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Cook Islands customer service: Relaxed island vibe or just plain tardy?

Posted by daveb on June 1st, 2009

We’ve been on the Cook Island of Rarotonga for a few days and we’re loving it. Even though I’m surrounded by shallow blue reefs, sandy beaches and coconut palm trees, my genetically-received gift allows me to find fault in even the most paradisical surrounds:

The customer service on Rarotonga almost exclusively sucks.

We’ve already stopped in at the two most expensive resorts on the island and both times have patiently waited over an hour for the wait staff to appear. In our most recent experience, the server never actually arrived and so we upped and left — which wasn’t too bad because that it meant that we got to enjoy the magnificent views from our waterside restaurant table without paying the ticket price.

Rather than bore my dear readers (both of you) with the numerous examples of the quite astonishing examples of staff disaffection, let me just speculate that the native islanders don’t really want us tourii here. What a bunch of inconvenient folk we are: “Gerroff my land!

There are exceptions–but only a few, mind–notably The Point restaurant and Sails. The former made us wait a long time for a pizza, but–when mildly quizzed by a increasingly hungry Squiffy–offered a profuse apology and a no charge for the squashed circle that eventually arrived. In fairness, the pizza wasn’t that-that bad, but the waiter was clearly embarrassed:

“Arrrr. Sorry for the, um…” (stares down at my abstract representation of a well-known Italian dish made with dough, tomatoes and cheese) “… pizza. The chef is experimenting with some new ideas in the kitchen. And they didn’t work. At all. This is his second attempt at making your pizza and I didn’t want to keep you waiting any longer. We won’t be asking you to pay for it. Maybe you’d like another cocktail?”

Like I say, it wasn’t that-that bad (and, alternatives considered, I’d recommend The Point to visiting holidaymakers). Certainly better than our experiences at The Rarotongan and the Pacific Resort, which in spite of their beautiful settings and not-so-beautiful prices, couldn’t find it in themselves to even approach our table. And when I did go to the bar in the Rarotongan, I clocked the barmaid short-pouring drinks (she looked up to gauge whether her customer would notice) and tried overcharging me for a hot chocolate — then implied that she was doing me a favour by accepting the lower menu price!

We cycled past a ‘Hospitality Training School’ on the island the other day. Either the businesses don’t send their staff here, or the trainers themselves need to go back to the books, or the culture encourages apathy and disaffection towards their ‘new world’ of tourism. Or I’m wrong; a miserable git whose idle mind is just finding fault with everything again. You decide!


Comment from Joe
Time: June 2, 2009, 8:00 am

I lived on the Cook Islands for over 10 years and can confirm that customer service is non-existent on the island. Underpaid and understimulated at work, people really do not care much about their jobs. Alcoholism is widespread and great part of the week people are nursing a hangover (men) or a black eye behind sunglasses (women). But the “paradise on earth” slogan lives on in the tourism industry…

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