“You won’t find anything better in Port Hedland.”
But we did.
Serendipity shows its face in many ways, but ours was a surly receptionist at the four-and-a-half star hotel we were trying to check in to.
With the boom arguably over, surely there’s a case for attitudes changing in order to survive the downturn. Photo: David Gray
“Trying” to check in to, because our online booking had apparently disappeared into the ether.
There was no apology from the surly receptionist.
“Name? Can’t find it. Got a booking number?” she asked boredly.
“Ah, just a minute. Let me check my email,” I replied, as my patient wife stood by, wondering if indeed I had made the booking.
Reading out the booking number, a not-so-surly receptionist – who was behind the same counter and obviously knew where to look – said she’d found it in the system.
The surly receptionist took over: “Fill out this form.”
“The whole form? I thought you said you’d found my booking?”
“Just sign it then. Credit card.”
“My credit card details are on the booking.”
“We need the credit card.”
I handed it over.
“Are we all good?” I asked
A young male staff member walked in behind the counter and the receptionist promptly turned her back and engaged in conversation as we waited.
Eventually she turned back to us: “Here’s your key. Upstairs on the first floor.”
“Is that all?”
“What about breakfast?”
“Down the hall.”
“What about wi-fi?” my wife enquired.
“Here,” the receptionist handed over a piece of paper.
We trudged to the lift and went upstairs.
There’d been no smile. No check-in briefing. Little attention to our needs. We felt like pariahs. My wife used a different word.
Things were no better as we entered our room. It was tiny. There was no TV remote control. I rang the front desk.
“I’ve looked everywhere – in draws, on tables – there’s no TV remote,” I said.
“It’s next to the phone,” the receptionist replied condescendingly.
“Clearly I’m on the phone, and the remote control is not next to it,” I said impatiently.
“We’ll send one up.”
Then I noticed the bed.
We’d booked what was advertised as one of the best rooms in the hotel, a deluxe spa suite, for our two-night stay.
The hotel had advertised it as having a “king bed”. I pulled back the covers and saw two single beds pushed together.
Another call to the front desk.
“We booked a king bed, not twin singles. Can we have a room with a king bed please?”
“That is a king bed.”
“No, it’s two single beds pushed together.”
“They’re all like that.”
OK, so these were First-World problems, I admit.
But the real issue was we were paying top dollar for some of the worst service we had ever experienced.
Part of the problem was the location: the Pilbara iron ore town of Port Hedland is recognised as one of the most expensive places in Australia.
Not only had the mining boom put a squeeze on accommodation – sending prices soaring (an average house still costs around $2000 a week to rent, while the hotel in question charges up to $525 a night) – it had obviously spoiled service-providers into thinking they could treat customers any way they liked.
“Take it or leave it” was arguably their motto.
Which is why, when we decided to leave the hotel 30 minutes after checking in to find somewhere friendlier, we weren’t even quizzed, let alone talked out of leaving.
“You won’t find anything better in Port Hedland,” the receptionist said as we left.
“I think we already have,” I replied.
And we had: an executive apartment in the port for less than the cost of a tiny hotel room.
What’s more, the staff at the apartment complex went out of their way to make us feel welcome, giving us a choice of self-contained units and a personal tour of their free dining facilities.
What struck us most about our experience at the first hotel – touted as Port Hedland’s best (which I won’t name, but savvy readers can connect the dots – there are other complaints similar to ours on travel websites) – wasn’t the impersonal service, but the fact there were few people staying there.
The mining boom has arguably bust and Port Hedland is starting to feel the pinch, with “For Sale” and “For Lease” signs dotted around the town and rents, home prices – and even hotel room prices – coming down in recent months.
The “age of entitlement” may remain in certain pockets of the economy, but others are starting to realise that to survive in any downturn, surly attitudes have to change.
In the end, our money went where it was appreciated – and we couldn’t have been happier with the service or our stay.
All for the want of a simple smile.