Starting from the love of diving, this British couple successfully established a luxurious dive resort in Bunaken, North Sulawesi.
As the owners of Bunaken Oasis Dive Resort and Spa, Simon and Elaine have interesting stories regarding the background of the resort, their effort to manage the resort in this pandemic condition, and the projects they have to help increase the local human resources.
Hi Simon and Elaine, please introduce yourselves.
We are Elaine (EW) and Simon (SW) Wallace, a British couple who divide our time between the UK, Indonesia, and France. Elaine’s background is in IT, where she was a network engineer, whilst Simon is a former management consultant.
EW: I have been diving for over thirty years; following a one-on-one training course with Martin Edge, the internationally acclaimed underwater photographer, I developed a passion for underwater photography, and now never go in the water without a camera (or two).
SW: I was in my fifties when I started diving, and am now a fully-qualified technical diver. I recently qualified as a rebreather diver, although I’m yet to make up my mind about whether I enjoy it or not!
What makes you interested to build a resort in Bunaken?
EW: Once Simon learned to dive, we enjoyed at least one diving holiday every year, and we gradually came to an important realisation: luxury resorts rarely offer a five-star diving experience, as diving is often just one of several water-based activities on offer; similarly, dedicated dive resorts, which really do understand how to manage diving operations, rarely offer the land-based luxury which some travellers look for.
We often talked about the “ideal” dive resort – its location, the types of diving on offer, the boats, the rooms, the spa, bar, restaurant and menus – and how unusual such a resort would be. It was when we became aware of some land for sale on the beautiful island of Bunaken that idle chatter (usually over drinks after a day under the water) quickly turned into something more tangible.
Tell us briefly about Bunaken Oasis Dive Resort and Spa and what visitors can enjoy there.
SW: Bunaken Oasis prides itself on offering our guests a first-class experience in every aspect of their stay with us: from the luxuriously-appointed cottages to the gourmet a la carte cuisine to the uncrowded dive boats with freshwater showers, we have tried to ensure that every detail will meet the requirements of even the most demanding guest. However, what really sets us apart is the quality of the service which all guests can enjoy; indeed, guest feedback often singles out the attentiveness and warmth of the service they have received as being the most outstanding aspect of their stay with us.
Bunaken Oasis has Ethical Projects and ECO Credentials. What is the significance of these parts?
EW: Today, pretty much every resort or hotel claims to be ECO and, happily, many have taken important steps to try to reduce their ecological footprint. At Bunaken Oasis, we believe that being genuinely ECO must involve more than getting rid of plastic straws and putting a note in the bathroom imploring guests to reuse the towels. When we planned the resort, we designed ECO into the infrastructure: we make our own water, we process all waste through a blackwater treatment system, and we sort and separate all physical waste for appropriate recycling.
While behaving in an ecologically sensitive way (thus minimising damage) is important, we also believe that Oasis must be ethically responsible (thus making a positive impact on the island and its people). To that end, we ensure that all our employees earn at least the recommended government salary and that we have full transparency with the tax authorities. We are also actively involved in local government initiatives related to tourism and the environment.
How is the progress of the project now?
SW: Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on Oasis: we closed our doors in March 2020 and only reopened them in March of this year. This meant that, as a relatively new resort (we originally opened in late 2016), we lost a lot of the momentum we had been building in the market. Although we had no revenue coming in, we were determined to keep all 86 members of staff employed. Although we couldn’t pay full salaries, we put nearly everyone on 50 percent salary and asked that they come in for two weeks each month. We then created a schedule of projects to upgrade and improve the resort, so everyone was kept busy during the shutdown. It also meant that we could welcome our guests to a pristine resort when we eventually opened again.
There is also a university scholarship from Bunaken Oasis. How can future students achieve this scholarship?
EW: We offer several initiatives to our staff, including dive guide training and PADI courses (as a dedicated dive resort, we believe that as many of our staff as possible should be divers, as this helps them to find common ground with our guests), as well as our University scholarship program. Any contract member of staff can put forward one direct member of their family, either son or daughter, or brother or sister, and Oasis will pay all of their university fees at a government university or college. Most of the young people who have benefitted from the scholarship have taken accounting, marketing or business courses and their parents work in all departments at the resort.
How impactful are the projects to both locals and visitors?
SW: Some of the environmental projects we’re involved in will take years to come to fruition, while some are having an immediate impact. For example, we have recently partnered with Ocean Geographic to assess the health of both the sea life and the corals around Bunaken. We have yet to see the results of the coral survey, but we will be closely involved in the initiatives to mitigate any problems (early indications are that there may not be any – the corals are generally healthy in the national park). The results of this may not be apparent for many years, but hopefully, they will be enjoyed by future generations of islanders.
More immediately, although there are no motor cars on Bunaken, there is a road which links the three main villages. Whenever there’s work to repair a section of the road, Oasis will donate materials, manpower, or both.
Any future plans for Bunaken Oasis?
EW: The most important issue for us in the short term is to put Oasis back on a secure financial footing. Although the shortfall caused by the pandemic will take a long time to put right, the early signs are encouraging – bookings this year were ahead of forecast, and 2023 and 2024 are looking very promising.
In the longer term, we will look to improve our infrastructure in line with technological advancements. We are exploring the feasibility of going solar (it’s possible at present but prohibitively expensive, and not well supported technically in the area), and we foresee that happening soon.
Bunaken Oasis will continue to do what we have done so far – provide an unparalleled resort experience in one of the world’s most beautiful diving locations.
Where can our readers get in touch with you two and Bunaken Oasis Dive Resort and Spa?
SW: We would be delighted to give you more information about the resort, the diving or the work we’re doing in the community. Please email, phone or WhatsApp us, and we’ll happily try to answer your questions or fill you in on any other information about us that you need.
Cell phone and WhatsApp:
- UK Sales Office (Georgie): + 44 7557 105593
- UK Office: +44 1926 421100
- The Resort: +62 812 4649 6763
- Elaine: +44 7785 576331
- Simon: +44 7767 452857