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Friday 12 September 2014

Has Australia forgotten how to do hospitality?

Australia has been an international "flavour of the month" destination for some time now but several recent experiences make me wonder whether we've lost our way.

In comparison to many other enviable gourmet destinations, Australia is expensive - and the quality of service leaves a lot to be desired. 

Until now Australia has got by on its brilliant natural resources, cheeky charm and rising food and wine culture.

Is it now resting on its laurels? 

Example 1: 

Checking-in to the InterContinental Hotel in Sydney - one of the city's premier five-star addresses. Several of us arrived around 1pm (as the hotel had been advised) to be told that we would not be allowed access to our rooms until 3pm. As a member of the hotel group's regular guest scheme, I was miffed. I know the hotel might have been busy (so busy that one of the first questions I was asked was what time I would be checking out) but when a couple of us complained long and loud "hey presto", some rooms were suddenly found. There was a total lack of grace about the whole process, however, and a complete lack of interest that we might want to wash and brush our teeth prior to a corporate meeting the hotel knew ran from 3-5pm (and from which it was making thousands of dollars). 

The room, too, was hardly five-star with a note saying you needed to ring down if you were so demanding as to want a turn-down service, and an old-fashioned bathroom with one of those supremely nasty shower curtains that flop around. 

And that wasn't all. When a group of us returned to the hotel bar at 11pm after a function we were brusquely told that we could only order one round as the bar was about to close. Yes, here was a five-star hotel in a major international city declining to serve around 20 in-house guests.

Fortunately a couple of our later arrivals were well-known faces and the staff agreed to keep serving for another hour. But it was ungracious, cheap and the sort of attitude that would stagger guests used to luxury hotels in Barcelona or Bangkok. 

This is a hotel with more "couldn't give a Continental" attitude than InterContinental. 

Example 2: 

This "we'll do what we want and don't really care about our customers" attitude extends right down to small country stores. 

I recently needed to fill my car at Lavers Hill on the Great Ocean Road, so pulled in to Yatzies, a cafe/service station outside Apollo Bay. 

Now Yatzies is extremely popular with buses carrying foreign tourists but had apparently decided that having only one person serving behind the counter was plenty. That person was taking food orders from an entire bus load of Indian tourists so I waited patiently to pay my $40. After standing for 10 minutes, and with a plane to catch, I was less patient. 

I asked if there was someone I could pay when another fellow came out from the kitchen area. When I told him the service was pathetic, he told me I could leave because I was being rude.

I'd been trying to leave for 15 minutes and two other apparent staff members had entered the building during that time, ignored people trying to pay and gone about their business. And this is in a region that is Australia's No.2 tourist attraction. 

Imagine what tourists used to the smart, quick service at German or Italian service stations would have thought? 

Example 3: 

I picked up an Avis hire car at the shambles that is known as Melbourne Airport. After walking over a kilometre to the "mezzanine" level to get to it I noticed the paperwork said there was "no damage other than regular wear and tear". 

That was a surprise because there was a definite gouge down one side panel and two other dents and scratches. For which I would no doubt have been held responsible had I not noticed these blemishes. 

I dutifully filled in the damage on the form provided - only to be chastised on exiting the car park by a jobsworth who said I had filled the form in incorrectly. 

When I pointed out I would not have needed to fill in the form had Avis been efficient and honest, he became incandescent with rage. 

Returning the car was equally shambolic. Because I was so demanding that I needed a receipt, I had to wait 15 minutes for someone able to perform the task of checking the car, and then to go the office for a piece of paper to be issued. 

Now I know a lot of you reading this will say these are "first world problems" and that I am a "difficult-to-please whinger". And you may be right. 

But one of the few industries in Australia that is not shedding jobs right now is tourism. And if Australia continues to dispense with being hospitable then we will eventually be seeing a lot less tourists. And given our current economy that will be of concern to all of us. 




  1. Too many untrained staff, but the real fault lies with lazy and greedy management who don't bother to find and retain good staff. It is just too easy for management to whinge to the government about penalty rates, rather than fixing their own problems.

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