Who’d be a hospitality worker in Cornwall? Or Devon? Or Dorset? It’s almost as if the tin mines in the first of those counties were reopened, except this time with workers asked to dig in the darkest pits of the human psyche.
Reports of horrible treatment on the part of customers; of impatient, entitled, English alligators unleashing volleys of abuse at harried serving staff trying to cope with a surge of business in the midst of a government-created labour shortage, have become commonplace. Some have been reduced to tears. Being on the receiving end of abusive behaviour day in, day out has led to mental health problems. Some have simply quit, compounding the shortages. Who can blame them? It’s not as if waiting tables or standing behind a bar is particularly well paid.
“Be kind,” a number of their employers have urged, fearing the impact of losing any more of their workers when they know they won’t easily find replacements. I’m not sure I like that phrase. Behind it can sometimes be found a toxic seam of passive aggression. Organisations in both the public and private sectors that genuinely care little for customer service have taken to donning it as a coat of armour to cover their failings.
But in this case, I think the plea is well made because while holidaymakers might have had to wait a little longer for their plates of freshly caught scallops, it’s not the fault of their servers. Staff don’t deserve to be treated like football referees when they award dodgy penalties to the away side.
That said, there may be a reason why some holidaymakers who’d normally act with a little more decorum seem to have just lost it. They aren’t all the sort of fetid swamp creatures who’d flip off the lifeguard that saved them from drowning for not offering them a cream tea afterwards.
My family, like many others, looked to domestic tourism in the wake of the pandemic this year, specifically Dorset because of the Jurassic Coast and all that. We rapidly realised that if some of Cornwall’s accommodation providers think they’re in Monaco, those in Dorset must be thinking, I don’t know, at least Cannes?
The price gouging we came across wasn’t in the same league as the bloke who was quoted £71,000 for a week in Cornwall. But it was still ugly. We were, for example, offered a self-catering week in a fairly modest holiday cottage for £4,000, which is clearly a five-star price. I know that because I turned to the internet to see if I could do a week in London, which regularly features in those top-10 lists of the world’s priciest cities, for the four of us next year in a five-star hotel. And I could. In fact, I found I could book the week for quite a bit less, depending on the hotel and location in the capital.
If you pay a five-star price, you expect five-star service. You expect pampering, freshly made beds with mints on the pillows, a free fitness centre, maybe a pool and a fancy TV with a choice of movies, all surrounded by the sort of places offering much the same treatment.
What we were being offered was a fairly ordinary holiday cottage with none of that. Nice enough, sure, but hardly worth a place in the luxury-price bracket. Combined with overstretched local amenities, and compared to what people may have experienced at overseas destinations for a fraction of the price – well, you do the maths.
The shabby treatment that harried, put upon staff have endured is, at least in part, a result of the naked greed of accommodation providers and the sense of entitlement their prices have fostered among the clients who’ve lined their pockets.
That is not to excuse some for the behaviour that’s been witnessed. Far from it. Service staff have no influence over prices, or the labour shortages bedevilling the UK. They’ve simply found themselves at the sharp end of the sour taste these factors leave. It’s a sour taste that could ultimately hurt this country’s domestic tourism industry (and hit those workers again by threatening their jobs). It’s simply unconscionable.
As for my family, we headed up north where we found high-quality accommodation available for less than a fifth of that ridiculous price. The experience was a good one, so, naturally, we’ll be back, to the region’s benefit and our own.
We missed out on seeing an albatross that had wandered off course and lured a small army of bird watchers with absurdly long-lensed cameras, binoculars, monoculars and other pricey pieces of kit to a coastal nature reserve, but if the price is right, you don’t worry about stuff like that. You can easily see a self-created example of one of those birds around parts of the industry’s neck.
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