US giant ‘uninterested’ in Cook Islands

​Global brand giant American Express has been accused of being ‘uninterested and unprofessional’ by Pacific Resort Hotel Group chief executive Greg Stanaway after the major credit card and travel services company ceased services to the Cook Islands at sho

PRHG chief executive Greg Stanaway estimates in the short time the company has been unable to accept AMEX cards, about 30 AMEX clients staying at Aitutaki and Rarotonga resorts have been inconvenienced. 

“It has put a good deal of unnecessary pressure on our guest relations staff. This may not be important to AMEX but we focus on absolute guest satisfaction.”

The AMEX franchise was previously operated by Westpac. Following the change from Westpac to Bank of the South Pacific (BSP) in Rarotonga, American Express has yet to indicate whether it intends to hand an AMEX franchise to either BSP or ANZ.

Stanaway says they were first given indication what was about to happen to the AMEX franchise by Westpac about 10 days before the handover – “and then like the rest of the business community it was formally announced in writing on July 10.”

Both BSP and Westpac have been lobbying for some time to have the AMEX processing franchise passed to BSP.

Local BSP general manager David Street says part of the process of the bank purchasing the operations of Westpac was for American Express to transfer the card acquiring services from Westpac to BSP.

“Despite both banks actively pursuing this change with Amex in the months leading up to the purchase, Amex is yet to complete the process.”

 Street sees the problem as a “…temporary discontinuance of card-acquiring services.”

“We understand the frustration that it’s causing local merchants in the Cook Islands, and BSP shares that frustration.  We don’t believe that it is disinterest on the part of American Express, but their processes are certainly proving to be lengthy.”

Stanaway personally thinks American Express isn’t interested in looking after their cardholders in this country. 

“From a business perspective I have just returned from Aitutaki and there were five clients staying at the Pacific Resort Aitutaki who over the last four days wished to settle their accounts with their AMEX card.”

Stanaway says they had to tell clients PRHG hadn’t been given the ability to transact AMEX cards and neither had the global giant provided an alternative solution as a result of the sale of Westpac to BSP.

“Surely both of the two larger banks here, BSP and ANZ, have the ability and reputation to be able to effectively meet AMEX’s criteria. 

“You would think that AMEX would have made some temporary arrangements to see their customers and merchants looked after until a permanent solution was established.”

 Stanaway believes AMEX had a duty to ensure there was a smooth transition and make the franchise available to another operator.

He said it reeks of disinterest in the Cook Islands and potentially the South Pacific as a whole.

“Sure we are a small contributor to their revenue, but for them to have forsaken their clients who wanted to visit a small country is grossly unfair. It sends a really bad message about them.” 

Until the card acquiring service is restored, BSP’s David Street says it will impact local businesses where customers do not have an alternative card for service payment. He gave the reassurance that BSP will continue efforts to have the card acquiring restored as soon as possible and keep merchants informed of developments.