Expensive lousy food and miserable rooms risk ruining our reputation with foreign tourists

Amanda Krupp is a senior business journalist with experience covering tourism.

Opinion: A $24.50 plate of undercooked hard-boiled eggs, with partially thawed slices of frozen avocado and inedible hollandaise, really got me going.

Having to clean someone else’s toothpaste to spit peeling varnish to a vanity unit in a freezing hotel room didn’t satisfy me much either.

Having covered the tourism industry for decades, including the last couple of years under the Covid-19 virus, I’m aware of the pressures operators are facing, and given the circumstances, I’m willing to drop some slack if the service is a little tough.

But there is no excuse for poorly priced food or less heated accommodations than cleanliness, and I’m not at all sure that foreign visitors who have paid thousands of dollars to fly here would be willing to wear that if things were not. It gets better before the tourist season really starts in the spring.

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The truth is that for all astral experiences, bad experiences often stay in your memory, and often those are the ones you tell friends and family about when you come home.

If there’s one last vacation to pass on, some visitors who cross our newly opened borders may be thrilled with what they find, which wouldn’t be good for New Zealand’s reputation as a tourist destination.

In late June, my husband and I headed to the West Coast from Christchurch, for a much needed winter break (at our expense) and standards are best described as patchy.

West Coast sells itself as
Amanda Krupp / Stuff

West Coast sells itself as “wild wilderness” but the remote location can make it difficult for tour companies to attract and retain employees. The COVID-19 virus and the shortage of immigrant workforce have added to the problem.

The ratio of good luck to great places was around 60%, compared to 40% below average to really awesome, which is hardly an amazing performance card, even considering the fact that she was off season.

In Hokitika where we stayed in a lovely perfectly clean apartment in the former city fire station, complete with a life-size firefighter mannequin at the front desk, and a fallen staff behind them looking after us.

We had excellent meals at Fat Pipi’s Pizza and Stumpers Bar and Cafe, and local hospitality outlets seem to take turns opening their doors on weeknights, so you can always find somewhere to eat.

The smart were up front and managed the expectations of customers if they were struggling to fit in.

Hokitika turns magic with colorful sunset.

Amanda Krupp / Stuff

Hokitika turns magic with colorful sunset.

We were rocked at Hokitika Sandwich Company in the middle of the day and apologies were told there would be a 50 minute wait.

No problem, we placed our order, went for a walk until it was ready, and the food was good.

The rock formations at the top of Punakaiki Road are stunning, but the same cannot be said for the opposite Pancake Rocks Cafe.

We arrived just before 2pm, and the server without a mask told us, and the group of shuttle bus passengers who showed up shortly thereafter, that the cafe was supposed to close at 2.

The cozy apartment in the converted Hokitika Fire Station was the epitome of hospitality.

Amanda Krupp / Stuff

The cozy apartment in the converted Hokitika Fire Station was the epitome of hospitality.

We felt like a nuisance rather than a welcome for clients who bring in business at a quiet time of the year.

Then came my disappointing bowl of eggs, avocado, bacon, pancakes which my other half was considered “average”, and tea for two. The total cost is $61.80.

The cafe was so cold that I put on my puffy jacket, and the only redeeming feature of this disappointing meal was watching the cheeky Weka wipe a plate off an outdoor table.

This obviously wasn’t a one-off – mine was the 6th out of 11 Trip Advisor reviews this year to complain about the high prices and poor service ($6.50 a rail).

RNZ

The details look at how tour operators will deal with the continued disruption and uncertainty of Covid, and what “reset” will bring in a new type of visitor. (First published February 1, 2022)

At the four star Ocean View Retreat right down the road our room had a sea view but we could have done without the cobwebs and the less clean bathroom.

The ‘kitchen’ consisted of a microwave, very few crockery, and utensils, and there was nothing bigger than a small breakfast bowl to heat food or put salad in. I’ve resorted to making porridge bags in a plastic storage container that we both happened to have.

Not so great in such a remote location with few options for eating out and where guests may want to cook or heat meals.

Despite having a wall panel heater and underfloor heating, the unit was so cold that after an hour or so we finally called reception (via online messages as no one was answering the phone), and they hooked up an electric heater.

The resort was clearly lacking in staff as the same lovely woman served us breakfast and dinner, then checked us in the next morning.

When I asked if she would come home, she explained that they have a number of employees on long-term vacation, and it wasn’t too bad because she lives close to home.

On the plus side, the cute restaurant produced a great evening meal, and the local pub served up a decent plate of fish and chips for the same price as the forgotten cafe brunch.

Recently I’ve experienced some pretty lackluster brilliance at the Christchurch hospital outlets, but having traveled on foot and not spent $70 on gas to get there, I’m trying to be understanding.

Weka at Pancake Rocks Cafe provided entertainment by stealing crockery.

Amanda Krupp / Stuff

Weka at Pancake Rocks Cafe provided entertainment by stealing crockery.

But the more time and money I invest in getting to my destination, the less patience I have to deal with crises like waiting half an hour for a coffee, confused orders, and mistakes in the bill.

I suspect that foreign visitors may feel the same, which does not bode well if the erratic service caused by understaffing continues in the spring when foreign visitors start arriving in greater numbers.

Some hotels across the country offer guests incentives like free cocktails in exchange for discounted cleaning services while staff numbers are low, and I’m happy to accept that if the room is clean on arrival, just as I can do without clean towels every day.

A recent Tourism Industry Aotearoa survey of 360 companies showed that nearly a third of them believe they need to limit the number of customers or occupancy, and a similar percentage are expected to reduce services to deal with workforce challenges.

The key is not to promise something you cannot achieve.

Ocean View Retreat General Manager Alexander Champel apologized for not serving the room as standard. He says hiring staff has been difficult, and any areas of concern that haven’t already been addressed will be addressed while they continue to renovate the hotel.

Pancake Rocks Cafe did not respond by the deadline.

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