Eddie Teh is the General Manager of Soneva Fushi, an award-winning desert island hideaway situated in the stunning Baa Atoll of the Maldives. Our team had a chat with Mr. Teh to find out more about his career so far, and to delve deeper into what sets Soneva Fushi apart from other luxury resorts.
Before I joined Soneva, I was with Orient-Express Hotels, which was subsequently rebranded to Belmond. I started with them back in 1995 and was based in Australia for many years before being transferred around Asia. While in Australia, I took on the role of Regional Food and Beverage Director of the Orient Express in 2008. Then in 2011, I moved to Luang Prabang in Laos to become General Manager of La Residence Phou Vao. My last posting was in Yangon in Myanmar to take on the role of General Manager for Belmond River Cruises and Tours until 2016 when I was promoted to Area General Manager of Belmond Myanmar. This was right before I joined Soneva Fushi
I met Sonu in 2017 when we shared a stage delivering speeches about the most important aspects of luxury travel. That’s how I first learned about Soneva. I found it very intriguing, so I started following the brand. Now that I’ve been at Soneva Fushi for 10 months, I’ve found that it does exactly what it promises. Sustainability and the importance of being eco-friendly – these are often lost in the world of clichés that most hospitality companies talk about. But to show how really committed you are, it takes a lot of effort.
Soneva Fushi is not simply just a resort. It delivers hospitality with a sense of consciousness for the environment and what it can contribute back to its community. Here, ‘Slow Life’ is a guiding principle for all staff, who are known as Hosts. It is the moral compass, as well as the operating compass. Sustainability runs through Soneva’s, and Soneva Fushi’s, core and negative environmental impacts of always keep to a minimum – which is both difficult and yet critical, for a company which operates resorts in remote places of pristine natural beauty.
This is my first experience in the Maldives. I grew up on the island of Penang, in Malaysia. It’s quite similar to the Maldives in that the most common occupation is working for a hotel. So, in a way, it feels like home, but it’s a lot more beautiful. The seas are azure blue, and it almost feels like you have the skies open to yourself. Every time you walk around the islands, you feel this expansive sense of space.
I started from very humble beginnings in Penang, and just like in the Maldives, the only work one could find was in hotels and resorts. I was very fortunate to be able to work in hospitality and make that a career. It’s probably not for everybody because it has to be something that you love to do.
So, I’d say my greatest personal achievement is progressing in my career long enough to see the world, to be able to work and meet people, engage with the locals and be a part of their community. While at Belmond, I also helped establish the Belmond Free Clinic, which served over 300 patients weekly. This initiative was named the Best CSR Program for Belmond worldwide.
Well, how would you determine luxury? Sometimes the more sustainable option is the more luxurious one. For someone living in an urban environment, dining in the middle of a private lagoon, going on a sunset dolphin cruise or enjoying an intimate ‘no menu’ meal from a Michelin-starred chef in a stunning natural location is rare. Dishes made with ingredients that were picked that morning become luxurious. Snorkelling above a swirling feeding frenzy of manta rays or meeting a local fisherman and learning how to fish sustainably are incredibly unique experiences.
At Soneva we offer our guests the ability to completely disconnect from their daily lives. We encourage our guests to walk barefoot, turn the Wi-Fi off in their villa and ignore the news. Instead, we invite them to immerse themselves in the beauty of our resorts, the experiences that we offer and, most importantly, to connect with each other.
We are also both the owners and operators of our resorts, which allows us to ensure that we are very focused on our philosophy and enhancing that. We are able to evolve and innovate rapidly as the world changes. A visit to a Soneva will clearly show how different we are from any other luxury experience, which exists in the markets where we operate.
With climate change and its effects so apparent, I believe sustainability will be a key pillar. The Maldives has already been recognised for its focus on environmental work, but I believe there is still potential for growth in this area.
Sustainability in tourism is especially important because it directly impacts both the local communities and the environment. Soneva believes that luxury and sustainability can be interconnected concepts and, since the beginning, has pioneered a business model with sustainability at its heart.
I think hospitality is a long-term commitment, you need to love it. You also need to enjoy meeting and talking to new people and getting to know their stories, because you’ll be meeting diverse people from all over the world.
There’s also the aspect of travel. In the hospitality industry, you have the opportunity to work in many places around the world, so if you love to travel, that’ll motivate you even more. I also believe that if you insert a little bit of pleasure and fun into your work, you will be more committed which, in turn, will allow you to be successful in your career.