They were enmeshed in an internet review row that was about to blow up into something emuch bigger in the international media.
The glorious balmy weather showed off the setting of their lovely home to best possible effect. Seven nieces and nephews were playing down on the edge of Avana Harbour; Susanna and Robert were hard at work tidying and cleaning their guest house for the next lot of tourists.
Susanna had her hands covered with coffee grinds she was scrubbing out; Robert had his shirt off, cleaning the pool. Robert, softly-spoken, showed me inside the guest house they were obviously so proud of.
It was Susanna’s email to some New Zealand tourists, describing them as “the dirtiest guests in all times”, that so infuriated the guests that they wrote to TripAdvisor and Cook Islands News.
Meeting Susanna, even briefly, gave me some understanding of why she would write to someone in such terms. She cares about the property; she clearly works hard to ensure it earns all its awards and its 9.5/10 review rating on TripAdvisor.
It’s not just their business – it’s also their own family home, and perhaps that means that Susanna doesn’t have the distance and detachment that helps in dealing calmly with unhappy customers.
But one thing I’ve slowly learned over the years, working with customers and members of the wider public, is to bite my tongue. Because often, when someone complains about how you’ve dealt with them, the first instinct is to respond angrily – and that is always the worst response.
I’m sure Susanna, too, has now learnt the same painful lesson.
Any accommodation operator in these islands will explain that they build deep-cleaning, repairs and maintenance into their annual budgets – those costs need to be worked into guests’ upfront charges, not tacked on as an angry after-thought.
And you can’t publicly call your customers “dirty”. You can’t call them “drunk”. You can’t accuse them of failing to look after their 3-year-old child or being motivated by “revenge”. You can’t call them “liars”.
And even if that’s just your attitude in private, you may need to ask yourself whether tourism and hospitality is the right business for you.