A Rarotonga couple who rent out their beautiful waterside beach house are feeling bruised by criticism in an online review – and frustrated that Cook Islands Tourism isn’t backing them.
Susanna Wigmore says she was being “ironic” when she emailed New Zealand mother-of-two Bridie Henderson, to tell her: “You have won the award for the Dirtiest Guests of All Times in Kaireva Beach House”.
The prize? A $780 fee to clean up the mess and repair marks on the cedar floor.
Kaireva Beach House is named after the land on which it’s built, honouring Susanna’s husband Robert Wigmore’s ancestors and the history of the Cook Islands – it was here that the seven great vaka left Avana Harbour in their famous voyages to New Zealand, more than 1000 years ago.
But Bridie Henderson, her husband and two sons, aged 4 and 5, left for New Zealand in anger, not in hope.
The family had paid $4000 for their stay in what was advertised as a child-friendly property. But Henderson posted on TripAdvisor that Susanna had been anxious they didn’t drop anything on the floor, “so we were quite careful and it made it a little hard to relax”.
The real problem, she said, came after they got home: “We had never been told that the tariff did not include cleaning … And although we did our best to tidy up, we had an early flight, and there was no vacuum or cleaning products that I saw.”
So she was “shocked” to receive the email, saying they had left accumulated rubbish, a “pestilential kitchen sink”, dirty dishes and fridge, stained sofa and sheets ready to be thrown away, as well as new marks on the floor.
She complained to Cook Islands Tourism, who backed her – and persuaded Susanna Wigmore to retract her demand for $780.
“I hope that she will heed our advice so no future guests will be written to in this way,” wrote Destination Development director Metua Vaiimene, in an email to Henderson.
“I apologise that you were treated in an unprofessional manner while here on Raro, but I do hope that you come back to visit us again.”
However, Susanna and Robert were disappointed with Cook Islands Tourism’s response, saying Susanna was taken out of context and they are preparing a response to Henderson’s TripAdvisor post.
Greg Stanaway, one of Cook Islands’ most experienced tourism leaders, said most accommodation providers got one or two TripAdvisor reviews a day – up to 400 for all of Rarotonga’s hotel and private villas.
“Online review sites are a key indicator during the research phase for travellers and a litmus test indicator for tourism businesses, reflecting how well they are meeting their customer expectations,” he said.
“Businesses are therefore very sensitive when they feel they have received unjustified reviews of their service or facilities … Generally it’s important to not inflame the situation.”
Susanna Wigmore had been in contact with him about the row, he said.
“If you’re a good operator, you may get 100 good reviews for every bad one. And I suggest people just let the odd bad one go.”
Stanaway added: “It’s often better to just ring the person and say, hey, I’m disappointed you didn’t raise your concerns with me while you were here. And perhaps encourage them to come back for a better experience.”
When Cook Islands News visited Kaireva Beach House yesterday, Robert Wigmore pointed out the dents in the floor that he said were new, and the side-deck that he claimed had been left filled with overflowing, smelly bags of rubbish.
“This is not helpful to the tourism of the Cook Islands,” his wife said. “I was being ironic. It was a way for me to communicate my disappointment.”