One of The World's Most Sustainable Retreat

Published in: Visionaries

Discover the impressive sustainability initiatives of Sundy Praia in an exclusive interview from our collection.

Discover insights from our interview with HBD Principe, the owners of the breathtaking Sundy Praia retreat on São Tomé and Príncipe Island in Africa. Their mission not only aims to inspire the world but also showcases the potential for private investors to collaborate with local governments for the greater good.

How one small African island is setting the standard for sustainability? What was the journey of HBD Principe?

HBD Principe is a combination of eco-tourism and agroforestry, inclusive of four hotels (Omali Sao Tome, Roça Sundy, Bom Bom Principe, and Sundy Praia) and agricultural pursuits, all centered on sustainable development and preservation of the islands. The project, initiated in 2011 by Mark Shuttleworth in conjunction with the local government, entailed establishing a protected marine area (Biosphere reserve), reviving deteriorated forests, and safeguarding endangered species like the Principe thrush and sea turtles. The primary intent is not only to inspire the world but also to demonstrate how private investors can collaborate with regional governments for the greater good. In addition to conservation initiatives, the HBD Principe project prioritized enhancing education by bringing teachers to the island, and infrastructure development such as improving the airstrip and housing facilities for residents at the concessions like the Roça Sundy. Today, the HBD Principe initiative is an exceptional model of sustainable tourism, benefiting the local community by providing employment and income while simultaneously preserving the island's unique biodiversity.

What authentic initiatives or experiences do you offer to guests that educate them about the local environment and culture, and encourage responsible tourism practices?

At HBD hotels in Principe Island, we offer a range of authentic initiatives and experiences that educate guests about the local environment and culture while promoting responsible tourism practices. For example, our guests can engage in agroforestry activities such as learning about cocoa and vanilla, which are important crops for the island's economy and culture. We also offer guided hikes through the forests where guests can learn about the local flora and fauna, including the endangered Principe thrush. Additionally, our hotels feature locally inspired menus, with fresh ingredients sourced from our own gardens and from nearby farmers. Through these experiences, our guests gain a deeper appreciation for the island's culture and natural heritage.

How is local community involved with you? Can you describe more about your projects? 

At HBD Principe, we firmly believe that involving the local community in our initiatives is crucial. Our close collaboration with the farmers, fishermen, and artisans on Principe Island promotes sustainable development while preserving the island's culture and heritage. We support the local artisans by purchasing their products and selling them in our hotels, thereby encouraging traditional crafts and enhancing the local economy. Moreover, we partner with local NGOs like Principe Trust to provide educational programs on environmental conservation and sustainable living practices.
The employment opportunities provided by the group are its most significant contribution. Currently, HBD employs over 550 people, with 96% of them being nationals. HBD's salaries and working conditions are unparalleled in the country.
Furthermore, HBD has established various housing projects for local families. These include the construction of new homes during the airstrip expansion, and the “Terra Prometida” initiative aimed to offer updated housing for 133 households. This project will enable them to move away from the inadequate living conditions in the previous plantation buildings at Roça Sundy.
HBD has also invested resources to support community-based ventures such as the Waste Valorization Cooperative in Porto Real. This project has empowered ten women to create compost out of food waste and produce jewelry from recycled glass, providing them with viable income to support their families. Recognizing everyone's fundamental right to necessities, HBD takes pride in enhancing the communities' overall well-being as an essential duty.

On which project are you the most proud of? 

Ten years ago, our colleagues on Principe Island were students who participated in the education programs supported by HBD Principe. As adults, they can now embrace the job opportunities available and have achieved higher positions in the company. It's fantastic to see how supporting educational initiatives can lead to long-lasting changes in societies.

As you know Authentic Luxury is a brand that combines the allure of luxury with a deep commitment to nature, sustainability, community and unforgettable authentic experiences. We take great pride in featuring Sundy Praia as part of our esteemed Authentic Luxury Collection. What distinguishes this property from your other properties?

We are proud to be part of the Authentic Luxury Collection, sharing your deep commitment to sustainability, community, and authentic experiences. What sets Sundy Praia apart from our other properties is its exceptional location nesting between the tropical forest and the sea, on the stunning island of Principe. Our resort was designed to blend harmoniously with the natural environment, using local materials and architectural styles that pay homage to the island's rich cultural heritage (the villas from the outside look like the local fishermen´s houses). Moreover, we have trained our personnel to offer exceptional service to our guests, thereby enhancing their abilities and empowering them to provide an individualized and authentic experience, resulting in unforgettable memories for our visitors. At HBD and Sundy Praia, our daily mission is to provide an incomparable accommodation experience that showcases the beauty and uniqueness of Principe Island while simultaneously promoting sustainability, responsible tourism practices, and supporting the local community. We take great pride in using locally sourced materials, collaborating with the local community, and promoting sustainability and cultural appreciation through our work.

