The perils of a good rorting

Greed is never a good look. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the Gordon Gekko view of life. But there is, I’ll concede, a very fine line between greed and – what shall we call it? – ‘maximising revenue’.

This is a tricky area for PR people. You don’t need a doctorate in anything to know that gouging your customers is unlikely to result in deep and meaningful relationships of the desired kind. But we stand in the way of ‘revenue maximisation’ at our peril. After all, who wants to be forever tagged as the loser who wanted to dilute shareholder value? Or the naive do-gooder who thought we should voluntarily [gasp!] soften the bottom line?

Pricing, then, is just another minefield where the short-term, financial interests of the organisation and its shareholders often collide spectacularly with the longer-term, relationship-based interests of the professional communicator.

Fortunately there are a good number of Chairmen, CEOs, CFOs and marketing directors out there who know how to tread the line. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of them. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with the other kind so I’m also well versed in how to walk the tightrope of corporate expediency.

Which qualifies me to ask: is indulging in a spot of ‘Sodomise the Punter’ during the six-and-a-bit weeks of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, when the nation is on show to the world, really the smartest thing to do for the collective good and the long-term health of Brand New Zealand?

If we’re prepared to sit here happily on our little volcanic outcrop, basking in the belief that people won’t notice or won’t mind, then we’re sadly delusional and heading for a big fall.

Back in July, British rugby correspondent Peter Bills sounded a note of warning when he wrote a piece headlined ‘NZ: 100 per cent Pure rip-off’. Predictably, the brickbats flew as many Kiwis leapt to the defence of their nation’s honour. Still others – presumably the more travelled sort – agreed whole-heartedly with his thesis. Just four days later Bills was moved to pen another piece defending his argument and answering his critics.

And there it all rested. Until yesterday. When Milford Asset Management’s Brian Gaynor, speaking during his weekly slot on NZI Business, let slip something quite revealing. He told us that SkyCity chief exec Nigel Morrison had said in an unscripted moment that “we have no qualms – we’re going to dramatically increase our prices during the World Cup.”

Gaynor went on to say that Morrison’s point of view “seems to be that people coming to New Zealand for the World Cup will expect higher prices.”

Now I wasn’t there, so this is second-hand stuff. And I have no idea what SkyCity’s plans are or by how much they intend to shovel up their prices.  But it’s the word ‘dramatically’ that worries me.

I’m not so sure that people coming to New Zealand for the World Cup will expect higher prices. Actually, I’m nigh-on convinced that your Everyday Joes from Cape Town, Little Rock, Tipperary, Moreton-in-the-Marsh, Edmonton or Genoa are going to be mightily peeved when they find that, having already dug deep for air-fares to the fringe of the planet, they’re being gouged still further for the privilege of being here.

I have no doubt that Mr Morrison, like anyone else, resents being ripped off. It doesn’t matter by how much or by whom. It’s the principle of the thing. And if we’re prepared to sit here happily on our little volcanic outcrop, basking in the belief that people won’t notice or won’t mind, then we’re sadly delusional and heading for a big fall.

Just last night the PM was on the box, warning that a 55 percent increase in the UK airport departure tax had the potential to hit New Zealand tourism hard. I wonder how he feels about the pillars of our own economy using an international showcase event to rort our guests. What’s the potential there?

Interestingly, Gaynor’s revelation followed an interview on the same programme with iStopOver’s COO Anthony Lipschitz, who told us that exorbitantly-priced World Cup accommodation listings were being shunned by his customers.

Hopefully all rip-off merchants will experience the same problem. My fear, however, is that the peak in demand during those few short weeks will mean that many people will just have to put up with being shafted royally by avaricious little jerks, from all and any parts of the economy, who will simply shrug their shoulders philosophically and talk smugly of ‘supply and demand economics’.

The tragedy is that these are the creeps who, all the while, will be proclaiming to the world New Zealand’s outstanding level of hospitality.

It’s an impression our visitors will take home with them.

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