Goodbye Goa? A tale of bad customer service

Having lately been on holiday, I want to relate my experience of returning: doing so as a guide to any individual, company or Government official involved in the tourism sector, as an example of how to lose business and influence people in all the wrong ways. I write this in the hope that some people may read it and weep, and just maybe think about ways of avoiding such bad practice in future…

Picture the scene. On February 15th 2015, 291 British holidaymakers sit in Goa airport in India, awaiting the arrival of their Thomson Airways Dreamliner to whisk them back to London Gatwick. Goa has been great for my group of 4 people who went for a no-frills ayurvedic retreat: but elsewhere there has been news in the Times of India of a British visitor petition about the mess everywhere and the poor state of the beaches. Locals have been bemoaning the absence of Russian and British tourists: the latter certainly hindered by the arcane and expensive rigmarole necessary in order to obtain a 6 month single entry visa every time you want to go and spend your money in India. In February 2014 it was announced that visas on entry would soon be introduced for the Brits, as has since been done for 48 other countries: but at the time of writing, the UK (India’s biggest potential tourist market) is still left in the ‘too difficult’ category.

There has been some morning fog in damp low-lying Goa, as is not unusual. The inbound fight gets within 8 minutes of landing at the new Goa airport. But the authorities, despite spending millions on a new terminal, have not invested in the blind landing equipment that is standard on any modern airport. So this and other planes are put into a holding pattern until the fog clears. But as his is the longest-flight aeroplane affected, and he only has so much fuel to burn, the Thomson pilot has no option but to pay safe and divert to Mumbai, 1 hour’s flight away. There he refuels and requests permission to fly to the now-sunny Goa.

Appalling treatment

At this point, petty bureaucracy and obstinacy seems to have taken hold. The pilot is refused permission. Now Goa is not a busy airport – I sat there for enough hours watching a few planes arrive and land. But according to Thomson staff the 291 poor benighted people on board were kept on board for an incredible 8 hours. Now that is truly inhumane. (If you don’t believe me, read the report from this person who was there). And it was totally unnecessary.

Of course the crew then ran out of hours and could no longer fly that day. You now have a scenario where a plane full of seriously fed up people have to be found hotel beds in a city where they don’t want to be. And my fellow would-be passengers who have homes and jobs to return to, now have to be spread out to all parts of Goa and reassembled the next day.

So on the 16th we had to do it all again: due no doubt to the hassle of collecting up people in Mumbai, the plane took until late afternoon to make the hop to Goa. At that point you have an outbound crew who then have to be put up for another night and shipped back on another airline (they only fly the charter weekly). Our crew finally made their appearance (they were not allowed to come and talk to us the day before and explain what was happening – they didn’t have the right permissions to be allowed to come airside…).

Even then, the curse of customer avoidance struck. Having got through the multi-stage rigmarole that is check-in at Goa, we arrived at Security to find that because we were on a 15th February flight’s boarding pass but had a 16th February exit stamp, it was more than their jobs were worth to allow us through. A logjam formed for another 20 minutes or so before someone with more medals than the others decided we were safe to be allowed to leave the country.

And once finally on board, the captain told us we were 4th in line to take off. We were obviously not in favour with the authorities (we had already gained that impression) because we were relegated to 6th. In the end we spent a crucial hour waiting to take off, which ensured that on arrival at Gatwick passengers had missed any flight connections and the last tubes in London.

So what do I suggest that you all learn from this tale of woe?

You surely know the adage (backed up by research) that people tell 4-6 others about good customer experience and 9-15 about bad things. Moreover, 86% of customers will not buy again from that supplier.

So we have two planes’ full, 588 people, of which 506 probably will never visit Goa again. Up to 8,820 people will hear from us about the bad experiences (add my readers to that number) and a significant number of those hearers will pass the word on. If we assume conservatively that the local purchasing of those 506+ 8820 people when in Goa is worth at least £1000 over 2 weeks, then the Indian tourist industry just dropped more than £9.3 million of revenue from the unthinking bureaucratic actions of a few officials.

It gets worse. Thomsons have lost so much money on that weekend’s catastrophe that they must seriously ask themselves if it worth the candle. To quote one TripAdvisor correspondent: “This is another sad tale which goes to show why the charter airlines are curtailing their activities to Goa. They don’t need the hassle, and have diverted their resources elsewhere.” Monarch is the only other carrier flying direct to Goa and they are pulling out of long haul next year, thus nearly halving the mainstream UK-Goa tourist market because only a minority will want to take indirect flights. If Thomson’s German parent Tui runs the numbers, it may be forgiven for following suit.

I urge not just the Indian authorities but anyone involved anywhere in customer service to adopt these strategies:

  1. Empower your staff: let them find solutions when things go wrong
  2. Adopt a ‘no blame’ culture: people will not take initiatives if they are frightened of repercussions
  3. Dismantle old-fashioned bureaucracy and the reliance on paperwork and rubber stamps
  4. Invest in capital equipment (like the right landing technology) to compete effectively in your marketplace
  5. When there is bad news, tell it like it is: don’t hide away

India and the Indians are lovely: but they are making very hard weather of selling themselves, in a fiercely competitive market. Anyone seeking sun, sea and sand is going to find them at much less cost and hassle in the Med. Let’s hope the message will get through and something will be done before it’s ‘goodbye Goa’…