At Soneva, the pursuit of extraordinary guest experiences is fused with an unwavering commitment to innovation and sustainability. From hosting world-renowned chefs for dynamic culinary adventures to pioneering wellness treatments seamlessly blending luxury and health, the brand sets new standards in hospitality. Environmental conservation is not a separate endeavour but an integral part of the Soneva ethos, evident in groundbreaking initiatives like coral rehabilitation at the Aquaterra Science Center.
Bruce Bromley, Soneva’s CFO and Deputy CEO, embodies the brand’s harmonious approach to finance and sustainability. For Soneva, every investment decision harmonises financial goals with innovative sustainability initiatives, creating a seamless fusion that drives the brand’s success. In the face of challenges, like the resilience shown during the COVID-19 era, Soneva remains adaptive, championing community-centric initiatives while steering the brand toward a future that embraces wellness immersion, personalised experiences, and an unwavering commitment to sustainability.
Enhancing and Innovating Guest Experiences: Soneva’s Current Investments
At Soneva, the commitment to delivering exceptional guest experiences remains unwavering. The brand’s focus spans across four key domains: food and beverage, wellness, curated experiences, and nature. Within dining, the strategy involves hosting renowned chefs like Julian Royer from Odette, offering a dynamic and ever-changing array of culinary experiences. Wellness initiatives have been pivotal, maintaining a luxurious experience while emphasising healthier options by replacing processed sugars with natural sweeteners in chocolates and ice creams.
The spas, namely Soneva Jani and Soneva Fushi stand as paradigms of wellness, providing avant-garde treatments such as platelet-rich plasma therapy and IV drips, setting new industry benchmarks. The ‘Soneva Stars’ program adds a unique touch by featuring sports icons like Daniil Medvedev and Thierry Henry, providing exclusive sports clinics and activities.
Environmental conservation is another paramount focus, evident in the Aquaterra Science Center, showcasing groundbreaking coral rehabilitation efforts. Through assisted evolution, Soneva aims to create more resilient corals to combat climate change, crucial for a location like the Maldives known for its scenic beaches and corals.
Consistently ranked among the world’s top resorts, both Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani hold esteemed positions in the world’s top 50 resorts, affirming the brand’s unique offerings. With the imminent launch of Soneva Secret, the third Maldivian resort, the brand anticipates redefining bespoke luxury, promising an unparalleled escape.
Managing Financial Resources for Guest Experience and Sustainability
At Soneva, the amalgamation of financial strategy and sustainability isn’t viewed as separate pursuits but rather as integral components of a unified business approach. As both CFO and Chief Sustainability Officer, Bruce Bromley embodies this convergence, where success is gauged not only by financial performance but also by the brand’s sustainability achievements.
The strategy revolves around a clear principle: any investment made by Soneva must contribute to the company’s sustainable performance while meeting established return thresholds. Sustainability isn’t an add-on or a tax on profitability but a prerequisite for investment. Bromley emphasises that if a sustainability initiative fails to meet these thresholds, innovation becomes the driving force to align sustainability goals with financial returns.
He highlights numerous instances at Soneva where innovation has been instrumental in reconciling sustainability with profitability. The ethos is clear: investments must align with sustainability goals and deliver returns exceeding the cost of capital.
This integrated approach isn’t just a trend but a necessity, especially considering the upcoming International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) requirements, mandating the inclusion of sustainability-related information in financial reports. This shift means that sustainability performance, initially addressed as notes in the accounts, will soon demand quantifiable and auditable data. As these details progressively find their way into financial statements, sustainability becomes inherent to the core of business operations.
For Bromley, the future of CFOs lies in embracing this integrated model, where sustainability and financial strategies aren’t disparate entities but interconnected elements driving a sustainable business forward.
Adapting Financial Strategies in Dynamic Markets
During the COVID-19 era, Soneva’s resilience and adaptability became evident, particularly in the context of the Maldives, the sole country that remained open. The brand played a pivotal role in advocating with the government to maintain open borders, keeping 90% of resorts operational while championing the establishment of an independent COVID testing lab. This initiative, while not exclusively sustainability-focused, reflected a community-centric sustainability approach, ensuring the continuation of operations.
In addressing challenges, Soneva’s approach has been consistent across various adversities. Regardless of the nature of the challenge, the focus remains on swiftly identifying solutions and implementing them. There’s a firm belief that in the face of adversity, action is key, and a victim mentality has no place in problem-solving.
To mitigate potential risks in large-scale projects or issues, Soneva adopts a ‘pre-mortem’ approach. This involves dissecting potential failures before they occur, ensuring proactive measures are in place to prevent such outcomes. This methodology extends to regular innovation sessions within the company, encompassing everything from guest services to financial matters.
