Friday, August 27, 2010

RTA 2010 Finalist Site Visit: Soneva Gili

White powdery sand meets crystal blue sea all at your doorstep on one of the most beautiful islands in the Republic of Maldives. Located on Lankanfushi Island in the North Male Atoll, Soneva Gili hosts 45 luxury villas, which offer a simple yet sophisticated design and luxurious comfort, all perched on top of the crystal sea. The limited number of villas allow for exceptional service by attentive staff, at a guest to staff ratio of 1:6. The villas and other buildings are constructed and crafted from renewable and certified-sustainable sources.

Responsible tourism is engrained in all aspects of the operation, stemming from the founders Sonu and Eva who are committed to running an environmentally and socially responsible business. Throughout the years, the entire team at Soneva Gili has embraced this passion and are all stewards for improving their environment and local communities. At Soneva Gili, they realize the fragile and important ecosystem in which they operate and know that in order for their business to thrive, they must have an extremely low environmental impact along with positive social impact in local communities.

The resort has been recognized by Wild Asia as one of the finalists for the 2010 Responsible Tourism Awards because of an array of best practices in responsible tourism. One of the best practices at Soneva Gili is their strong commitment to local employment and worker’s welfare. The resort guarantees excellent staff conditions, as well as extensive training in environmental management for all employees. Soneva Gili believes that the success of its business depends, amongst other things, on its qualified, motivated and happy staff.

Another responsible tourism best practice worthy of noting at Soneva Gili is the carbon reduction and waste reduction measures. Since 2008, a 'carbon tax' of 2% has been included in Soneva Gili’s guest villa rates to offset flight-related emissions. This money is used to finance clean energy projects and community development in developing countries, such as India, through a non-profit organization called The Converging World.

The resort has also invested a great deal in innovative technologies that reduce both waste and carbon emissions. For example, a desalinization plant is used to provide all water for the operation, including drinking water (thus not importing any plastic water bottles onto the island). The implementation of heat recovery systems which capture hot exhaust from the generators, in order to heat water for the entire resort, is another example of innovative techniques used. The resort also has its own organic gardens and sources produce from local farms and fishermen as much as possible, thereby reducing air miles and non-biodegradable packaging.

In terms of social contributions, 0.5% of Soneva Gili’s annual revenue goes into their Social and Environmental Responsibility Fund (SERF), which supports national and international programmes on health, education, conservation and community development. Soneva Gili strives to empower local NGOs and promote economies. They understand the importance of being a leading role model in local environmental conservation and social empowerment, and try "to create innovative and enlightening experiences that rejuvenate guests’ love of SLOW LIFE".

Soneva Gili’s "S.L.O.W. L.I.F.E." concept – Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome, Learning, Inspiring, Fun, Experience… is the real experience guests feel when staying at this resort. An extremely relaxing and pure environment, friendly staff and management, superb and healthy food, and the true feel of a Robinson Crusoe adventure while indulged in luxury is what Soneva Gili is all about and why many guests repeatedly return. The resort exemplifies a holistic approach to responsible tourism, and its passion and commitment towards the environment and local community shines.

Written by: Melissa Cornejo (Soneva Gili, Lankanfushi Island, Maldives: 11 – 14 August, 2010)

Special Note: Soneva Gili is one of the finalists for the 2010 Responsible Tourism Awards (Category: Small to Mid-size Accommodation). For more v-blogs on Wild Asia’s Responsible Tourism Awards, please visit the Wild Asia Channel.

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