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Sat 18 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Green dreams

Six Senses' first entirely carbon-positive brand will be located in the MENA region, proving that geography and climate are no excuses when it comes to going green. MD Bernhard Bohnenberger contemplates the challenge.

Six Senses' first entirely carbon-positive brand will be located in the MENA region, proving that geography and climate are no excuses when it comes to going green. MD Bernhard Bohnenberger contemplates the challenge.

Following the launch of Six Senses Resorts and Spas' first destination spa last month, the company's managing director Bernhard Bohnenberger is already looking forward to the development of yet another new brand, which is set to enter uncharted territory for the hospitality industry.

"Anything we touch we want to really re-think it and have an intelligent approach to it," says Bohnenberger, who has helped grow the Six Senses business since its humble inception back in 1991.

Six Senses is working with Green Globe to develop the first eco-label for the global spa industry.

"We broke the mould of conventional luxury - luxury being chandeliers and marble and glitz and imported caviar and imported salmon - when we decided that if you went to the Maldives or Oman, you wanted to feel the environment and get back to nature," he says.

Now, after a recent rebranding, there are five concepts in existence that all follow this philosophy: Soneva by Six Senses, Evason, Six Senses Hideaways, Six Senses Latitude and Six Senses Destination Spas.

"Then there will be another, which we are finalising now - it will be a totally carbon-positive, carbon-absorbing, highly ecological, socially responsible brand," says Bohnenberger.

"We follow these ideas in all our resorts but here it is no compromises. It has to be LEED Platinum - this is extremely challenging to achieve; there is hardly anybody in the world who has achieved it, no hotels so far.

"We will really drive it to the ultimate, with deep sea water cooling, solar technology that allows you to run a whole resort and entirely locally-sourced building materials. It's the extreme of our belief, but it's not for every developer," admits Bohnenberger.

The company was hoping to call the concept Eva, after Six Senses co-founder and creative director Eva Malmström Shivdasani, but Bohnenberger says that it was unable to license the name.

"It will become most probably Six Senses ‘Eva-lution' as in ‘Eva' followed by ‘lution'," he says. "We have not been through the trademark process yet though."

The inaugural project has been signed in Turkey, reveals Bohnenberger, and there will probably also be one in Morocco. Finding the right developer is key to choosing locations for the brand, he adds.

"It's challenging because initially there is a much higher investment in technology, but later on you obviously get it back because there are no energy costs," comments Bohnenberger.While developing in the MENA region requires more air-conditioned areas, Bohnenberger says that there is commitment to the cause.

"Funnily enough, almost in opposition to all these environmental disasters - these mega projects disturbing the natural environment - there is a counter movement to go in exactly the opposite way.

"We're actually talking to people in the Middle East about our ecological approach and it's very much liked," he says.

"It's not for everyone but there are a few who are already saying that there is an opportunity to go exactly the opposite way."

We want to be carbon-neutral as a group by 2010 and carbon-positive or carbon-absorbing as a group by 2020.

While there may be only a limited number of developers interested in such an environmentally-aware concept, Bohnenberger says that there is a huge demand for it from Six Senses' clientele.

For example, the company already offsets all the carbon of flights to its Soneva properties, with guests paying about US $20 to $30 extra per night, and Bohnenberger says they have not had a single complaint about this policy.

"We use the money to buy windmills in the south of India, because India has a huge demand for additional power generation, so by actually putting in renewable energy sources it will dissuade the building of more power plants," he says.

"The revenue from selling the energy back into the group goes for a large percentage to buying new windmills so it's a self-fulfilling proposal and a little bit also goes into the local community to help them.

"At the moment we are doing it only in India but we are looking at doing it in other destinations," continues Bohnenberger.

"We actually have plans to expand this throughout the group and already offset all the flights of our team."

And although Six Senses endeavours to produce everything locally, within Soneva properties the group also gives a carbon value to any products that are flown in, meaning more money goes into the system.

"We want to be carbon-neutral as a group by 2010 and carbon-positive or carbon-absorbing as a group by 2020. Others talk about 10% or 20% savings and planting a few trees but this is massive what we are doing here," asserts Bohnenberger.

In terms of the impact of this on the guest experience, he adds: "We still try to demonstrate that with this you can provide an amazing amount of luxury. You can have smoked salmon and caviar anywhere, but where in the world can you have a salad that grew next to you five minutes ago or taste local fish that has just been caught rather than flown in?

"The guests are very intelligent and that's what guests comment about. They say ‘it's amazing and I've never had this before'," says Bohnenberger.The green policies have filtered down to the spas within each property too, as Six Senses is working with Green Globe to develop the first eco-label for the global spa industry, he reveals.

The Sector Benchmarking Indicators for Spa Operations are being developed using data from Six Senses Spas in order to set baseline and best practice standards, as endorsed by EarthCheck.

"A lot of it is about what you put down the drains -the oils and spa products," explains Bohnenberger.

" That approach is very important and we're really benchmarking all our spas. We hope to have this certification out and be recognised for being green from the start.

"Out of 16 of our spas, 14 are already benchmarked and three of them will go for certification this year," says Bohnenberger.

"Until now, only Six Senses has enrolled in this programme as it's tough to do and many may worry how to get certification - so we are truly the pioneers."

For more information, visit www.ec3global.com or www.sixsenses.com

Six Senses destination spa to expand to OmanSince the revelation in last month's Leisure Manager that Six Senses would be looking to launch a Destination Spa in the Middle East, Bohnenberger says a site has almost been agreed in Oman.

"It's 90% confirmed and I hope we can announce it soon, but we are planning one. We are planning initially to do one in every continent. We have Phuket and we are very close to signing one in India, then in Oman again in the Middle East, while in Europe it will be in Italy and then in the Americas," he says, adding that negotiations for each are still ongoing.

Six Senses has also signed agreements for a Six Senses Spa at The Pentominium in Dubai and for another spa at the Al Bustan Palace in Muscat.

"They're doing a very large, very elaborate spa there," adds Bohnenberger.

There will also potentially be a spa in Kuwait, but the project due to open next in early 2009 is the Evason and Six Senses Spa at Mai'in Hot Springs in Jordan.

"We're turning a quite normal hotel into something that will look like a fortress, so we're very excited. It's actually within the hot springs and we're capturing the water for bathing," says Bohnenberger.

Of the spa industry in the region in general he adds: "I think there is the disposable income and the time and the lifestyle to be pampered and taken care of. Spa is seen as something that does you good, so the market is actually there.

"We just have to be much more diligent of going our way so we don't look like anybody else, but we see huge potential and we'd love to take it further," he concludes.

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