Deep dive with Chris Nader, co-founder, Envi Lodges

Luxury ecolodge line Envi Lodges has been making a splash in the Middle East, and it now has its sights set further afield, its co-founder reveals.

Chris Nader, who has an extensive hotel development background, outlined to THP News why the relatively recent brand has an incredibly bright future.

What does Envi Lodges’ pipeline currently look like?

Our development pipeline showcases a series of lodges that we are excited to unveil. Since Envi’s establishment in 2021 in Dubai, we anticipated that our initial projects would spring from our region, particularly in Saudi Arabia where Envi is aligned to the tourism objectives of Vision 2030. Our expectations were met when we launched our first ventures in 2022: Envi Laguna Bay, a beach lodge on the Red Sea coast, and Envi Al Nakheel, a farm lodge in the UNESCO-listed oasis of Al Ahsa. Our brand’s recognition swiftly expanded into international markets, exemplified by securing Envi The Islita in Costa Rica and Envi Paje in Zanzibar, marking our nascent international presence. Furthermore, our recent announcement of Envi Al Jabel Al Akhdar and a forthcoming location on the Gulf of Oman underscores our expanding influence in the GCC. Our growth trajectory remains true to our original aspirations.

Why did you decide to expand into Africa?

Africa, alongside the Middle East, was always in our sights for the initial development phase. The continent, as the birthplace of tented camps, inspired the global rise in experiential lodging. Although we consciously decided to defer entering the safari domain, our aim was to introduce innovative lodge experiences throughout Africa, emphasising wellness, agritourism, and adventure. Zanzibar presented itself as an optimal entry point. A personal visit to the island left me enchanted by its distinctive charm, propelling my desire to establish an Envi lodge there. A few weeks later, I was introduced to an investor who is also a kite surfer. He fell in love with the island and secured a stunning site in Paje, which is ranked amongst the most beautiful beaches in the world. From there, we slowly started working on the idea of an Envi beach lodge.

Are there any other countries or regions you think are suitable for your ecolodge concept?

As an outdoor hospitality brand, we constantly seek untouched, natural environments that promise an authentic and sustainable connection with nature. Initially, we focused on the Middle East and Africa, leveraging our team’s regional expertise. Our next phase aims at expansion into Europe: I’ve just returned from Paris where we are currently raising an impact fund to develop a circuit of ecolodges in France. We are also actively looking at Italy, Spain and Greece. Moreover, encouraged by the signing of Envi The Islita, we want to add more lodges in Costa Rica and aspire to broaden our footprint in the Americas, in markets such as Mexico. Finally, we see great opportunities for Envi in India and southeast Asia, a region that members of our team know very well, having developed and operated some well-known luxury eco-resorts in key markets.

How do you choose which sites to develop on?

The site selection process is intrinsically fulfilling. Envi’s guiding principles lead us to discover and secure extraordinary locales – from towering mountains to lush forests, agricultural lands, vast deserts and natural reserves, to pristine beaches. Our commitment to robust sustainability initiatives grants us access to sought-after sites, an opportunity not afforded to many hotel groups. My business partner Noelle Homsy and I created Envi as a responsible, impact-driven hospitality brand, so our identity resonates with the growing eco-consciousness in the market, and this gives us an advantage when discussing with municipalities or tourism authorities to secure unconventional sites. Our criteria are clear: we look for expansive, secluded plots that offer a tranquil and undisturbed guest experience, deeply intertwined with nature, ideally within two hours of an international airport.

Do you have any particular development targets?

Our vision for Envi is to be a leader in the outdoor hospitality sector, with the ambition of becoming a global brand within the next five years. This goal is fuelled by a proactive development strategy that encompasses establishing co-investment impact platforms, capitalising on our shareholders’ network and resources, and fostering collaborations between landowners, investors and financing institutions. An advantageous feature of an Envi lodge is the accelerated construction schedule, which allows for quicker completion relative to traditional hotels. This means we can expand faster. Our priority is to grow by creating lodge circuits within a single destination, which encourages swift expansion, diversifies guest experiences, and capitalises on centralised management.

How easy or difficult has it been to attract investors for your projects?

Impact investment is gaining momentum among investors and companies, especially within travel and tourism, which increasingly values the triple bottom line – people, planet, profit. Envi’s rapid attraction of investors is not only due to the escalating demand for leisure hospitality, but also the promise of attractive financial returns coupled with a greater environmental and social purpose. The covid pandemic has intensified this trend, although the movement towards responsible and meaningful travel was already in motion. Envi is carrying that message. It is encouraging hospitality investors to think differently. For instance, one of our lodge investors who was planning to build a large traditional resort with heavy negative impact on the site, got very interested in what Envi is all about and decided to convert his project into a small low impact ecolodge. This says a lot about the mindset of our investors.

Are you considering entering any other accommodation sectors?

Our commitment to the luxury outdoor hospitality sector is unwavering. In our niche, luxury is reimagined: it is less about opulence in material form and more about the intangible aspects that craft unforgettable experiences. Luxury for us embodies a night beneath the stars, a sunrise viewed from a mountaintop, wildlife encounters, engagement in ecological preservation, harvesting fresh ingredients, and ensuring that our guests’ stays make a positive impact on local communities. While our core ethos is consistent, each Envi lodge is unique in its accommodations, facilities, and services offered. We have developed our proprietary ‘ring’ classification to assist guests in distinguishing the distinctive features of each lodge, so each of our lodges will have a ring level assigned to them, from one to three.

How do you ensure your resorts’ constructions are eco-friendly?

Our meticulous design, technical, and sustainability specifications are encapsulated in our C.A.R.E. programme, grounded on seven key pillars of sustainability, which include constructing with minimal environmental footprint and crafting designs that reflect the essence of the locale. Our construction approach uses elevated platforms and light footings to minimise site impact. We maintain the natural state of pathways or utilise removable surfaces to ensure the landscape remains as undisturbed as possible. In sourcing construction materials, we prioritise durability; for instance, we select timber backed by warranties of up to 50 years. Similarly, our tents are designed to endure; they can last for 25 years. Our structures are prefabricated under controlled conditions or assembled onsite with reduced environmental disruption. We embrace the natural surroundings, often incorporating existing flora into our design – don’t be surprised to find palm trees naturally integrated into the architecture of our facilities.

What criteria do you use to choose suppliers for your projects?

Collaboration with investors is vital when handpicking architects, designers, and builders adept in ecolodge creation. Our philosophy of ‘less is more’ aligns with the natural aesthetic and stands in contrast to the over-engineering typical of conventional resorts. We curate a list of specialists renowned for their commitment to quality, innovative design, and sustainable practices, examining their expertise in fields such as ecolodges, tented camps, and boutique eco-resorts. We also consider their capacity for rapid design, production, and installation, as development speed is crucial for our projects. To reduce the environmental impact of transportation, we identify modular factories in diverse locations and collaborate with suppliers who provide integrated design and build services, enhancing the efficiency of constructing our lodges.

What do you think Envi’s portfolio will look like in a few years’ time?

Within the next five years, our vision is to establish lodges across at least three continents. We are gearing up to launch our inaugural lodges – Envi Al Nakheel, Envi Laguna Bay, and Envi Paje – in the next 18 months. Following this, we should be opening four additional lodges by the end of 2025. Moreover, we are currently in negotiation for several projects that, if successful, promise to solidify our standing in the GCC, increase our presence in Africa and mark our entry into Europe in 2026. Our objective is to cultivate a portfolio as diverse as the landscapes we occupy, offering a spectrum of experiences from adventure and agritourism to wellness, cultural immersion, and environmental conservation.