Considered to be one of the founders of barefoot luxury, Bernhard Bohnenberger excels at understanding drivers of change and emerging guest expectations. He is currently the president of Six Senses Hotels, a company he has been with since 1991. In this interview with him, we spoke about the mindset of the luxury travel, how the concepts of luxury and wellness are converging, and what it means to truly embrace environmental sustainability.

LM: What does wellness mean for Six Senses?

BB: One of our six brand values is Pioneering Wellness, which is about delivering the latest and most effective wellness programs and experiences in partnership with leading experts. That has always been on the forefront. Even when we started, as one of the first in the industry to have spas, we always did more than just massages and manicures and facials so we’ve always had some amazing talent.

We now have a pool of 300 plus contracted wellness practitioners as well as a Wellness Board – I think that’s very important. The board includes some leading international doctors, such as Doctor Oz who has always been looking at alternative and preventative medicine.  This means that you can come to us and do a cure, you can do a weight loss program, detox, sleep programs, that’s all there but nobody’s forcing it… it’s available if you want it.

We are always trying to be on the forefront of wellness and the latest aspect of that is looking into healthy buildings, healthy lighting, healthy airconditioning, healthy materials, so that whenever you are with Six Senses you have the healthiest possible environment and a lifestyle that gives you a better, longer, healthier life.

“Sustainability creates more loyalty, it creates more news, people feel better about it, it generally is adding value.’’

More and more, we feel that sustainability and wellness are interlinked because the wellness of the planet and the wellness of the person is what makes the planet and the person sustainable so it all plays into each other. One of our goals is to be a plastic free company. We’re working very very hard with our supply chain to demand our suppliers not package in plastic. People could live very happily 100 years ago without plastic so we want to get back there.

LM: How do wellness and luxury intersect?

BB: There are these phases of luxury: in the past, luxury had to be biggest, greatest, glitziest, most expensive, and then it evolved to the more barefoot luxury that we stand for, and next you go into looking after your health, your wellness and actually it becomes luxurious that you are feeling better and better in your skin, and then it’s going beyond that and it’s about thinking how you can be more spiritually well and that’s the ultimate of – I still hate the word luxury, but i don’t have a better one! – of doing those rare experiences that help you reconnect.

The idea of luxury almost builds on itself, like a pyramid of layers, like Maslow’s theory that unless the bases are covered you can not build the next layer and the next layer, but I think the aspiration is to bring it all the way through to spirituality.”

LM: How do you balance wellness with digital connectivity?

BB: Our company vision statement is to help people reconnect with themselves and others in the world around them… but our devices lead to a great human disconnection. We tried no internet, we tried no Wi-Fi in lots of areas of the hotels, that didn’t go well … so we now have great high speed internet available everywhere. We make it easy for you, you’re just directly online, you don’t have to struggle with it like in many places.

We try and encourage guests to do yoga – there’s yoga available every morning for free as a group, you have private yoga lessons available, you have personal training available, you have the spa, the wellness, you have tons of experiences that take you away from all of this [digital distraction] but at the same time people still like to post on social media, they may want to post live as they are on that paraglider coming down into Zighy Bay and you see that.

LM: What role does sustainability play?

BB: I think Six Senses have been part of creating the demand for sustainability. There are a lot of players that have done a lot to make sustainability fashionable. I remember when we started the company 25 years ago it was extremely hard to push through [sustainability initiatives], nobody would understand them, they would call us tree-huggers. Today, luckily, it’s become actually fashionable and every company is trying to somehow address it, some purely for marketing – call it green washing – and others try hard.

Sustainability creates more loyalty, it creates more news, people feel better about it, it generally is adding value. We actually prove that [our Sustainability team] pays for themselves many times over by either creating savings or increasing uptake on a certain experience or product. It’s been demonstrated in various studies that, if given two similar products, the sustainable one will be considered more premium.

Putting a [green] card on the bed, that’s an easy one, but to actually have vegetable gardens, to work with local people, to work with local building materials… We are going to open our first resort in Fiji at end of 2017 which will be entirely reliant on solar power using Tesla batteries. So you can actually prove, more and more easily, that sustainability has fantastic financial viability.