Even in challenging times, the brand remains committed to investing in initiatives with swift returns. The approach prioritises projects with paybacks under two years, some even within nine months to a year. Examples include the construction of overwater villas that recouped their investment in just over a year, along with significant investments in children’s facilities that rapidly returned due to the increased family-oriented business.
Furthermore, the brand emphasises a continuous focus on innovation and return on investment. From substantial developments like the underwater sea bulbs to smaller guest experiences, investments are chosen strategically, often with swift returns. This relentless dedication to innovation and investment strategy remains a cornerstone of Soneva’s operational ethos.
Recent Sustainability Initiatives: Aligning Projects with Long-Term Goals
Bruce Bromley emphasised Soneva’s unwavering commitment to achieving a net-zero or positive impact on the environment through its operations and influence. He highlighted the unique blend of sustainability and luxury, a departure from the misconception that sustainability compromises luxury experiences. The brand’s carbon neutrality since 2012, encompassing scope 3 emissions like guest flights and freight, was a testament to this commitment.
An innovative approach through the Soneva Foundation was detailed. The foundation leverages impact investing, initiating projects that generate carbon credits offsetting business emissions. The surplus from credit sales is reinvested, ensuring project self-sustainability. Efforts extended to significant reductions in mosquito populations organically, avoiding chemical usage, thereby saving considerable costs.
Various measures were implemented to reduce single-use plastics, such as producing pasta in-house to eliminate plastic packaging and pioneering a mosquito-free environment without chemical sprays. The brand’s waste management practices were also highlighted, including recycling, composting, and the creation of artwork from recycled glass bottles. Soneva’s community outreach, “Soneva Namoona,” focused on aiding local islands to manage waste efficiently, ending open burning practices, and transitioning to wealth-creating waste management solutions.
Throughout the discussion, Bromley emphasised the finance-driven sustainability mindset, transforming waste into wealth and treating waste as an asset rather than a liability. These initiatives aligned with Soneva’s long-term sustainability goals while showcasing a blend of luxury and sustainable practices.
Soneva’s Adaptation Strategies in the Evolving Hospitality Landscape
In considering the vast shifts within the hospitality industry, the pivotal elements steering the direction for every business, particularly in hospitality, lie within significant macro trends. Among these, demographics play a crucial role in shaping the future of luxury resorts. The transition from a Western-centric sphere to an Eastern-focused one, coupled with ageing populations in the East, is profoundly influencing the wellness aspect of travel. This has led to an increased inclination towards wellness-focused experiences while travelling. At Soneva, significant investments have been made in wellness initiatives, exemplified by transformative experiences like the Soneva Soul Spas. These spas, notably expansive, aim to offer a rejuvenating experience for guests, allowing for indulgence in wellness without compromising on luxury.
Another trend, wealth accumulation, points toward a rising demand for bespoke and highly personalised luxury experiences. The trajectory of opulence is moving beyond traditional luxury, prompting a shift towards highly tailored travel experiences. Soneva’s upcoming Soneva Secret resort, launching in January 2024, epitomises this trend, focusing on delivering exceptional, personalised travel experiences.
Furthermore, experiential travel, particularly among the affluent older demographic, is gaining prominence. As individuals seek unique and authentic experiences, the demand for genuine local experiences within destinations like the Maldives is growing. Authenticity in place has become a priority, wherein luxury is no longer defined solely by opulence but by emotions, feelings, and sensations evoked during travel.
Lastly, sustainability is emerging not only as a demand-driven factor but as an imperative aspect driven by climate change. This global concern is shifting perspectives toward a necessity for survival. In response, there’s a growing focus on sustainability, not just as a moral obligation but as an essential business strategy. For CFOs, the forthcoming changes in reporting standards, particularly the IFRS, will necessitate pricing climate-related risks into every operational aspect.
In light of these trends, Soneva is proactively adapting its strategies to cater to the evolving demands of luxury travellers. The brand’s focus remains on providing transformative wellness experiences, personalized luxury, authentic local immersion, and a strong commitment to sustainability, aligning itself with the changing landscape of the hospitality industry.
As Soneva continues to redefine the boundaries of luxury hospitality through its unwavering dedication to innovation, sustainability, and unparalleled guest experiences, it stands poised at the forefront of an evolving industry. With a seamless fusion of visionary leadership, commitment to environmental stewardship, and a relentless pursuit of excellence, Soneva not only shapes the future of hospitality but also sets a compelling example for a world where luxury seamlessly intertwines with sustainability, creating experiences that transcend expectations and leave an indelible mark on all who have the privilege to partake in its offerings.