In each Heart of the House interview, we go closer to the action by sharing a behind-the-scenes look of a luxury resort.
Six Senses is a frontrunner in sustainability and has become one of the most famous luxury resort brands in the world. Today, we chat to Marteyne van Well (General Manager at Six Senses Laamu) about living in paradise and running a resort.
What drives you personally to work for this eco-focused brand?
Six Senses has been my home for the past 11,5 years. What drives me is our company’s focus on sustainability, wellness and the local community. It’s wonderful to be personally engaged but also to activate the hearts and minds of my team.
We are a “people” company, we build meaningful relationships – with our hosts, owners and guests! Six Senses and our owners talk the talk and, more importantly, walk the walk.
What’s the Maldives Underwater Initiative?
I want to leave a legacy at Six Senses Laamu and make this part of the Maldives better than we found it! And so, the Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI) was born in June 2018. The idea is to bring together the greatest minds in marine conservation to find innovative solutions to Laamu’s most pressing issues.
Our team has grown to 10 people (pictured above), supported by our Sustainability, Community Education and Outreach Manager. We have welcomed 17 experts in the past year and have learned from their expertise; and in turn, we’ve shared our knowledge with our guests, team and community.
Within a short space of time, the team has clocked numerous achievements: the biggest turnout at our Laamu Turtle Festival to winning the Green Hotelier’s Community Award and the Skäl International Sustainable Tourism Award for Marine and Coastal initiatives.
The results and forged relationships resulted in securing a pledge from the Laamu Atoll Council to protect key habitats, which will hopefully lead to a locally-managed marine protected area. MUI is just at the start of its journey and with ambitious plans for 2019. We will continue to strive to inspire, drive actions and spread conservation messages.
What does sustainability mean to you?
To me, sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Our natural resources are finite, and it’s important that we start using these resources responsibly. We also need to use social and economic resources sustainably; communities across the globe should be able to maintain their independence and have access to resources, financial and other, to meet their needs. Economic systems and activities should be available to everyone – now and in the future, for us all to maintain our livelihood.
We should protect universal human rights and basic needs to keep families healthy and secure.
What does sustainability mean to Six Senses?
We put time, people and finances to task. It’s our aim to be generous with our knowledge and share it freely to those who are keen: guests, hosts or locals.
What’s been your best guest experience at Six Senses?
Last summer, we had a bad week during our rainy season (a period that has rain but seldom for hours or days) with torrential rains and tremendous winds.
Guests couldn’t do anything outdoors. Outdoor dinners, outdoor yoga and dives or snorkel excursions had to be cancelled. We felt terrible! To confront the situation, our team met together to make sure that the guest experience would be super exceptional! Guests didn’t travel to the Maldives for this weather.
A week after the storm, I received a letter from a guest, her husband and 3 teenage kids. She wrote that they’d saved for one last vacation before the kids left home for years! They’d dreamed of coming to the Maldives to visit paradise, yet they had a misfortunate experience with the weather. She then said that they had the best family vacation ever! They were so touched by the team’s empathy and efforts; they connected with the hosts not just as employees but as individuals. We touched their hearts and gave them priceless memories!
Who do you personally look to in the world for guidance or inspiration?
My favourite pastimes are underwater photography, diving and videography. I am recharged after every dive. The magical underwater world inspires awe and calm. You need only look at a passing turtle, a school of fish, coral garden or a tiny critter to find the motivation to safeguard this environment.
Where do you see Six Senses going in the next 3 years?
From strength to strength! Sustainability and wellness will continue to gain importance for us. I constantly meet guests who’ve learnt that you can’t just eat, sleep and exercise well (and be environmentally conscious) on your two-week holiday. But you can also take things you have learned at Six Senses home with you.
What does luxury mean today?
I believe we are growing in the area of high-end tourism where guests want personalized, unique experiences and product transparency. The meaning of premium has changed: it used to mean expensive and exclusive – now the term encompasses social responsibility and authenticity. We are shifting away from material goods to treasured memories.
What is your favourite activity that you offer guests at Six Senses Laamu?
Guests should not leave Six Senses Laamu without having met the MUI team and experienced the magical underwater world. Guests can join a guided snorkel with one of our 10 marine biologists and discover the beauty below the surface. Experienced snorkelers will love our snorkel boat excursions to reefs around the atoll, and seasoned divers will relish the abundance of sharks, rays, dolphins, schools of fish, and more in our atoll’s channels.
While it is true that it does take that extra flight, once you do, you arrive at a place where it’d all yours; a surfer has the waves to themselves, divers are the only ones on a dive site, a deserted island can be yours for the day with no resort, plane or boat in sight.
What’s the Heart of the House tour?
Our ‘Heart of the House’ tour is eye-opening: we take guests behind-the-scenes to the Earth Lab and the Kukulhu Village. We show you where we bottle our water, live, build things and where our laundry is located, for example.
At Earth Lab, we teach how we recycle crushed glass into cement products, organic waste into compost, old towels into flower pots, and used wax into new candles. We show guests our aquaponics system to grow plants without soil. This tour allows guests to see how this isolated resort operates responsibly in terms of the ecology and community.
Kukulhu Village (“chicken” in the local language) is home to 51 hens and 4 lucky roosters. They produce around 70 fresh eggs per week and supply nutrient-rich soil for the lemongrass garden. On your visit, you may meet some children from the Kids Club who stop by daily to collect eggs!
We also show guests how we desalinate seawater and bottle it into reusable glass bottles. By only using glass bottles, we’ve eliminated over 20,000 plastic bottles per month in our effort to be single-use plastic-free.
We visit the water treatment plant and see how wastewater is treated. We use only biodegradable laundry detergents and cleaning supplies so that the treated water is not harmful to the environment.