Times are tough, even at this A-list retreat
Parrot Cay, the superstars' favourite Caribbean island, isn't recession proof. That's good news for the rest of us, says Kate Simon
Sunday 29 May 2011
'We have a no-fly zone over the island – it's been agreed with the government. Although, when the Clintons were here the other week, we had to make space for a helicopter to land, just in case of an emergency."
Grant Noble, general manager of Parrot Cay, in the Turks and Caicos, is telling me how he keeps this 1,000-acre private island in the Caribbean, one of the stepping stones from Providenciales to North Caicos, paparazzi-unfriendly. After all, such considerations are crucial to it maintaining a reputation as one of the world's most exclusive retreats, where the likes of Bruce Willis, Donna Karan and Keith Richards keep holiday homes.
Any paps keen to get an off-guard shot of Bruce, Donna and Keith, or any of the other famous names who hang out here, must try their luck by sea. The only way into Parrot Cay is a half-hour journey by speedboat from Providenciales, site of the nearest airport, a tricky navigation through the shallows, which, on my journey in, required arriving guests to move to the front of the vessel so that we might make the final approach through wadeable waters without running aground.
Noble hopes future guests might include Madonna, who got a taste of Parrot Cay when she attended the wedding of Bruce Willis and Emma Heming here in 2009. His plan is to persuade her to lead the charge of superstars to the newest holiday home on the island, Tamarind – five beds with gym and pool – which sits away from the main beach alongside the other privately owned mansions on the island's millionaires' row. It's a snip for the stellar at $13,000 a night.
But times have been tough in the Caribbean. The increase in air passenger duty (APD) and the rising price of oil have squeezed the airlines, putting more pressure on hotels and resorts to offer better rates and add value. Parrot Cay, one of the signature properties of Singapore-based Como Hotels and Resorts, renowned for some of the world's most luxurious lodgings and spas, is no different.
This little paradisiacal island, with white-sand beaches melting into turquoise seas and a hinterland of mangroves, may have built a reputation as one of the world's most elite retreats, where movie stars and billionaires can go barefoot on the sands for a few days (protected by the island's troop of Gurkhas and attack dogs, never seen but always present), but it also needs to attract the bottom-end bucks, too, and keep up occupancy in the leaner months from April to December.
So Noble is keen to attract potential guests from across the price range, introducing a raft of new deals and value-added services. Potential guests can now buy 14 nights for the price of 10, seven for the price of five, and four for the price of three until high season kicks in again next December. And value-added initiatives include in-resort credit and free food for kids.
Noble also plans to introduce more affordable dishes in the resort's two restaurants, Terrace, in the hotel, and Lotus, by the pool, which serve superior flavours influenced by Italy, Asia and the Caribbean. Then, of course, there's the advantage of the pound's strength against the US dollar, the currency used here. You can currently book a star-spotting week on Parrot Cay from £1,800 B&B or £2,768 full board through ba.com.
"Even though it's more affordable, it's not cheap," Noble admits, "but we deliver the quality." Indeed, they do. Como's Christina Ong is the doyenne of luxury hoteliers. She has gained a loyal following for the restrained glamour of her properties since launching The Halkin in London's Belgravia in 1991. Her spa concept, the Como Shambhala Retreat, where guests can indulge in Asian-inspired treatments and join classes run by some of the world's leading practitioners of yoga and Pilates, has few rivals.
When Ong's husband, the global property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, bought Parrot Cay in 1998, she kept the original Caribbean-style hotel at the heart of the resort, paring back the worst exotic excesses of its previous Kuwaiti owners by introducing simple white and teak interiors and light Balinese wood furniture.
That palette has been repeated on the villas she has built along the dunes on the main beach. These yellow-pine structures look a little like sheds from the outside, until you notice that they are accompanied by private sun decks, plunge pools and gazebos. Inside, they are deceptively simple in their luxury. Sitting rooms and bedrooms are orientated on vast windows that frame the natural beauty outside. Every chair, lounger, settee and four-poster, muslin-draped bed has been sited for maximum enjoyment of the views.
This relaxed beach-side living comes at a pretty price; several thousand dollars a night. Most staff are from Bali, Ong's preferred recruiting ground (there are many locals, aka Belongers, working here, too) and I'm assured the tips earned by the villas' butlers can be big enough to build a house back home. Some parts of Parrot Cay will always be out of bounds to us ordinary folk.
How to get there
British Airways (0844 493 0758; ba.com/turksandcaicos) offers seven nights for the price of five at Parrot Cay, Turks and Caicos (parrotcay.como .bz), from £1,754 per person, including return flights from Heathrow to Providenciales, return boat transfers and B&B in a garden room at the hotel, with one child under 12 staying free if sharing with two adults.
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