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Nature calls as Dubai ecolodge startup spreads its wings

Ecolodges Saudi Envi
Envi specialises in tented camps, eco-pods and lodges set in nature and upholding sustainability standards
  • Envi founder sees global demand for remote boutique resorts
  • Expansion into Saudi Arabia among top priorities

While hospitality businesses were suffering during the coronavirus pandemic, a Dubai-based startup was plotting ambitious expansion.

Envi, a luxury experiential ecolodge brand and management company, was launched in 2021, just as the tourism industry had lost $935 billion in revenue, according to figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council.

“We saw how many hotels shut down around the world and how those that remained open had extremely low occupancy,” Chris Nader, one of the co-founders, said.

“We also noticed that the few properties that performed well were boutique resorts that were immersed in nature, far from everyone, where you could book a stand-alone villa or a tent.

“There was huge demand for these type of products in the UAE and this was the market we were targeting.”

Envi specialises in tented camps and eco-pods and follows high standards of sustainability. Each lodge is designed, developed and managed on the basis of seven sustainability pillars, which include the protection of wildlife, the mindful use of resources, and support for local communities.

The global glamping market is predicted to be worth $3.9 billion by 2027, with a 17.5 percent CAGR.

Envi raised a total of $2 million, amassed from investors in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France and the UK. Further investment rounds are planned.

Nader said the first projects were signed in Saudi Arabia including a partnership with The Afyaa Group to open and operate a circuit of three ecolodges in Al Ahsa to open in 2024, and a collaboration with the Mansour Alsanooni Group to operate multiple ecolodges across the kingdom.

Envi Lodges and Al Rasim Hotels & Resorts will also develop a waterfront ecolodge project on the Red Sea coast featuring 40 pods, restaurant, beach club, private pools, experience hub, wellness sanctuary and a kids club.

“Saudi was a magnet because of investor confidence, what the government is doing and the buzz around the country,” co-founder Noelle Homsy said.

“Our projects in Saudi are driven by the private sector but in partnership with the public sector. All of them are funded by the tourism development fund and some of them have the sites leased from government.”

As part of its Vision 2030 plan, Saudi Arabia aims to raise the contribution of the tourism sector to more than 10 percent of GDP, provide 1 million additional job opportunities and attract 100 million annual visits by the end of the current decade.

Envi has since revealed expansion plans beyond the region starting in Costa Rica, which aims to be the first carbon neutral country in the world.

A partnership with The Islita Developments will operate Envi The Islita, an ecotourism project in Punta Islita, an ocean-cove destination on Nicoya Peninsula. 

“We structured to become a global, international brand, starting with the Middle East but growing outside,” Homsy said.

Further discussions are planned with proposed new venues in East Africa and Europe.

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