Given the increasing number of tourists visiting New Zealand, how well do we welcome them? Sara Dinnen discovered two travellers whose experience in Northland could be called a salutary lesson for tourism operators.
This is a tale of two tourists. One is a local and frequent bus traveller between Northland and Auckland. The other is an Englishman who has been touring the world for the past eighteen months. He is a frequent international traveller. This is the story of their ‘welcome to Northland’ courtesy of Intercity bus ‘service’…….
In late February both were waiting at the Maritime Building in Paihia for the 10.15am Intercity bus to arrive. It’s designated a bus stop but designed as such it is not. It’s a footpath outside a shop and on this day, it was crowded, and not helped by the constant arrival of shuttle buses from Waitangi, ferrying passengers from a cruise ship anchored in the bay.
The first ‘welcome’.
This came from a Northland Security man in a high-vis jacket who barked at bus passengers waiting in Paihia – a small resort town in Northland. They, he said, had to cross the road to catch the Intercity bus. What he meant was, cross the parking area where the shuttle buses were coming back and forth and stand on a concrete island filled with tour guides touting for business. Except, he didn’t make that clear. The bus passengers, talking among themselves, assumed that’s what he meant and accordingly obliged, and hoped.
The second ‘welcome’.
This came in the form of a road closure. The normal Intercity bus route to Auckland is via Kawakawa, a small town south of Paihia. A slip had closed the road a week earlier and it was, apparently going to take two weeks to clear. Thus, bus passengers had to endure a 25 kilometre extended trip to reach Kawakawa.
The third ‘welcome’.
This is a compulsory stop at the Coffee Pot just north of Kaiwaka, another small Northland town. There is clearly an arrangement between Intercity and the café.
The English tourist and the local had been talking. Neither heard the driver say there would be 15-minute stop at the shop. He didn’t announce it on the bus PA system but, rather, spoke to a bus full of passengers from his seat at the front.
The local was one of the last to be served and she joined the English tourist outside on a grass area because it was hot. Neither heard the driver say the bus was departing. He didn’t come to the back of the café to make the announcement.
The English tourist exclaimed to the local (16 minutes later) the bus had departed. Yes, gone. Vanished. Without the two passengers. With thoughts of luggage in the hold disappearing, the local tried to make a phone call to Intercity but this is north of Kaiwaka and Spark (her phone service provider) doesn’t work here. She asked the café staff to use their landline, which she offered to pay for. She got through to Intercity and explained the dilemma.
The fourth ‘welcome’.
As she was relating her plight and that of the English tourist, a staff member from the café interrupted her to say the phone was a business phone and could she ‘hurry up’. She was trying her best, she said, but could only work as fast as the Intercity receptionist on the other end of the phone would allow. She explained it was an emergency and she needed to hurry. “I’m going as fast as I can okay?’ said the receptionist at Intercity.
The café staff said they, too, had contacted Intercity and while they couldn’t guarantee the driver would be notified, that was the best that could be done.
The local managed to book herself and the tourist on to the next bus (a two-hour-plus wait) and was assured the luggage would be left at the lost property section of the bus station at Sky City in Auckland. She offered to pay $4 for the phone call. The person in the café said (at last) it wasn’t necessary.
The fifth ‘welcome’.
Fifteen minutes later the original bus from Paihia returned to the café. The tourist and the local were, seemingly, saved!
They entered the bus and sat down, this time in separate seats because other passengers had ‘bagged’ the ones they originally acquired. An irate Indian man began shouting that he would be late because of the return, and it was the driver’s fault.
Four times the driver shouted at him to shut up and sit down, far louder than he announced how long the café stop would be. The driver then turned on the bus intercom microphone for the first time in this whole saga.
“If you want to blame anyone,” he said. “Blame those two ***king pricks who have just got on the bus again,” he said loudly.
That was the local (frequent Intercity fare-paying passenger) and an English fare-paying tourist he was referring to. From the back seat the English tourist said if the driver didn’t stop his abuse he’d get a ‘kick up the arse’. That worked. The English tourist was wearing tramping boots and clearly meant what he said.
Both the driver and the Indian passenger did, indeed, shut up. Both the English tourist and the local were highly embarrassed.
The sixth ‘welcome’.
The bus arrived at what is laughingly called a bus ‘station’ at Sky City in Auckland. It is, in fact, a dark and crowded footpath underneath the Sky City structure. The bus was, after all this, about 20 minutes’ late. Bear in mind, said the local, it was 15 minutes’ late arriving in Paihia in the first instance.
The English tourist confided in the local that he had never been called a ‘***king prick’ in his life. The local said neither had she. They collected their bags and went their separate ways.
The seventh ‘welcome’.
The local lodged an official complaint with Intercity, via their website complaint form. After nearly two days she had not received a reply, so she phoned to ask when it would arrive. The response came from a Customer Services Co-ordinator from Intercity and said:
I am writing in regards to the below complaint which was forwarded onto the Operations Manager to address with the driver concerned.
The Operations Manager has advised that the driver has been spoken to concerning the issues you raised and the appropriate action was taken. She has advised that there is always an announcement as to how long the break is for and it is the passengers responsibility to ensure they have re boarded the coach prior to the advised departure time.
She also advised that it was her that told the driver that he needed to go back to Kaiwaka to collect you.
On behalf of Intercity Group Limited NZ, I apologise for any embarrassment and disappointment you may have experienced.
Thank you for taking the time to bring this matter to our attention.
And that, apparently, is that. No discount, no refund. But an apology and a reprimand for not adhering to the driver announcements. The local, it must be pointed out, has a slight hearing impediment. The driver did not at any time (except when he was saying the tourists were ‘***king pricks’) use the bus intercom system.
The English tourist said he would never, ever, take Intercity again. It was an embarrassing episode in his life, he said. The local has limited choice – another bus company or the more expensive Air New Zealand option from Kerikeri. Intercity is owned by the Fullers’ Group which owns the monopoly car and passenger ferries on which she depends. She is contemplating her alternatives, scarce as they may be.