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April 2005 Vol. 31, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Diving Gratuities: Part II

— when and how we tip

from the April, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

On one trip to Africa several years ago, I booked through the now-defunct Tropical Adventures, with owner Bob Goddess leading the tour through several countries. Before departing, all divers on the trip were asked to prepay several hundred dollars out of which Bob would disburse tips for the entire group. I was not thrilled to write another check. However, as I watched Bob dole out bribes at borders, coins to train porters, dollars to the divemasters and Land Rover drivers, and on and on, I realized what a pleasure it was not to have to deal with gratuities, period. Whether we like it or not, tipping is a social custom that has evolved over time, and we have to deal with it one way or another.

Last issue, we covered readers’ thoughts on how much we should tip. This issue, we look at whom, how, and when we should tip.

Everybody Into The Pool?

Asked whether they preferred to contribute to a tip pool or to tip individual staffers, subscribers’ opinions were split pretty evenly. “I don’t mind if the operation distributes the tip to all members of the crew,” said one respondent. “It’s probably the only way some of the ‘hidden’ staff gets financial recognition.” Another added: “The liveaboards I have been on suggest a pool of tips to be shared with the entire crew. I certainly support this as there are people who have served me but probably not directly — the cook, the engineer, others. Then I specifically tip those who helped me, such as a divemaster, the deck crew that handle my equipment, etc. I usually provide a supplemental tip of $20-$50 to these folks, depending on what they did.” One pool tipper added, “I am also quite vocal about people who do not do their job or perform it badly. Whether or not that affects their tips is up to the employer.”

“I tip DAILY . . . If I am going to get the bang for my
buck, I think this works out a heck of a lot better. “

Others prefer to mete out instant gratification, such as Jack Kelly (Bloomfield Hills, MI) who said, “I tip DAILY – not at the end of the trip. If I am going to get the bang for my buck, I think this works out a heck of a lot better. Maybe I’m ‘buying’ good service, but why not?” Others suggest giving half the tip in advance to let the staff know you are a good tipper, then tipping again if good service is provided.

Statistically, 41% tip the resort or boat operator, while39% tip the staff directly if allowed. The remaining 20% have used either or both methods, sometimes contributing to the pot while recognizing superior service or extra help from certain individuals. One way to do this is with gifts in lieu of cash. As Elissa Mayo (Dana Point, CA) put it: “I almost always give away most of my clothing, some of my dive gear and my medical kit, toiletries, and school supplies to the crew. The places we travel are usually remote, so I’ve found that these more ‘personal’ giftsare appreciated… School supplies and clothing are extremely expensive if they are available at all. I wrap my camera gear in new cloth baby diapers and usually give these away, too. Sometimes I find out ahead of time if there are small ‘parts’ that the dive operation needs such as camera O-rings, rechargeable batteries, boat parts, etc. These are easy to carry in a suitcase and are used as gifts for the staff.”

Marc R. Duggan (San Diego, CA) agreed: “We also tip with dive equipment (i.e., DMs who have said ‘nice dive light’ or ‘nice Pelican case.’ We like to surprise our guides by handing them equipment at the end of a trip (plus it’s less that we have to carry back with us). That way, it leaves a little memory behind to someone who usually can’t find the same equipment where they’re located or who would have to pay an arm and a leg for it on some remote island. Dive gear is a little more personal and enhances the diving experience for someone who gave their time to enhance ours.” And one underwater photographer leaves his unused UW 35mm film with dive guides who’ve been helpful finding critters.

Who Gets the Tip?

“On at least one occasion,” Dave Bader (Burke, VA) reported, “I’ve been told by reliable divemasters that tips given to the owner/captain are not always distributed to the staff or crew. That’s why I prefer to give the money directly to the crew.” Another said, “If I know that the management or owner takes a cut, we directly and discretely tip individuals who have been helpful as well as we can and leave much less in the overall kitty. I think a manager or owner who takes a cut is reprehensible and certainly is one with whom I will never do business again.” Some respondents reported the “growing practice” of dive operators taking a percentage of the tips intended for the actual dive staff and crew.

Paul Prentice (Seattle, WA) said, “Our group discusses the tipping procedure with the crew early in the trip. That way we’re not surprised on that last busy day of departure that we should have handed it to the captain the day before or leave it in a box in the dive shop that’s now closed for the weekend. It also lets the crew know that we understand the tip is an important thing for them and hopefully the service improves accordingly.”

