OPINION: The island clearly has some work to do to get service standards right for this emerging and important group of travellers.
My annual sojourn at Rottnest was again marred by less than friendly weather, but there’s little you can do about managing what Mother Nature throws at you.
The upside of bad conditions is they tend to force you into a more introspective mode and create situations that might not otherwise occur. The former is good for thinking about columns and the latter provides fodder for them.
Before I headed off, I was told a story by a holiday goer to the island who had briefly received two Chinese guests in their accommodation as the foreign tourists were forced to seek shelter during a downpour.
It was odd, therefore, to have a similar experience as we invited in two young Chinese tourists who had found a nearby tree an ineffective way to escape the rain.
They both had reasonable English and were on a three-day whirlwind tour from Melbourne where they were studying.
The climatic conditions had not been kind to them for their day at Rotto, which preceded planned trips to Penguin Island and the Pinnacles in what is clearly a popular trio.
Stuck in our villa we had a little time to ask each other questions. If there was one bit of advice I could offer the Rottnest Island Authority, their foreign visitors did not feel things were signposted well.
We often stay around Longreach Bay and Fays Bay, so we’ve been witness to myriad day trippers getting lost in that hollow.
While Rottnest is small and there’s much to be gained from a voyage of self-discovery, perhaps a bit more information might help those with language barriers and only a few hours on the island.
The island authority could take a leaf from its own book with the way the new walk trails around the island are signposted. They are excellent.
I might add that later in the week I had cause to be on the island bus as it made its way from the West End back to the settlement.
The driver called that the next stop was Stark Bay and two tourists, most likely Chinese, stood to egress. The bus sailed merrily past the stop.
They did not know they had to press the bell. I didn’t either. It just seemed so obviously unhelpful on an island which otherwise asks ‘what’s the rush’.
Rottnest is the major tourist day trip from Perth. Increasingly, those tourists will be Chinese and many will lack basic English and an understanding of local cultural norms.
There is clearly a bit of catch-up for the island in order to get their service standards right for this emerging and important group of travellers.
Perhaps some of that upgrading in tourist messaging and communication will be driven by unprecedented competition that is coming to the island’s transport sector.
The gauntlet has been thrown down by SeaLink Travel Group-owned Captain Cook Cruises, which will extend its ferry services to Rottnest later this year, taking on Rottnest Express from Fremantle more so than Rottnest Fast Ferries, which operates out of Hillarys.
The island has never had three ferry companies operating simultaneously. Given the history of this route, let’s hope it is sustainable.
Intriguingly, last year then Rottnest Express owners Bailey Group sold to private equity-backed Experience Australia Group and the Bailey family have since put their focus on hospitality on the island, acquiring the former Aristos venue (now called Thomsons) and proceeding with a glamping accommodation operation.
At the time of the sale, described as a merger, Rottnest Express boss Scott Bailey said the family business needed capital to expand.
Delays in Rottnest Express ferry services that we experienced suggest it might need to shape up quickly before Captain Cook starts plying its current monopoly Fremantle to Rottnest route.
Nevertheless, new private money being thrown at Rottnest and can only bode well.
The island gets around $20 for every visitor, so competitive ferry services might pump up the tourist volumes and give the authority more money to improve things, including communications for foreign visitors.