While the tranquillity of most hotels around the world is shaken by the turbulent economic conditions and declining occupancy rates, Six Senses Resorts & Spas not only continues to rejuvenate guests, but also has them coming back for more. Demonstrating to the world that luxury lifestyle and environmental responsibility can complement each other beautifully, Sonu Shivdasani, founder and CEO of Six Senses Resorts & Spas has given a whole new perspective to high-end hospitality.

“Our DNA at Six Senses is to create innovative and enlightening experiences in a sustainable environment,” Sonu says, but he’s done much more than that. Through Six Senses, Sonu has created a new benchmark in sustainable tourism by providing a Robinson Crusoe type of escape, with its back-to-nature style and eco-friendly self-sustainable approach to luxury.

The luxury resort chain has been globally recognised and has received stack of awards including the coveted Best of the Best Award by readers of Conde Nast Traveller UK. It has also been featured in every “Best Of” list for being amongst the most luxurious and most green resort in the world.

Aiming to redefine the idea of small, luxury holiday resorts, Sonu, a young Eton and Oxford graduate, and his wife Eva, a former Swedish fashion model, chose the Maldives to build their first luxury resort, Soneva Fushi, in 1995. “My wife and I have always enjoyed holidaying in the Maldives and we thought it would be a good opportunity to build a luxury resort in the Maldives as there were none present at that time.

“As a five-star destination which is accessible to Europe, the Maldives deserved a five-star experience,” says Sonu. Reflecting the spirit of their collaboration, the name Soneva is a combination of their first names, and the flagship brand was created.With 65 villas, private swimming pools, lush white sand and tropical palms, Soneva Fushi was an instant hit and Sonu didn’t take long to expand his reach.

Today, the Six Senses Group has 26 resorts, either open or under development and 41 spas that they either own or manage on third party properties.Entirely different from corporate luxury resorts like Four Seasons, which generally have a more urban feel, Six Senses is built on the philosophy of ‘SLOW LIFE’; and acronym for Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome, Learning, Inspiring, Fun Experiences.

Despite the financial downturn, Sonu is confident that the concept and philosophy of Six Senses will help the brand to grow and emerge stronger than ever. “Fortunately, because of the unique positioning of Six Senses, we are doing quite well even in the given economic circumstances. If travellers want a ‘real experience’ it’s with us and that’s why I think we’ll continue doing well.”

He also sees it as an opportunity to challenge the business. “Everyone does well in good times but it’s when, one does well in bad times that when one stand out,” he says. “I believe that if there is danger in bad times there is also opportunity. An opportunity to change, improve, streamline as people are more open to change in bad times.”

It’s been a busy year for Six Senses, with lots of modifications taking place to become more effective and efficient. “The changes that we have brought about during this period are cutting the wastage, reviewing performance of people and redeploying people from the head office to other properties, as we have been doubling every three years.”

The philosophy of the Soneva brand is intelligent luxury, “which means we question and challenge what really is luxury in today’s context,” explains Sonu. “Today, most wealthy people live in big, congested cities with no big gardens. Six Senses Resorts & Spas is for the wealthy traveller that lives in London, Paris or New York, where a 300-square metre apartment costs US$30m.

“Our guest villas are about 300-square metres. When they’re on holiday, they don’t want to stay in a 50-square metre room. They want privacy with a nice pool villa and time to relax in the morning, bathe in an open air shower with fresh air and finally enjoying an organic salad fresh from the garden while sitting barefoot in a sandy floored restaurant. This is the era of Bose sound systems in your thatched beach-view bedroom. It’s that natural environment they treasure, more than an elaborate environment as the old style wealth and traditional luxury which was about living on grand estates, marble floors and formal clothes which is now over”.

Looking ahead, Sonu is expecting to have up to about 40 to 50 properties and also plans to develop the retail side by expanding the spa products.“The questions we ask ourselves in terms of our growth are what are the real benefits and dangers to growing? What are the economies of scale that are relevant to our particular business? What are the dangers of brand dilution, quality and standards?” Sonu says.

“We don’t want to have 50 properties in 50 different countries. Instead we prefer to have five or ten properties in 12 clusters, where people can be promoted from one to the other. The clusters identified are South East Asia, South Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Middle East to name a few. In terms of locations we are looking Mozambique, Mauritius, Oman, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Morocco.”

The company is also developing its ecological resources. By the end of 2010, the flagship resort Soneva Fushi will produce zero carbon emissions by tapping on more eco-friendly energy sources like wind turbines and coconut bio-diesel. Soneva Fushi will then be able to offer carbon-neutral holidays to its guests and aspires to set an example for other high-end hotels to follow. With immense energy, vitality and remarkable vision, Sonu’s goals include Six enses being one of the world’s top 10 best places to work and he also plans on creating the Six Senses Foundation to manage the group’s philanthropic endeavours. The group has strong community programmes in every location in which Six Senses operates.Whilst the evolution of Six Senses keeps Sonu busy, his creative DNA remains very much intact, giving his guest plenty to come back for.