances in technology will allow for even more personalisation within the industry, both in terms of connecting with guests, as well as creating one-of-a-kind, offline experiences that they can’t find elsewhere. Luxury travel will increasingly become a way for guests to escape from their daily lives, offering rare experiences, remoteness from the outside world, more privacy, and the ability to disconnect from the bombardment of media and information. As the world becomes ever-more sophisticated, people will cherish and value the simpler things in life and the beauty of the natural. This is already evident at Soneva through the enduring popularity of our restaurants such as Benz’s, which serves home-cooked traditional Thai cuisine at Soneva Kiri, Soneva Jani’s the Crab Shack, and what Sobah serves at Soneva Fushi.

AWM: How is Soneva leading the way?

Sonu: We have always endeavoured to be a pioneer in the hospitality industry. From our ‘barefoot luxury’, focus on sustainability and commitment to existing in harmony with our local, natural environment, to our complimentary ice cream and chocolate parlours, open-air bathrooms and observatories.

Over the next 25 years, we will continue to innovate, both reinforcing our existing concepts and also creating new, unforgettable experiences for our guests. We have many exciting ideas already in development, from new restaurant concepts and innovations for our villas, to sustainable initiatives such as propagating coral around our islands to protect our reefs and support our delicate ecosystems. We are very excited about what the future holds.

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