Visionary, idealist, and change-maker: an interview with Sonu Shivdasani, the tourism revolutionary and inventor of the SLOW-LIFE philosophy.
He spit out...
…the silver spoon and instead devoted himself to social and environmental responsibility: Sonu Shivdasani, a Briton with Indian roots, left his family’s elite circles and first established the Soneva Resorts, then the Six Senses Resorts & Spas. He has remained faithful to luxury. But also the topic of sustainability. One of his principles is barefoot luxury. When you enter a Soneva resort, you have to give up your shoes. Subconsciously, there is more going on than that.
In the glass pavilion of the Four Seasons Istanbul, Sonu Shivdasani lets his gaze wander over the Bosporus. He is in a great mood. You can feel his aura before you look him in the eye. “Since my treatment, Istanbul has become like home to me,” he begins. Sonu had cancer. “From the beginning, I saw it as an opportunity to completely reorient my life and to examine my attitude. Now, I have undergone treatment and feel healthy again.”
You and your wife, Eva, are pioneers of the hotel industry in the Maldives. You have redefined luxury and put individuality before the masses – a visionary concept!
True luxury is rare. Luxury means being in harmony with yourself and your environment. One is not possible without the other. With our resorts, we create places that bring our guests to themselves – so that they can leave behind the hustle and bustle and constant sensory overload of day-to-day life. Finding space and inspiration for family and bonds that we sometimes lose in everyday life. Either with ourselves or with our loved ones. We give nature the upper hand and participate in its healing power. For the villas, the trees standing there are not cut down, but rather holes through which the trees can grow are milled into the houses. The water supply and the cultivation of food are sustainably integrated on the islands. We try to be as self-sufficient as possible.
You introduced and spiritually charged the SLOW-LIFE philosophy and this sustainable luxury. What is the objective?
An essential part of our philosophy is to slow things down and create experiences that money alone cannot buy. If you get involved in it, you feel and experience everything much more intensely. That is a great gift that allows our guests to take home a feeling of lightness and happiness in life.
And what is the mantra “No News, No Shoes” about?
Not having shoes on means much more than just walking barefoot. With each step, the ballast of civilization and the ego that constantly drives us fall away. If you walk only barefoot for two weeks on holiday, it brings pure relaxation, because nature has everything we need.
"Our aim is simple: To make a difference wherever we can."
Turning your personal vision into a reality for others requires a lot of courage and willingness to take risks.
That is correct. When we first started, we were laughed at. It was hard work convincing the banks about our innovative concept. Our projects were never fully financed. We kept complete faith in our idea. Shortly before we ran out of capital, we always invited investors to take a look at the progress of construction (laughs). Then there was new money straight away and we were able to continue. In the end, we were already fully booked before the opening. It paid off for everyone!
Do you have a moral compass?
To take personal responsibility for what I say. And to behave decently, even if no one is watching.
What shaped you the most in your childhood?
The values and courage of my father, as well as the numerous journeys with him. And riding to school on a donkey did me no harm.
What is the secret of success for the power couple Sonu and Eva?
We are very passionate about everything we do. For us, it is not work, but rather creative self-expression. In addition, it is not our first life together. We have had many shared incarnations.
You turned the Maldives into a surfers’ paradise. That surprised a lot of people – not only surfing aficionados.
(Laughs) We represent the unexpected and let nature take center stage!
Interview | Claudia Schwarz
Photography | Matt Porteous, Nic Trunfio