Luxury has become affordable at resorts hit by the tsunami. And a visit will help them recover Holidaying in dream-like resorts that cater to the well-heeled usually comes with a hefty price tag. But since tourism was hit by last year's tsunami, luxury has become more affordable. Phuket, where most resorts were at best half full in the four months following the disaster, has been the most aggressive in its attempt to lure back spenders, big or small. As it entered its traditional low season from May to October, price cuts disguised in various forms of special offers and packages have been getting bigger. Amanpuri is a good example. Its owning company, Amanresorts, broke a 17-year tradition of not giving discounts by offering half-price accommodation in the deluxe resort for the first time. But even at half price, it still costs US$350 a night for an entry-level pavilion. Trisara, opened last December to challenge Amanpuri's long-standing position as a top resort in Phuket, is offering a daily rate at US$475, which is US$200 less than its usual low season rate, with free massages and breakfast thrown in. The catch is one must stay at least three nights. 'The reality is that the destination has been hit by the perception that there is a lot of damage, gloom and so on, which is so far from the truth,' says Trisara general manager Anthony Lark. 'The whole industry is offering these rates as an incentive to come and see how tranquil and beautiful the island is.' 'May to October is traditionally the low season here, [so] most of us have introduced these rates from January to October because, realistically, the long-haul travellers are not coming here until the beginning of the next winter. July is always slow in Phuket, and yet August seems to be picking up well.' Mr Lark is not worried that the resort might be overrun by bargain hunters. 'We purposely chose to stay slightly higher than our nearest product competitor, Amanpuri. We are therefore getting a little more high-end business, rather than just bargain hunters.' Resort groups that have properties in the Maldives and Phuket are seeing their Maldives properties bounce back faster than their Phuket establishments. Banyan Tree Maldives Vabbinfaru and Angsana Maldives Ihuru have seen occupancy return to pre-tsunami levels, but Banyan Tree Phuket was harder hit by cancellations, according to its group communications manager, Yvette Tee. The Maldives properties stopped their special deals in May, but the Phuket resort will keep its offers going until the end of October, like most resorts in Phuket. 'The first guests who stayed at our resorts in tsunami-hit areas include both repeat guests as well as first-time guests,' Ms Tee says. 'For our resorts in [the] Maldives, we see strong numbers from Europe and Japan. For Banyan Tree Phuket, Asians and Australians were the first to return. From further abroad, we have European and American visitors showing their support,' she says. Six Senses Resorts & Spas' chief sales and marketing officer Ray Hall also notes that the group's Soneva Fushi in the Maldives has been doing much better, with the occupancy level rebounding to 80 per cent after an initial decline to 50 per cent. The other Six Senses property in the Maldives, Soneva Gili, will be closed for repairs until June. The Six Senses Phuket property suffered a more drastic drop in occupancy to just 20 per cent. In the four months after the tsunami, occupancies averaged 30 per cent to 40 per cent. 'The special offers have encouraged business. We forecast July to be around 60 per cent [full],' Mr Hall says. The resort has taken the opportunity to renovate, and a wing of standard guest rooms is being converted into pool duplexes. Resort operators believe this is the best time for holidaymakers to take advantage of the luxury bargains on offer, at the same time directly helping people whose livelihoods were more affected by the downturn in tourism than the tsunami itself. 'The lower arrivals are hurting many local people, not so much the hotel owners,' Mr Lark says. 'Our guests tend to be more experienced travellers and want to do their bit to help the community recover from the terrible economic disaster that hit after the tsunami.' Ms Tee says areas like Phuket are 'highly in need of tourism to help them recover'. 'Travellers who sit at home and worry about travel safety will never find peace of mind. They are in fact being given a golden opportunity now to experience the best in luxury travel at rates that are irresistible and may never be repeated. They should consider taking up the holiday offers. Says Mr Lark: 'Every one of our guests has peace of mind and, indeed, can't believe there is no sign near our property of any damage.'