The definition of luxury accommodation is shifting. What was once all about infinity pools and seafood buffets is now focused on transformation, where the goal is to create a better you or a better world—or both.
Business owners have taken on the mission, investing hefty capital into various regions in Asia and transforming them into the leading luxury accommodations. This shift has been driving a new wave of change across economies, with major implications for those who seeking luxury experiences in their travels.
Sonu Shivdasani, the British Indian hotelier responsible for the Soneva Luxury Resorts in the Maldives and Thailand, can attest to this paradigm shift. She posits that hoteliers and luxury property owners of today need to find ways to cause less harm and do more good, becoming the solutions—rather than the source of problems.
Soneva Fushi was the first of the Soneva resorts, founded in 1995 in the Maldives, back then a diver's paradise. According to Shivdasani, other hotels were few and far between and were all on the affordable side. "The first time we visited, there was no sweet water, no A/C, limited electricity and terrible food," she said. She aimed to create a sustainable yet elegant resort. "After the success of Soneva Fushi, we proved that luxury and sustainability do not compete with each other, they complement each other — this is what 'intelligent luxury' is really about."
"The language of luxury [in the past]—where the affluent were rural landed gentry—was what was rare for them: dressing up, gold accents, crystal chandeliers," says Shivdasani. "These things offer them a change of daily routine, which was all about nature and space." The situation is the other way around these days. Shivdasani's theory is that a new luxury is emerging based on what is now missing in everyday life: nature, sustainability and good health.
Another individual who has grasped the implications of this modus operandi is Rory Hunter of Song Saa, who discovered the Koh Rong Archipelago in Cambodia in 2006 and instantly fell in love with the stunning landscape. This relationship, however, eventually brought forth discomfort. "We were shaken to see the consequences human activity was beginning to have on this heavenly environment," he said.
When he began building Song Saa Private Island in 2008, a deep respect for the environment and the archipelago’s people was central to his vision. Combined with a belief that he has an important role to play in the preservation of these magnificent isles, he took the triple bottom line approach — where People and Planet are just as important as Profit.
When Alila was conceptualised in 2002, experiential travel was barely a thing, let alone a hashtag. Now a series of luxury resorts and hotels spanning from China to Oman, Alila means “surprise” in Sanskrit, reflecting the very ethos that founder Franky Tjahjadikarta sought to impart in each of the properties. Developed in locations of exceptional natural beauty or cultural interest, these resorts combine the pillars of luxury accommodation with a focus on eco-luxury, privacy, personalised service, and unique guest experiences.
“Our philosophy is driven by crafting authentic experiences while minimising its environmental footprint, utilising EarthCheck standards and a Zero Waste Policy," says Tjahjadikarta. "We integrate commerce, conservation and community to drive product development. As a land owner, it was a natural progression, and only makes sense to do something useful with our property.”
Fostering a new travel approach that brings environmentally-minded travellers together, intelligent luxury is not only about providing new experiences for guests and refraining from exploiting nature. It has become an increasingly influential consumer segment of its own — one that can very well shape the future of travel.