The escalating tiff between a Rarotonga couple and the New Zealanders who rented their elegant holiday home has made international headlines, after Cook Islands News revealed it yesterday.
Some former guests have rushed to offer their support to Susanna and Robert Wigmore – but the couple also believe they are victims of an online harassment campaign.
The story was picked up last night by New Zealand, Australian and UK media.
Susanna Wigmore was meant to meet with Cook Islands Tourism yesterday to discuss the growing dispute, but says the Tourism director postponed at the last minute. Cook Islands Tourism was not returning calls yesterday.
Following New Zealand woman Bridie Henderson’s criticism on TripAdvisor and in a letter to Cook Islands News, new and critical reviews have been published on internet review sites – and Susannah Wigmore says at least one was appears to be a fake.
It all started when she emailed Henderson and her family, saying they won the award for “dirtiest guests of all times” and would have to pay $780 for cleaning up her Avana beach house, and for repairs to marks on the cedar floor.
Henderson complained to Cook Islands Tourism, who apologised and dissuaded the Wigmores from charging the $780. Henderson published the correspondence on TripAdvisor.
Yesterday, after the row became public, more reviews appeared. “Lee PurIdiot” gave them a one-star review on Google, saying, “Rude host who ruined our holiday.”
Susanna Wigmore said “Lee” had never stayed with them. “We don't have the records and it looks like Bridie Henderson … is making a big media campaign against Kaireva Beach House reputation,” she replied to the review.
Holly Sixsmith wrote that her family spent six nights there, their first time in Rarotonga, and echoed Henderson’s criticisms of the expectations around cleaning and protecting the cedar floors. “I myself wrote a detailed review for Susana on Airbnb and unfortunately her response was quite shocking and rude.”
But others chipped in yesterday with support. Auckland resident Fiona, who also runs an Airbnb accommodation, said she had been similarly criticised by guests who hadn’t read the listing. “I’ve found there are people who want to ‘experience’ Airbnb but still expect luxury hotel/resort facilities and service.”
Susanna and Robert Wigmore showed Cook Islands News around their loved home yesterday; they live downstairs, and rent out the upstairs with its spectacular view over the swimming pool, the beach and Avana Harbour.
They had been shocked at the dirty state of their house when their New Zealand guests moved out, they said.
“Every morning we saw them, we asked if everything was okay,” Susanna said. “They were fine, they never complained; the only thing that came up was the lack of water at certain times during the day, when we explained the Te Mato Vai project.”
The Wigmores were happy with the family during their stay – until the morning they left.
“Milk leaking on the floor from the table, cereal and food bits on the floor, dents in the timber floor, food stuck in the furniture… it was the state and stench of the trash bags left inside the house that was just too much.
“The discovery of used diapers in the rubbish bags mixed with food scraps and other trash as well as the leakage on the floor due to the length of time the bags had been sitting, was just disgusting and disrespectful,” said Susanna.
“If they had nappies to dispose of, they could have let us know, no problem; we have done this for our guests in the past.
“In four years this is the worst behaviour I have ever seen from anyone who has stayed in our home.”
Mortified at the mess, she sent the contentious email to the family: “It’s sad, because they know how they left our property,” she said.
She was “disappointed” at Cook Islands Tourism’s destination development director Metua Vaiimene’s response, asking her to apologise to Henderson.
“I’m not going to apologise – he should apologise to us.”
Yesterday, Wellington lawyer Bridie Henderson said being labelled "the dirtiest guests of all times" was an "insulting and embarrassing" end to a much-anticipated family holiday.
The Wellington lawyer and her husband paid $4000 to stay in Kaireva Beach House in Rarotonga with their two sons as a kind of postponed honeymoon.
"That holiday was a real treat for us as we're not wealthy by any respect," Henderson said.
"We were married there a year ago today so it was like our honeymoon – just with the children. We'd never normally stay somewhere so expensive.”
Henderson said it was "quite upsetting" to receive an email from the villa owners demanding $780 for "mess" left behind. Susanna Wigmore accused the family of leaving rubbish, a "pestilential kitchen sink", dirty dishes and fridge, and a stained sofa and sheets, as well as new marks on the floor.
The email was "disproportionate", Henderson said.
Henderson, who booked the accommodation via its website and paid by international bank transfer, said the family put their rubbish into bags and food scraps into a container for the chickens as discussed with Robert Wigmore.
As Wigmore had complained about the previous guests' children leaving fingerprints on the walls, Henderson was especially vigilant about ensuring her children did not do the same.
She said the floors were already already scratched and marked, and no photos of the claimed damage have been provided.
Henderson said she "probably would have considered" paying the $780 requested if Wigmore had "politely" explained about cleaning.
However, the forthright email, which also lambasted the family for their “neglect for the general use of the house and the lack of respect for your hosts”, unnerved her so much she decided to contact Cook Islands Tourism.
Henderson said the family had a good experience at the villa overall, considered the Wigmores' complaints due to a "communication breakdown or misunderstanding".
"If she had gone about it in a different way, I wouldn't have posted what I posted."
She would return to the Cook Islands – "but I probably won't be rushing to stay in private accommodation again."
· With Stuff.co.nz
*Melina Etches and Lorna Thornber report.