The Fresh Lime Juice That Never Arrived

Vanuatu’s ‘2030 Shared Vision’ wants to bring 300,000 visitors into the country by 2030. BUT our tourism and hospitality industry must get its act together on the question of QUALITY SERVICE once and for all if it is to be taken seriously by international visitors.

We cannot rely on a ‘Work-in-Progress’ mentality. We’re talking here about

basic hospitality and service that an industry worker or organisation in the sector should know and practice from the outset.

Marketing hype will always be marketing hype. But it is counterproductive, selfdeceiving and extremely bad for our image when people eventually discover service that is often of substandard quality, sometimes appalling,

and thus unbecoming of what we present in our colourful marketing collateral to lure visitors to our shores. A few actual incidents to substantiate might help.

Our new ni-Vanuatu diplomat was in Business Class (BC) in our national flag career from Australia to Port Vila recently.

It was meal time, and as you know, BC always receives first and full service. The flight attendant thought she had served everybody.

When the plane commenced its descend into Port Vila she realised she did not serve the diplomat his dessert, so she walks up to him and goes, ‘Oh

sorry uncle, I forgot to serve you your dessert’.

The diplomat replies, ‘that’s ok, you can go and have it’. How embarrassing. Second story. We arrived at the restaurant of our great

Ramada Resort last Thursday for a group meeting after 10am. Waited for about 15 minutes without any sign of attention by staff who appeared to be ‘busy’ near the kitchen area.

So the Director General we were with summoned one of them over. A few questions then we ordered fresh lime juice.

The worker apologises, ‘oh sorry, we don’t have any lime juice today’.

This establishment belongs to a large multinational hotel chain which operates over 800 hotels across some 63 countries all over the world

under the ‘Ramada brand’. We asked for fruit punch, and she goes yes, we can prepare that for you.

It took another 15-20 minutes waiting. When the fruit punch also failed to

arrive, we left. One of us had an important appointment that morning but had it postponed till the next day, and we wasted 30 minutes waiting for a basic service that never happened.

Third story. Sunday 25th August was departure time for various delegates leaving Norsup after a very successful 4th National Arts Festival. On arrival at the airport at 10am for check in, we were told by the agent, ‘oh sorry, your flight’s been delayed and you will now leave around 3pm, arriving into Vila at 4pm’. One of us asked, ‘but we were not informed…’.

The agent poured out his frustrations, ‘…this happens all the time, can you please raise a complaint to management?’

As we sat at a different location recapping the experience earlier that morning with the lime juice story, one of the staff who had served for over 20 years in the hospitality industry revealed some very disturbing facts

about what’s happening in the tourism industry.

Bottomline is, a lot of our locals serving within the industry are very poorly

paid. And overall, there is a general discrepancy in salaries between ni-Vanuatu and expatriate workers.

We want to compete with other destinations but our basic services are disappointingly very poor. It appears our CEOs, GMs, Executives and

senior mangement sit on their executive chairs in airconditioned buildings

and don’t even know what’s happening on the workfloor where customer interface reveals our true colours.

A few questions might help to refocus our attention a bit.

Who is it that we’ve created the ‘Shared Vision 2030’ for? What are we actually selling? The latest slogan ‘Answer the call of Vanuatu’ – to come and see what – as our new High Commissioner asked Air Vanuatu’s CEO last week during a courtesy call on him? What are we really promoting? If there is a human face to all these, isn’t it plain common sense that we deal

with the human aspects of hospitality competitively and with pride and passion, first and foremost? Go to places such as Jill’s Café, Au Fare and Nambawan Café and see how these great locations are almost full all the time because of the FANTASTIC SERVICE they offer clients.

That’s how things should be and possibly that’s why clients keep going back. If they can do it, what’s wrong with the dull places such as referred to in the lime juice story earlier?

Furtheremore, we pay our ni-Vanuatu workers so poorly yet we expect them to deliver to the best of their abilities, and consistently like robots

while expatriate management executives decorate chairs getting paid fat salaries for delivering poor frontline service. Our typically timid ni- Vanuatu workers cannot speak up for fear of losing the only source of income they have to support their families, and so the viscious cycle of stressful work environments prevail.

Is this what our tourism industy is all about? If we care enough about increasing arrival numbers, why are we not also concerned about the visitor retention rate?

Vanuatu has come a long way, going 40 years soon. Air Vanuatu, VTO, and our resorts and hotels must change their mentality to service, and our

ni-Vanuatu workers need to be treated well.

The Shared Vision 2030 is great, but the industry needs to pull up its socks across the board on the subject of service.

Moreover, we need to fix our own backyard first, as a matter of urgency.

Service is key in the tourism and hospitality industry. If we cannot be bothered about this, then we have our priorities all wrong.

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