A disturbing trend also reported by Elissa Mayo is “that ‘native’ divemasters and crew are often treated differently from their English, Australian, etc., counterparts. If we figure this out during the trip, we will tip the native crew separately to ensure that they receive their fair share, or name each individual and their tip on the thank you card.”

Cash Is King

“I tip very well for excellent service ($5/person/dive),” says subscriber Fran Macintyre (Albuquerque, NM). “I calculate my tipping amount before ever leaving home, then set aside the money so I don’t inadvertently spend it. It is never an afterthought. I think it’s important for divers to realize that the people who are taking care of them, who are working hard to make their vacation a success, usually get paid very little by the resort. I make it a point to find out from one of my divemasters how much salary they receive and how the tipping process works at the resort.” Says Pat Aderman (Naperville, IL): “I always carry enough U.S. cash for tips rather than putting them on a credit card with other charges and fees. Dive staff really appreciate this as credit card fees are high in remote areas and employers often are slow in paying it.”

But other divers hesitate to carry lots of cash and seek out operations that let them tip by credit card or include gratuities in the package price.

And Quality of Service?

Several subscribers said they tip more for outstanding service. Ron and Dawn Steedman (Cape Coral, FL) said, “We expect good service and do add something extra for someone going beyond good -- determined by what it may be. For example, let us get out and snorkel with dolphins: extra $10 - $20.” Mike Fitzgerald (Bethany, IL) added, “If the chef goes out of his/her way to oblige special requests, at least $20 for the week. I do the same if my glass is never empty and the dirty plates are gone when I get back with another helping ($20 at the beginning of the week usually guarantees this.)”

Those requiring or demanding special attention often reward staff accordingly. Vicki Huffman and Al Knight (Montello, WI) report: “We have seen others who required EXTRA help (panga entry, etc.) give an extra amount to the individual who provided the EXTRA service.” Said Mary B. Feltz (Ridgefield, WA), who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, “I tip those who are friendly, helpful, and who make my life easier. In Mabul I tipped the driver-helper more than the divemaster. He gave me special help with lifting and carrying my gear back and forth. I think he died and went to heaven when he looked at the tip. I might give extra to a helpful maid, desk person, a particularly great critter finder or waitress. Being nice to me pays off.”

On the other hand, when service is less than excellent, tips fall off drastically . . . as they should. “Frankly speaking,” reader Andrew Gray confided, “after having saved up for a couple of years to do a trip, I really do not see why I should feel obliged to tip for mediocre or poor service.” Some 40% said they tip $5-$10 a day for mediocre service, with 15% forking over $10 to $20. A resounding 74% said they would give nothing for poor service, although many commented that they’ve never experienced it. One subscriber wrote: “I read Undercurrent and the Chapbook, so I haven’t had mediocre or poor service in a long time!” Donald Rowe (Glendora, CA) hypothesized, “If I did have service that bad, I would probably tip nothing to make the point rather than tip a little and leave the possible impression that I was merely cheap.”

Don’t Like It, Not Going To Do It

Some folks are philosophically opposed to tipping, such as Deborah Lyon, who said, “I feel strongly that the dive operators, of all people in the service industry, ought to wake up to the fact that tipping is inconvenient (which bag did I put that $5 in???) and uncomfortable and should simply pay their divemasters and boat crew appropriately. I’d jump all over a dive operation that advertised no tipping and yet provided good service.”

Reader Carl Anderson added: “It seems to me that a person has already paid a considerable amount to stay at a dive resort. And the dive staff and resort staff have accepted their job and pay salary. So if the workers feel they need tips to give you better service, well, they need to find a better job.” One respondent put it even more tersely: “Tipping is a bad practice. If I don’t get adequate service, then I use another operator.”

Nonetheless, American tipping practices have changed the diving service industry everywhere, and tipping is now part of the game, like it or not. Deborah Telesmanic (Potter Valley, CA), sums it up well. “Dive staff are like all other service providers -- they deserve to be rewarded for doing their job well. The better service they provide and the more enjoyable they make the trip, the more they deserve to make. Poor service should not be rewarded.”

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