February’s – ‘The Future Issue’ – Download Now

Oliver Ripley, Co-Founder and CEO of Habitas AlUla shares how this experience-led property is part of a wider focus on sustainable living.

What do the first 30 minutes of your day look like, your morning routine?

I spend my mornings taking time for myself, enjoying a cup of coffee while I catch up on emails and the news.

Single-use plastic has been eliminated throughout the villas – tell us more?

We are committed to eliminating single-use plastic throughout all of our homes and have been awarded the Oceanic Champion Badge for adopting The Oceanic Standard. Our priority is to partner with local vendors who provide alternatives to single-use plastics that we can apply at different levels of our operations. Additionally, we are working towards funding local plastic-free initiatives through our programmes and through education-based panel discussions.

Habitas Al Ula founder

Can you elaborate on the modular-build and low-impact design of the property?

Habitas uses a modular build meaning our rooms are designed, constructed, flat-packed and delivered to new locations worldwide. People have a preconception of what modular means, but in fact, every hotel is highly customised in design, detail and feel. We just employ a much more efficient building approach, which has many advantages and only enhances experiences. Through extensive research and site visits, we ensure the design of each project harmonises with the location’s natural surroundings. We design and build around nature, who we call our lead architect. Sustainability is at the core of our brand and thus paramount in how we design each of our homes. Whilst the design of each home differs depending on the location, we always create an aesthetic that blends seamlessly with the surrounding landscape. We don’t build through nature but rather around it. Everything we source and buy supports the local community and creates micro-economies. This is integral to our ethos, helping local farmers and artisans, and training and teaching the local workforce.

How has Habitas disrupted the hospitality industry with its forward-thinking approach to innovation?

We never set out to disrupt the industry, nor to create a global hospitality company. We were building something for ourselves, an experience that didn’t exist, and we took a commonsense approach to solving the problems we encountered. My co-founders and I have different backgrounds, both entrepreneurial and creative, but funnily enough not a history in hospitality. Building and operating a hotel traditionally has multiple stakeholders, who can have different interests and priorities which include management companies, owners, developers, architects. It follows a linear process, and a project can take three to four years from idea to opening. We do this all under one company. By designing, manufacturing, developing and operating in-house, we streamline the process.

Your clients are global- how do you ensure the experience is bespoke for all?

We believe in personalising the experience while adding an element of surprise and discovery, infused with local modalities. For instance, at our spa, Thuraya Wellness, we offer an alchemy bar where guests can try different oils and elixirs and apply them to their spa treatments based on their preferences.

Habitas AlUla

You’ve created a space for people to connect. Tell us more?

Nature plays a fundamental role for Habitas AlUla and when creating the property, we ensured full immersion into the natural world, comfort and space designed for human connection and sustainability throughout the entire design and execution process. For us, luxury is the ability to connect with nature. Our home is designed for human connection, with gathering spaces and panoramic views as the backdrop. Our design philosophy is simple: we let nature speak for itself.

You’re regarded as a philanthropist; how do you engage in social causes for a better future?

Philanthropy has been a huge passion of mine throughout my life and has become increasingly important as we develop Habitas, which is built on human connection and supporting local communities. We believed it was our responsibility to create our own impact initiative, and thus Habitas Rise was born. We focus on giving back by strengthening local communities, education and promoting sustainable and conscious tourism. We set up pop-up schools to train and hire locals, as for us, hospitality is the kind of experience you receive when you come into an old friend’s home, so it has to feel local. We also look to source local materials, produce and set up and support local micro-economies. Through Habitas, we have a platform on which to encourage conscious tourism and set new standards in sustainable development.

Saudi Arabia is changing at a rapid rate in terms of travel, tourism and hospitality. What do you see for the near future as the next immediate growth area or innovation?

Saudi Arabia is very unique for its history and culture. It’s the gateway to two holy cities, Mecca and Medina. It has a very young population with over 70 percent of the population below the age of 30. I’m very impressed with the way that culture is at the forefront of travel, tourism and development inside of the country. The country’s perception is still very misunderstood globally, although there is tremendous change happening. There is such a variety of locations, climates and geographies to explore from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Farasan Islands, Al-Faw, to the mountain regions. There is even skiing. The success inside Saudi Arabia over the next few years politically, culturally and religiously will have a global effect on the rest of the world and its success is key.

Habitas AlUla interiors

This is The Future Issue, what does the future of luxury and wellness look like to you?

We believe what luxury means is changing for a growing number of us. We prioritise experiences and human connection over material possessions. For us luxury is to reconnect with ourselves, with our loved ones and to make new friends. Luxury is about those moments that we create and share that live inside of us, long after we leave a location and come back home. We are huge advocates of responsible tourism and always consider ways to preserve our planet and give back to the local communities. It means giving back in equal measure and doing our part to ensure a sustainable future for all.

February’s – ‘The Future Issue’ – Download Now

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Images: Supplied, Photography by Kleinjan Groenewald