For an unforgettable, immersive island experience, how many days would you recommend and what kind of authentic experiences would you include to have the most memorable journey?

We highly recommend spending at least 7 days on Principe Island to truly experience all its beauty and immerse yourself in the local culture. This will allow you to visit all the iconic sites and participate in unique and unforgettable authentic experiences. During a 7-day stay, we would recommend exploring the Cacao Route, which showcases the traditional cultivation and production of cocoa on the island. You can also visit the stunning Bay of Needles, take a refreshing dip in the Pipi Waterfall Trail, and discover the historic town of Santo Antonio. For those who love nature, our Rainforest to Beach tour is a must-visit along with Northeast Beaches, and Ribeira Izé Lost City Trail which take you on a journey through the island's pristine rainforests to some of its most beautiful beaches. Additionally, our Discover Príncipe tour allows you to experience the local culture and heritage, with visits to local craft markets, historical sites, and cultural landmarks. Overall, Principe Island provides a plethora of authentic and unforgettable experiences that are perfect for those seeking an immersive island experience. With 7 days, you'll have plenty of time to enjoy all these experiences and more, creating memories that will last a lifetime.

We love your authentic experiences, with turtle watching being a standout for us. What experience garners the most anticipation and excitement from your visitors?

We are thrilled to hear that turtle watching is a standout for you. We agree that it is an unforgettable experience, and we highly recommend it to all our visitors. Every year, from November to April, Principe Island becomes a nesting ground for four different species of sea turtles - There are four sea turtle species that nest on Principe Island: Hawksbill Turtle, Green Turtle, Leatherback Turtle, and Olive Ridley Turtle. Thru our conservation partner, Principe Trust we offer guided turtle watching tours during this time of the year so that visitors can witness the natural beauty of these incredible creatures. During this time, visitors can join our guided turtle watching tours to learn about the nesting and hatching habits of these gentle giants. The most exciting moment is when the baby turtles hatch and make their way towards the sea for the very first time. It is simply awe-inspiring and happens in perfect harmony with nature. At HBD Principe, we take great care to ensure that these tours are conducted in a responsible and sustainable manner, with minimal disruption to the natural habitat of the turtles. Our knowledgeable guides provide a unique insight into the biology and conservation of these fascinating creatures, making turtle watching on Principe Island a truly unforgettable experience.

What challenges have you encountered in implementing a sustainable business model in Principe, and how have you overcome them? Are there any valuable insights or experiences you can share from these challenges?

It's true that implementing a sustainable business model on the island does come with its fair share of challenges. One of the biggest challenges we've encountered is the fact that many people on the island have other priorities when they have limited resources. These priorities may include putting food on the table, building a home, or sending their children to school. In such cases, pursuing sustainability may not be high on their agenda. To overcome these challenges, we've had to work closely with the local communities and involve them in our efforts to build a sustainable business. This has involved providing training and education programs, creating job opportunities, and helping to improve local infrastructure (roads, the airstrip, water supply, etc. We've also found that it's crucial to demonstrate the benefits of sustainability in terms of social and economic development. By showing how sustainable practices can lead to better health, more stable incomes, and a healthier environment in which to live, we've been able to persuade many people to engage in sustainable practices. In our experience, the key to implementing a sustainable business model is to recognize that it's not just about protecting the environment, but also about promoting social and economic development.

How important is the sustainable development of tourism for the future?

We believe that sustainable tourism is crucial for the future of both the tourism industry and the planet. With the rapid pace of digitalization and the increasingly frenetic pace of life, people are becoming more disconnected from nature and are craving experiences that re-connect them with the natural world. Sustainable tourism offers the opportunity to provide those experiences in a responsible and sustainable way. Moreover, tourism has the potential to provide a sustainable source of income to communities. When tourist dollars are invested in local economies, it can create jobs, support local businesses and infrastructure development, and ultimately lead to economic growth in the region.

What is one little secret or little-known fact about the island?

The island holds a little-known secret that it houses some of the rarest and most unique species of plants and animals in the world, including the world's smallest frog, the Príncipe giant reed frog, and it is believed to have served as inspiration for the famous novel "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson.

If you could describe São Tomé and Príncipe in one sentence, what would it be? 

São Tomé and Príncipe is a place where you can find true happiness by living off nature while having minimal material possessions.

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