"Lead rather than manage"

Originally hailing from South Africa, Karin began her career in the hospitality industry as General Manager of a small luxury resort in Fiji in 1993. After a decade in Fiji, her role took her via Belize, Indonesia and Laos to Cambodia where she joined the Belmond group, later to the Amanbagh in India.

Karin is now a General Manage at Soneva Kiri Koh Kood. Her motto in life is ‘bring it on’!

What are your thoughts on sustainability luxury?

At Soneva, we believe that luxury is defined as something that is rare or uncommon for the consumer. It is something novel and authentic, that strikes a chord in one’s heart when it is experienced.

We have pursued ‘Intelligent Luxury’ in our desire to challenge and fully understand what luxury truly means. The last 30 to 40 years have seen a major shift in the demographics of the wealthy. They live in cities, where pollution is present in all its forms: unclean environments, noise and light. They are not as in touch with nature, they hardly have time to sit down and take a breath, let alone spend large amounts of quality time with their family and friends. With this in mind, the experience we have created for our guests at Soneva Kiri is as far removed from an urban scenario as possible, letting them indulge in things they rarely get to do in their daily lives.

The features in our resorts are not often found in other resorts or restaurants around the world.Sustainability and wellness are hallmarks of something that our guests rarely experience in their cities. It is rare to enjoy oneself while doing something positive for the environment. So, we have combined apparent opposites and found ways in which they can live hand in hand. And sometimes, the more sustainable option is the more luxurious one. For someone living in an urban environment, dining in with their toes in the sand on a private beach, going on a sunset cruise or enjoying an intimate ‘no menu’ meal from Chef Khun Kruaa Mae Tuk’s natural location are all rare luxuries. Dishes made with ingredients that were sourced that morning from the local market become luxurious. Snorkelling above a swirling school of fish or meeting a local fisherman and learning how to fish sustainably are incredibly unique experiences.

Have guests’ expectations changed in the past few years or after the pandemic?

Following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, travellers have become more health-focused, more aware of nature and more sensitive to the challenges of the planet. Reunions with family and friends are also becoming very popular, and we are already witnessing these trends at our resorts through an increase in multi-generational travellers coming to stay at Soneva.

I believe the world is striving for real experiences now. Living in the moment is everything. When guests go on holiday, we don't want them to do the same thing they do at home. We want them to escape, to dream, to feel. Our guests are looking for interesting, unique life moments and unique destinations where they know they will be safe.

When we create an experience that is both unique and admired, it immediately fosters loyalty from our guests, and this is evident at Soneva where many of our guests are return visitors.

Today, people crave conviction, experiences, focus, depth, discovery and understanding – I believe these are now on travellers' wish lists.

At Soneva, we offer our guests the ability to completely disconnect from their daily lives. We encourage them 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 resort, the experiences that we offer and, most importantly, to re-connect with each other, whether it be with friends, loved ones or families. The past two and half years have been a difficult time for everyone, and I think it has made people rethink what is important in their lives.

Soneva is definitely the place for families. How does Soneva address safety for families?

At Soneva Kiri, where the safety of our guests and Hosts is our utmost priority, we have dedicated hosts that look after our young Sonevians at The Den and we have also led the way by implementing the following Covid prevention measures early-on during the pandemic:

  • On arrival at the jetty, guests are greeted by myself and their dedicated Barefoot Butler. All guest luggage is thoroughly sanitised before it reaches the resort, or the villa and all villas are exhaustively sanitised/disinfected and are thoroughly cleaned before and after every check-in and check-out.
  • We also implemented enhanced cleaning and sanitation protocols across our resorts in collaboration with hygiene certification organisations.

For families they can enjoy the following:

  • Soneva’s The Den is where children of all ages have fun, educational experiences for example: Family friendly excursions where families can get to reconnect and have unscripted experiences, e.g. snorkelling trips suited to young children and their parents, multi-generational trips to experience Koh Kood, a picnic on a deserted beach with children can relax in the water with their parents.
  • Family fishing trips, campfire on the beach

What are the exciting new things Soneva Kiri is offering?

Throughout July and August, we will be hosting our Eid and Summer programmes, which are filled with exceptional dining, rare experiences, beautiful beaches, and fun for the whole family.

Guests can also experience our new Seven Days, Seven Beaches experience whereby they step aboard a traditional wooden fishing boat to explore a curated selection of secluded coves, fringed by swaying palms, crystal-clear lagoons and the purest white sands. When the boat anchors, it transforms into a private beach club where guests can snorkel the azure depths, swim ashore to sunbathe, kayak or paddle board along the coastline, and enjoy a sumptuous barbecue lunch, freshly prepared on board. The Seven Days, Seven Beaches experience can be tailored to guests’ desires, offering the freedom to choose from a one-day, one-beach cruise to the full seven-day adventure, with a new beach every day.

At our Down to Earth dining destination, guests can discover delectable dishes that can trace their culinary heritage back to the days of the Indian Maharajahs, Maharanis and their lavish palaces. Taking its inspiration from the Northern Frontier region, each dish uses a simple preparation style, with the meat, seafood and vegetables lightly marinated and cooked in a tandoor so they remain tender and succulent. Spices are used sparingly, so as not to overpower the natural flavours of the fresh ingredients. The tandoor and kebabs rely on different cooking variations that bring out distinct flavours and aromas. Many of the dishes in this cuisine have a smoky flavour that comes from using the clay tandoor, and the rich, thick gravies are a result of using dried fruits, cream and saffron. The hints of Middle Eastern influences from beyond India’s northern border add another dimension to each dish. Or they can simply enjoy lunch on the pristine sands of Soneva Kiri's South Beach with its beautiful blue waters. Depending on the rotating lunch themes, guests can dine on fresh salads, pit- or spit-cooked seafood, burgers and sandwiches.

What's your advice for those who want to be successful in the industry?

Lead rather than manage, communicate with guests, staff, the local community, agents, suppliers etc. Be visible throughout the guest stay, be flexible and always remember that you do not know it all, keep learning!! Often employees know better.

Visit Karin van Zyl at Soneva Kiri Koh Kood