All the Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

I have just returned from a fabulous five week holiday in Europe and had hoped to devote this column to an analysis of what our readers might benefit from as we compete with our strong dollar against offerings from European competitors.

However that was not to be for this month’s column; for next issue I will bring slippery bathroom floors, new bathroom fittings, the power of all inclusive packages for tourism and the rapid growth of mountain biking. So now…

Relief management. As in the past we had arranged for a couple who had owned cabins and managed our B&B in the past, to take over as relief managers when we went abroad. This having been arranged last year, our friends then had a change of career and unfortunately had to cry off, giving us plenty of time to source a second relief manager. They supplied the name of one couple, whom we deemed after research and vetting as not fitting the somewhat stringent requirements we had laid down.

We were then given the name of another relief management firm by a very good reference source and, after talking to the owner at our B&B, decided to contract him and his firm. Our updated manual was sent to him the week before take over time so that he and his number two could read up on the information and have both hard and digital copies while they were here.

All started extremely well as they were in residence for two days prior to our leaving and on the last day organised breakfast and dinner for guests. We departed with not a worry and during the trip received replies to any emails sent. It was only upon telephoning from Brisbane airport on our arrival home to liaise with the owner that his number two said she had a number of issues that she had to raise directly with us when we arrived at home.

Foreboding of what we would be faced with was not helped by our car arriving in a dirty state. Since this latest model German car is the one that we take guests to restaurants and weddings, this was not appreciated.

During the trip back our relief manager advised that he had had to leave our premises for a fair part of the five weeks in the hands of his number two. That should not have been a problem had she been able to drive to collect supplies. Indeed on our arrival the interior of the house was spotless, paperwork was generally okay and it appeared that guests had been well looked after. From here the path of discovery went down – a dirty pool with insufficient water, a new spa pump installed and complaints by our pool maintenance firm that spa and pool had not been attended to regularly. The multiple breakages, several of which had not been reported when we arrived, as well as only some 25% of purchase invoices available to check statements against, also cost us time and money.

So where does one go from here? The relief manager has now advised us that his number two is no longer employed by him and that he will not manage B&Bs in the future. So a salutary lesson for us all.

Maybe there should be an association/database of all relief managers as well as some sort of accreditation system. We do not appear to be the only ones suffering problems with relief managers as horror stories given us by friends who ran a busy suburban motel when they went on holiday. It would therefore be interesting to hear from readers as to what they expect from relief managers, what information they provide and whether their requirements are adhered to.

Now to the other main problem on our travel – poor airline best practice.

The airline industry continues to change fast. The low cost carriers are now so well entrenched as indeed we found out in a flight from Zurich to Bucharest by Air Berlin alliance partner Niki Air. Although the early flight from Zurich was inconvenient with a 6.40am take off, the fares were very low and service quite acceptable. This flight, organised by travel agent, was the result of our having changed from a well known main line carrier who changed times and schedules pretty much to suit them and not in agreement with us. First they changed flights with two changes of plane including an overflight for the first stop (try Sydney-Hobart-Melbourne), then they advised they could offer a one change schedule with a 40 minute connection in one of the Continent’s largest airports. As it turned out, we were lucky to have cancelled (probably at our cost) their flights as they were subsequently cancelled through strike action.

For another series of sectors with this carrier I had booked and paid for these flights and advised what times we wanted to fly. When the tickets arrived, the times were completely wrong. Try a two hour flight to terminate at 2am instead of at 10.30pm as per their schedule and our paid for requirement. Also, as my travel agent pointed out, I had not given the correct passport name for my wife. To change these tickets the airline demanded that we pay a further cost for her tickets at a much higher price. Since when are clients unable to check that their tickets are as paid for? Unless of course they have been advised that they can not check on the tickets and agree any major time change? Was it the airline’s fault or that of the travel agent?

What I do know is that the airline in question gave the ability for complaints to be emailed through their website. This was done before we left but so far no reply either in English or in German.

The accommodation industry often follows airline industry practice and trends. It really is important that the market understands the difference between the low cost carrier when there is little ability to change names, schedules and routes except at the will of the carrier, and that of the main line carrier where clients can pay for and book on flights as shown on the net, then check that the e-ticket is as per what they paid for.

Likewise in the accommodation industry, the difference being that in our industry it states clearly on the various websites exactly what is provided for that price. The perception and the reality must fit together.

I certainly expect to get what I have paid for and know how far in advance I can cancel or change.

Peter Rogers
Eyrie Escape

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