Founded two years ago, Envi Lodges is expecting to open its first property next year and already has hopes to spread all over the globe — if it finds the money.
Dubai hospitality has always gone for high impact. Whether it’s billion-dollar resorts on man-made islands or luxury hotels colloquially known as seven-star properties, they have served to put the emirate on the global tourism map.
However, startup Envi Lodges is taking a “low-impact” approach, managing a string of eco-lodges that will be geared to blend into local environments, support area communities, and educate intrepid travelers.
Founded in 2021 by two long-time hotel execs Chris Nader and Noelle Homsy, Envi Lodges has signed five properties so far, including two in Saudi Arabia, another in the mountains of Oman, and two as far-flung as Costa Rica and Zanzibar.
Two years into her mission, co-founder Homsy said the sustainability-focused company is gearing up for global expansion, with lodges spread over each continent and a dispersed network of investors and staff to help her.
“We’re where we wanted to be, we’re on track. We had a lot of challenges along the way [and] projects that didn’t materialize but eventually we’ve got there. We have a very clear vision in terms of our expansion plan and our team is growing accordingly,” Homsy told Skift.
She added: “With our projects in Zanzibar and Costa Rica, we were being opportunistic. Onwards, we have a clear vision: We’re clear on Africa, on Europe and in the Middle East still. We also are looking at growing more in Latin America as well.”
Envi Lodges Openings
The first of her lodges open next year, one along Saudi’s Red Sea coast and another within a date farm in Al Asha. Envi Al Jabel Al Akhdar is slated to open in Oman’s Hajar mountains area next year as well. Key counts are low, and so are effects on the environment, the company says.
For the coastal project, the lodge is set to comprise around 40 modular pods, manufactured off-site and transported to the location. These pods will then be assembled on individual decks, aiming to reduce environmental impact and minimize disruption to the site. The project is committed to meeting Envi’s sustainability standards, which have undergone scrutiny by Beyond Green, a sustainability alliance.
Homsy explained: “Our goal is to stay true to our vision and values: We want to create very experiential eco-lodges. We build with a sense of place, we integrate well with the environment and we actively try not to stand out. If you take a drone shot [of our lodge] we don’t want it to show there’s something built there.”
“The guest experience is the starting point for every project. We’re not selling room nights, we want to sell an entire journey – from airport arrival to when they leave. Everything will be sold as one.”
Competing in The Middle East
Asked how her small brand would compete with the mega-hotels the Middle East is so often associated with, she said Envi fills a gap in the market.
She explained: “It actually helped us that the market is used to different offerings. There was such a big gap for something like Envi. We can go to secondary locations – breathtaking ones – that can’t accommodate huge hotels. The market does not need 500-key hotels all the time and the environment can’t always handle them either. So we’ve given life to a lot of areas and added a lot of value to these areas.”
“I’m not sure we’d go to a giga-project. We need locations that give a sense of disconnection, we can’t be next to mega-resorts. We’re focused on the disconnection journey and to do that, you need to be secluded and with nature.”
Right now, Homsy has a headcount of 10 staff with some working out of the Envi office in Dubai and the rest working remotely around the world. While the team is small and the first lodges are yet to open, Homsy has bold “clear” plans to turn the company into a global organization.
Top of these plans is the development of four lodges all around France with an estimated cost, according to Homsy, of $100 million. The co-founder remained tight-lipped on exact plans for the project, but said that a large funding round would commence next year.
“Fundraising [in France] will start early next year. We give investors the opportunity to buy equity in Envi. This is how we will be funding ourselves. We only want very strategic shareholders who share in our vision,” she said.
By giving investors equity in the firm, Homsy can keep an eye on quality. She said: “As a start-up, we believe our brand value and equity is the most valuable thing we have. We need to preserve our brand essence. If we divert away from what we stand for, we’ll lose our value.”
Looking ahead, Homsy wants dozens of Envi lodges around the world, from Europe to Asia to Latin America. She declined to tell Skift how much capital this goal would require but has told other media previously her firm has raised $2 million in funding.
Homsy said: “We’re not planning on hundreds of properties; we’re being very selective. Our plan is to be in the tens, spread around different continents and always in unique locations. We’re not growing for the sake of growth.”
“Envi is our baby, it’s our legacy.”