ENVI Lodges’ co-founder Chris Nader is an avid traveler and hospitality expert. Here, he reflects on the past and shares the future goals of the first luxury ecolodge brand to hail from the Middle East.
How did it all begin?
It happened spontaneously. Deep inside, I was preparing for an adventure like ENVI for a few years without planning it properly. I was inspired by an industry peer who launched his own hotel brand, so I decided at that moment that I would do something similar in the hospitality sector to embody three elements close to my heart: nature, adventure and sustainability.
The tourism market was already shifting toward experiential lodging and regenerative travel, and the pandemic accelerated everything. It was the right time, so I didn’t give it too much thought as I am impulsive and quite daring. Noelle Homsy, the current co-founder, is an old business acquaintance, and as we had worked together for a few years, she decided to join me on this new adventure. We share the same vision and values, and we work well together. Paul Jordaan, our head of operations, was the missing piece of the puzzle. We launched on September 20, 2021, and announced our first few ecolodge projects within the first 12 months. And that’s how it all began. It may sound simple, but trust me, it definitely wasn’t!
What is your motto?
I lead by example. It’s a motto that I apply in both my personal and professional life. I am also a perfectionist, but I quickly realized that as an entrepreneur, it’s very difficult to be one. Founders are constantly put under pressure and have to deal with multiple disciplines at the same time, meaning long working hours. It’s physically and mentally challenging, so have to accept that compromises must be made from time to time.
I also believe that founders cannot micromanage. No matter how strongly they feel about the company they created, founders have to let go of several areas of the business and let their team do what they are hired for.
How are you leaving your mark on the hospitality industry?
I would like to think of ENVI as an industry disruptor from the Middle East. Although ecolodges have existed for decades, we wanted to send a couple of key messages to the future entrepreneurs of our industry through ENVI. The first is that the world of hospitality doesn’t only belong to large operators when it comes to gathering investments. If you have something different to offer and a compelling pitch, then investors will listen. The industry needs more boutique and niche brands and operators, especially in the outdoor hospitality and resort space. Secondly, building projects that have no consideration for the environment — nature, people, culture and heritage — should no longer be allowed. Our region isn’t known for sustainable projects, so we wanted to show investors that there is an ecofriendly way of developing touristic accommodations centered on nature. We are proud to be the first luxury ecolodge brand to hail from the region, and we hope others will follow.
Sustainable luxury is gaining momentum lately. How do you foresee its future?
There is a constant debate in our industry about luxury and sustainability. Some consider the two words to be oxymoronic, while others believe it can be achieved. Soneva is a prime example of a barefoot luxury brand that achieves high levels of sustainability. The key is to define luxury, as it is very subjective. It is very difficult to please everyone when it comes to sustainable luxury, and we as a company will have to make some choices and educate our guests on the fact that sustainable luxury comes with certain lifestyle choices. While sustainability should be a must for all hotels, it is no longer enough for our planet. The future of sustainable luxury should be regenerative tourism. It is about leaving a positive impact and helping nature regain its place. This is embedded in our design guidelines, sustainability standards and operating procedures.
What are your plans for ENVI?
The first few ecolodges that we secured were in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom was an obvious start for us since it is witnessing a rapid transformation, especially in tourism, and our brand fits the needs of the market, the investors and the government. ENVI was very well received by the public and supported by the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Development Fund. We will hopefully be announcing one more Saudi project in Q1 2023, an adventure lodge in a mountain location. Although we are pursuing a few leads in the Middle East, our focus now is on expanding globally, and we currently have some very exciting projects that are under negotiation in Africa, Europe and South America. Most of the projects in our pipeline are earmarked to open by mid-2024. We could be looking at six openings in the next 18 months. This means that we are now fully focusing on the design and development of these projects, an area of our business that Homsy looks after, and Jordaan is getting ready to kick-start the delivery of our preopening services as early as April 2023. In fact, our first few general managers will be announced in the next few months.