Interview: Could ownership be the future of hospitality?

Resort chain Soneva has started offering a villa ownership scheme in the Maldives. Instead of booking an accomdation for a short period, people can buy the hotel villa and then share the profits with the hotel operator. We caught up with the chain's founder and CEO, Sonu Shivdasani on the intricacies of this method and if it's going to catch on.

Sonu Shivdasani
Sonu Shivdasani

The Villa Ownership scheme is described as the first of its kind in the Maldives, what was the inspiration for the idea?

The villa ownership program was created at the request of our repeat guests in 2011.  We have a high group of repeating guests who saw the benefit of investing in an asset rather than spending money on a holiday that they won’t see again. After listening closely to the feedback, Sonu and Eva were happy to create the first (and still only) program of its kind.

How much creative freedom do the owners have on the look of the villas and how is it made sure the Soneva image is kept consistent?

The owners have a vast amount of input, it’s great as Sonu & Eva are always looking at new ways to improve and evolve the product so are very open to this involvement.  Each private residence is designed to meet its owner's individual needs while remaining true to Soneva’s signature ‘Intelligent Luxury. Some owners are very happy to leave everything up to Sonu & Eva and other owners like to be very involved in the details – we introduce them to our creative team very early in the process to ensure that they end up with a villa they will love!

What are some of the challenges of this villa ownership programme?

We believe the scheme to be challenge-free, a great number of people speak about dreams of owning their holiday homes but are too busy or unable take on the responsibility of maintenance Privately-owned villas and retreats are fully maintained by Soneva throughout the year (including repairs, replacement furniture, fixtures and fittings, lighting, gardening and pest control), while owners enjoy myriad benefits.

We have a villa owner-manager who is regularly in contact with the owners; whether this is for an update on maintenance or to share our quarterly newsletter, they have one point of contact that they can deal with on the island dedicated to their needs.

What are the benefits for Soneva of offering leasehold ownership rather than freehold?

The standard structure in the Maldives is leasehold structure which we must comply with so it’s not related to benefits, it’s a legal requirement.  All island resorts operate under the same leasehold structure with the initial least lasting 50 years.  This lease can then be renewed after 49 years at which time the cost of this will be split equally amongst the number of villas we have on each island.

Is this an idea you could only see working in the Maldives?

As Soneva grows internationally I can see this working in all of our resorts.  All owners are allocated several room nights to use and these can be transferred across the different resorts that we own so it provides more choice for the villa owners which is highly attractive to new buyers.  

Currently, all the properties available in the scheme are large villas, are there any plans to roll out the idea to smaller properties or even suites?
We have sold more 3 bedrooms than any other size and we have all sizes of villas available for sale – from a 1 bedroom to 9 bedrooms so this program does not have any restriction.  The beauty of Soneva is that we are flexible and open to all our guests and the owner’s needs.

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