Kiwi, Quebec culture: U.S. could learn from it

It was about 8 a.m. in Auckland, New Zealand, as we shuffled into the Hyatt Regency downtown, sleepy and jet-lagged after a 12-hour flight from Los Angeles.

        We hoped to check into our room early but were ready to settle for just having a place to stash the luggage. The registration clerk offered his apologies.

        “I see that you asked for a water view,” he said. “I can’t give you that.”
We hadn’t really expected it, at the Expedia.com rate of about $140 (roughly $70 in U.S. money), but this had been one of the preferences we expressed on the Internet.

        “But I can check you in on our Regency Club level now – no extra charge – if you don’t mind a smoking room,” the clerk continued. “It shouldn’t smell offensive.”

        We accepted that gracious offer, and were told there still was time to catch the club’s complimentary breakfast. Free “drinks and canapes” would available later in this cozy lounge.

        This is one reason why we will not forget the Auckland Hyatt’s hospitality and quiet generosity. This trip occurred one year ago.

        It was a contrast to my morning arrival at a Chicago hotel, where another registration clerk pleasantly decided my particular room wasn’t ready.

        “But for an extra $25, I can upgrade you to another that is,” he said. I declined, stashed my overnight bag and left to play tourist for 12 hours.

        Perhaps it was the lack of noticeable jetlag that made the difference.
But there was a second stark contrast in Auckland: Tipping is not a part of the culture. After dinner one night, we couldn’t help but quiz our hard-working waitress about what we had read. Is tipping customary, we asked.

        “No, it’s certainly not. It’s not expected at all” was her quick reply.
That makes me think about our classy but pricey Easter buffet one year ago, with my partner musing aloud about what to leave for a tip. The credit card paperwork came back for him to sign, and he filled in the tip line.

        Typically a sharp guy, conversation distracted him – and it wasn’t until much later that he realized a 17.5 percent tip automatically had been added to the tab. I’m an ex-waitress who knows the importance of tips – that’s how I paid my way through college – but I also can’t help but feel like we had a fast one pulled on us.

        Especially because this same resort, last summer, billed us for a boat ride that we didn’t take. We caught that during our check-out, noting that we didn’t take the ride because the hotel had canceled it.

        Yes, the fee was erased. It’s just that we haven’t forgotten it. 
        Last weekend, I was traveling alone and decided to order room service, but there was no menu in my room. So I walked to the hotel restaurant, asked for a menu and ordered a steak sandwich, listed as $6.95, plus soup for $3.95.

        When the order arrived, back in my room, the sandwich price had risen by $2, the soup by $1. (I had been given a luncheon menu, not a room service menu.) A service charge of $2.50 was automatic, plus the 17.5 percent gratuity. So the cost of dinner came close to doubling.

         —
“No request is too large, no detail too small” was a part of the Auckland Hyatt’s promise, when we visited. Sorry to sound like an advertisement for them, but we also were impressed when an Internet connection fee was sliced in half because my partner had difficulty using the equipment.

        “I just asked for help. I didn’t complain,” he said.
A few months later, in Quebec City, my guy and I spent a night at the Chateau Bonne Entente, Quebec City. Besides a great dinner and a stately property (again, at a great Internet rate), I will remember the staff’s above-and-beyond kindness.

        When inquiring about Internet access, I was told our room had the appropriate phone hook-up. When told that I did not have a computer to hook up, staff offered to bring one. For how much? Nothing.

        We also needed to return our rental car, and asked whether the hotel shuttle could bring us back. With apologies, we were told it was committed to other duties for a while. And then we were asked the name of the car rental agency with whom we did business.

        Staff got on the phone and asked the rental company to have someone drive us back to the hotel. If that wouldn’t have worked, the hotel offered to pay for cab fare, as shuttle service was then advertised as a part of its product.

        It all was quite different from the “not now” so “tough luck” attitude that sometimes minimizes this amenity at other busy hotels.

        I’d love to hear your own experiences about great, or terrible, customer service while traveling. Please drop a line.

         —
AAA reports that its travel bookings, during the week war began, were down about 24 percent.
“The Wisconsin projection for spring is encouraging,” AAA Wisconsin President Ted Gambill says. “Travelers are taking a wait-and-see approach right now, but as we get closer to Memorial Day, the prospect of stronger interest in travel is very good.”

        During a random survey of 400 Wisconsin residents, AAA Wisconsin found that 84 percent said either the war in Iraq or recent developments in the war on terrorism would affect their travel plans.