Ned Nicely – a Tauranga Port ambassador – nice by name and nice by nature.
“I do what comes naturally. I make the cruise line passengers feel they have a friend ashore.”
Ned Nicely, meeter and greeter. “I am at the bottom of the gangway and this face may be the first or second visitors meet after the sniffer dogs have gone through looking for bananas.”
Perhaps all Port Ambassadors should be called Ned Nicely. “I know,” says Ned. “Some days it would be easier to wake up as Bob Bastard.” Ned's American, American-born. “I am totally pro-New Zealand, pro-tourism and pro-the South Pacific.” But the American was a bit surprised when they asked him to be Port Ambassador in Tauranga.
“Think about the alternative Ned,” they told him. “A guy in a black singlet, with his arms folded across his chest and telling visitors: ‘We won the Rugby World Cup, we shear sheep, we drink Speights, now what the hell do you want you bloody Aussie?'”
And that's where the ambassador thinks the tourism industry is falling short. Ned says we cannot greet people like that, we cannot treat people like that.
The ambassador says there's an idea a cruise ship rolls up, it tilts slightly towards port “all this gold falls out and we run for it like kids picking up pennies”.
“We have people in salaried positions looking at the cruise statistics thinking: ‘Aren't we doing a great job?' But they're hanging by a thread because the people doing the frontline work are untrained, aged 60-plus and volunteers.”
Ned says when he has lost his teeth, his eyesight and his hearing – “I am over 70” – where will they find new people to do his job. “On Facebook?”
“We can't take this frontline work for granted. If you are going to look at the industry long-term, we should be training people with the right attitude.
“And they have to pick up that attitude by seeing it at work and experiencing it.” And he suggests a national training centre for frontline cruise boat troops “so people who have travelled and understand are drawn into the industry”.
Ned says we are standing beside the cruise liners handing out maps and telling them to go to the main street of town. “It's unprofessional. And while we are doing enough things right for the time being, our visitors could just as easily go to Tahiti or Polynesia.”
After all, says Ned, they are bringing their money to us. “We aren't putting mutton, wool bales or logs on a ship and waiting for payment. They are bringing their money to us and we should be there with open arms to greet them, welcome them, make them feel special, and not just take their money off them.”
The ambassador says the visitors are looking for a friend when they arrive, someone they can ask questions of; where can I go or what can I do here?
“Then it's a ‘Hi, where are you from?'” The answer ‘Australia' doesn't cut it, tells you nothing. “Which state, which town. You have to look and sound interested.”
And Ned says that's what we need to be trained to do. “Not wearing a sash and saying: ‘There's a discount at Sally's hair salon or Jack's souvenir shop'. We don't want to harangue or harass visitors. We need to make them feel welcome and wanted.”
If the visitor comes from Perth, for example, we need to say: “My goodness, that's a long way, thanks for coming.” Because, says Ned, they will be feeling like just another Aussie and they should be made to feel special.
“They have come all this way. We should reward them and it has to be quick and meaningful.”
The former bellboy worked from the bottom floor almost to the top floor, and became the youngest assistant hotel manager in Waikiki. “I know the hotel industry and travel industry.” And he knows a bit about the airline industry. “I came to New Zealand with Pan American until they went bust. I thought why go back to America? I have no job and Richard Nixon's president.”
But this is about Ned Nicely and his contention we should be treating visitors better. “It seems we think these ships have been diverted here and we're standing out there handing out maps and telling them where the main street is – it's unprofessional at very best.”
He's not trying to play Bob Bastard. “I am not an assassin, I am not taking a pot shot. Our team of ambassadors is a great bunch, couldn't think more highly of them.”
“But there's not even a training programme for ambassadors. And that's indicative of the attitude and problem we have.”
On Wednesday at 7am Ned was aboard the Azamara Journey, a boutique guest cruise liner, schmoozing 690 visitors who were expected to pump $1.5m into the local economy in just one day. Worth treating them ‘nicely' and making them welcome.