Friday, June 25, 2010

The cost of an unfriendly greeting

We’d really been looking forward to Exmouth, and had decided to make the all-day drive from Karijini National Park so we could spend three days on the coast. We pulled in to the Visitor Information Center about 10 minutes before it closed.

We approached the counter where “Chris” looked up at us while closing the cash without any greeting. We explained that we were booked into a nearby caravan park for the night, but hoped to be able to camp in Cape Range Park for subsequent nights, to be closer to the snorkelling beaches.

“There are no campsites available.”

We were taken aback by her brusque tone. “None at all?”

She sighed, rolling her eyes. “Well, you can get to the ranger station at dawn and wait in line till they open at nine. If you’re lucky, you may get a space if someone books out.”

“Are there no alternatives? Can’t we book anywhere?”

“No. If there is no space you have to come back into town.”

We were stunned—and disappointed. “Okay… and what about swimming with whale sharks?” This was highly recommended by fellow travellers we’d met.

“Tours are $360 to $395 per person and we can book you here. Do you want to sign up for one?”

It was a bit strange to be just quoted a price—which was certainly considerably more than we’d expected—without any other details, and we declined. This was apparently more than Chris could take and she made moves to close up her binders in front of us with a shake of her head. When we then asked about the more detailed map mentioned in the tourism booklet, she rolled her eyes again and pointed at the general map we had open in the booklet. “You already have it.”

She was evidently not interested in helping us, so with some embarrassment, we moved to the brochure racks—and promptly found the very good detailed map. Since Chris had made it clear that at least she was eager to leave, we left—but not before leaving our negative feedback in the visitor’s guestbook.

We were very put off by such rude and off-hand behaviour as our “welcome” to Exmouth. We did stay at the caravan park we’d booked that night, but wondered if we’d made a mistake in making the effort to get to this popular destination.

The next morning, as we drove to Cape Range Park, we passed two caravan parks that Chris neglected to mention—both of which are much closer to the snorkelling beaches than where we’d stayed in town. Moreover, the helpful park ranger told us that while we could not book ahead, there generally wasn’t much problem getting a space. “Jamie” at the park visitor center not only confirmed this, but was also very friendly and helpful about the snorkelling we wanted to do.

Although we did enjoy a snorkel at Turquoise Bay, a second negative experience in Exmouth that day made us decide to leave. When the post office checkout declined Katharine’s Visa card PIN (a fairly common occurrence in our experience), the curt post office employee asked where we were staying. When she learned we were in a caravan park, she refused to let Katharine sign for it instead (as is widely allowed at stores and gas stations). The implication was that our card was probably not able to cover the $30 charge.

That sealed it, and we decided to leave early the next morning.

So what did these two individuals cost the Shire of Exmouth? We drove further south to Coral Bay where we were welcomed warmly by the volunteer visitor information staff, who put us in touch with a local dive operator. We booked a snorkel trip ($330), filled our gas ($55), booked two nights at a caravan park ($92), enjoyed some cool beers on a friendly deck bar ($30), had a great meal ($65)… And that was just the first day.

So the message to people serving the public in a tourism area should be very clear: even if it is close to closing, be pleasant, because there is a real cost of being rude.

We won’t be recommending Exmouth as we continue our travels.