Bula mate and that’ll be $11 for your Heineken

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It started with a knock on the door from the cops. 

I’m talking about my recent holiday. 

A day after arriving in Auckland, I’d retired early to my budget hotel after a session in the familiar surroundings of the Queen City’s Botswana Butchery bar. 

Maybe because I’d been warned earlier by an elderly cabbie – unusually, an English-speaking one – about late-night violence in the Auckland CBD, I didn’t answer the knock. 

In the lift the next morning, a fellow traveller told me the cops had been looking for witnesses to someone who’d fallen off the 16th floor. 

After first grabbing a coffee, I texted the ‘scoop’ to a former Mountain Scene colleague who’d ended up at the Herald on Sunday. 

Next day, I found the paper had splashed a story on someone surviving a 12-storey fall from the All Seasons hotel on their front page. 

So after starting my holiday moonlighting for another paper (some people just can’t let go), I flew off to Fiji. 

Forgetting that country’s still a dictatorship, I entered ‘journalist’ as my occupation on the immigration card – on recent trips to China, I’d called myself an ‘office worker’. 

Fortunately, the Fiji police never knocked on my door and I enjoyed a very pleasant time in Commodore Bainimarama’s republic. 

Considering Fiji’s supposedly a Third World country, I’m always amazed its tourist hotels never seem to discount their rates – unless it’s just after a coup. 

Hell’s teeth, it’s $NZ11 for a Heineken at the Hilton. 

Considering Fiji’s hospo workers earn even less than Queenstown’s, hotel owners over there must be coining it. 

With Fiji increasing its range of adventure activities, it made me think this country could be directly competing with us for the tourist dollar. 

Certainly, thanks to the exchange rate and perhaps its climate, Fiji does appear to be crawling with people from one of our main visitor sources – Australia. And they’re pretty sober ones, at that. However, there’s plenty of differences. 

In terms of the friendliness of the workers – “Bula!” – and their immaculate dress standards, they’ve got us beat. 

Perhaps this stems from the simple reason that Fijian businesses almost exclusively employ their own nationals. Their hotels, bars, restaurants and shops aren’t manned by transient foreigners, many who are on working holidays just trying to earn a meal ticket to their next destination. 

How often do visitors to Queenstown come and go without stumbling across a Kiwi? It’s much different in Fiji – starting with some musos strumming guitars in the airport terminal after you alight in Nadi. 

You’re also serenaded by Fijian singers while you dine in your hotel restaurant – even if songs like I Can See Clearly Now sometimes strike an odd chord. 

Interestingly, modern tourism in both Fiji and Queenstown dates from the 1960s. 

In the intervening years, however, both have travelled on very different trajectories. 

Fiji’s thriving tourism industry is predominantly staffed by locals who take immense pride in what they do – and it goes a long way. 

On the other hand, whilst the spirit of adventurous Kiwis like AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch has fuelled the thrill-seeking side of the tourism industry here, our workforce on the whole is a much more cosmopolitan bunch. 

There’s nothing wrong with that but sometimes it shows in a distinct casualness when it comes to service standards – and it’s something Queenstown needs to stay aware of. 

Oh, and did I mention that their taxis are much cheaper than ours.