10/10/2006 - 22:00

Good start, but long way to go for Rotto

10/10/2006 - 22:00


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Observant readers might have noted that my regular column was absent last week.

Good start, but long way to go for Rotto

Observant readers might have noted that my regular column was absent last week.

Thanks to Mark Beyer who ran things in my absence and maintained my free market line in the editorial – I couldn’t agree more with his sentiments, especially with the liquor licensing saga continuing to be held hostage to politics. Thankfully, sense seems to be prevailing there.

As a holiday-maker for the past week or so, I will take my annual opportunity to play critic with regard to some tourism institutions that are at the front line of our efforts to attract both visitors and new residents to this great state.

My first observation comes, unfortunately, secondhand, but it struck a chord with me and reiterates a theme noted a year or more ago.

A friend who joined my family on holidays – at Rottnest, I might add – took the ferry from Barrack Street down the river. This journey, for those who haven’t taken it, is popular among tourists who often just do the Swan River component from Perth to Fremantle.

As a tourist route it comes with its own tour guide who makes various observations along the way, alerting ferry goers to points of interest via a loudspeaker.

A year or two ago, there was some publicity about this. The issue then being that the tour guide’s patter was out-of-date dribble harking back to the 1980s when Perth was a millionaire city whose globe-trotting business leaders built palaces along the Dalkeith foreshore.

Those times left us long ago. Even in the current boom, there are few household names like those of the foot-to-the-floor entrepreneurs who gave this town such a bad reputation.

Yet, our river guides, it seems, are still fixated on this puffery.

I regret to inform you that, according to my source, our visitors are still being told how much the houses are worth as if that matters in this day and age when – notwithstanding the property boom – Perth prices pale into insignificance against even places in the developing world.

My source found this antiquated information irritating and embarrassing, as I did when I heard it.

Perhaps Tourism WA could assist the ferry companies by helping them bring their guide notes up to the expectations of visitors from the 21st century.

That was the second hand story. The rest is first hand.

Rottnest, as was reported last week in this newspaper, has had significant investment. The key area where this has paid dividends is in the quality of the accommodation – namely the refurbished chalets, which really have benefited from being updated.

It was an observation made by  everyone I met, right down to the improved mattresses. I guess there’s no point going on holidays on the world’s greatest island if you can’t get any sleep.

However, another common theme was the disappointing service found at a number of operations on the island. The comparison to queuing up in Soviet Russia was raised a few times whether it was for a pie or coffee and too often the needs of the consumer seemed secondary to those of the staff – with the Geordie Bay store and Tearooms at Thomson Bay being something of an exception in this regard.

I thought the sail-in-sail-out workforce was meant to change this, but perhaps the nature of these largely monopoly businesses and the unique demands of holiday makers, combined with the state’s staff shortages, has meant little has changed beneath the upgraded facades of these operations.

It’s a pity because Rottnest is the frontline for WA’s tourism industry.

I welcome the concept of an international (a euphemism for upmarket) resort on the island. Not only will a commercial enterprise help fund the other island facilities and meet a much needed niche that is currently uncatered for, it will also provide some real service competition – hopefully by an operator which can benchmark against standards set elsewhere.

Rottnest is a great icon and an unbelievable asset for the Western Australian community, but the current process of upgrading has a long way to go.

Hopefully, it can reach a point where renewal happens constantly rather than in the fits and starts we’ve seen for the past few decades.


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