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January 2005 Vol. 20, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Prepaid Diving

what happens if you choose not to go?

from the January, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In the October Undercurrent, we reported on various dive operators policies when they have to cancel trips due to weather problems. Some cheerfully offer refunds or makegoods, others dont. While researching that article, we came across a similar range of policies when divers cancel for personal reasons of their own.

The Good . . .

Pacific Scuba in Puerto Vallarta has a really laid-back approach. We are a small company and I let it go when customers cancel or do not show up, claims manager Ray Dion. Not worth the ulcers to argue with the customers [just] to make few more dollars. Dion also recognizes the value of positive publicity. He says, It would hurt ... our business and reputation to read on the internet someones frustrations and have to defend ourselves. He concludes: When a bad word is out, it will hurt even if you would be in the right.

The Inn of Last Resort on Ratn in Honduras has a more liberal approach than its name might imply. They offer a 16- dive package, but if a prepaid guest misses some diving due to a medical problem, says Melissa Coutinho of The Inn, We will often offer them a refund of the dive portion of their package or a discount for their next trip. She adds, We are never rigid on our policies; we are here to make sure the guests are happy and want to come back year after year.

Similarly, Jim Andrews of Cayman Diving Lodge says, We always credit the divers package for legitimate medical issues where they cant go out.

The key word here is legitimate. Michelle Pugh, operator of St. Croixs Dive Experience, explains: Many tourists cancel their dives due to food poisoning which most of the time is too much rum.... And Nick Buckley of Grand Caymans Red Baron Divers chimes in: The only time we have a customer pay [for canceling] is when they do not show in the AM after a night out on the drink. (And that doesnt mean diving with another operator. By the way, Buckleys website (www.redbarondivers.com) reports that Grand Cayman reopened for tourism last November, following the devastation of Hurricane Ivan in September.)

Most operators we surveyed enforce advance-notice cancellation policies. Melinda Volkert of Provo Turtle Divers is one of the more liberal ones. If a diver cancels after 5 pm the day before diving then full charges do apply, she reports. Well occasionally get someone who wakes up, looks outside and decides they dont like the weather and cancels with little or no notice. Full charges do apply to them. On the other hand, says Volkert, If a person is sick or has a medical condition then we also give a full refund.

Aqua Adventures of Grand Cayman will not offer refunds unless cancellations are made at least 24 hours in advance. Nor will Casey Schirmer, owner/operator of Neptunes Divers on Grand Cayman, who explains that he needs some time to fill those spaces. Since he only takes a max of eight divers at a time, an unfilled spot represents a major chunk of lost income. Were generally pretty flexible if a diver is genuinely sick and calls the night before... cant expect a diver to dive ill, Schirmer emphasizes. On the other hand, he says, if they just call up and say that they feel like taking the day off from diving?... No go. They get charged.

Dive Rota on the island of the same name in the Northern Mariana Islands of Micronesia has a sliding-scale refund policy. For no-shows or cancellations less than 24 hours in advance, their cancellation charge is 100% of the prepaid charge; for cancellations received 24-48 hours in advance, the charge is 50% per day; cancellations more than 48 hours in advance receive a full refund. According to proprietor Mark Michael, when customers book by phone they must verbally agree to be financially responsible if they cancel inside our [48-hour] cancellation policy. Michael notes, Probably half the customers that no-show keep to their agreement with the policy. The other half come at us with what I would describe as righteous indignation and often use threats and verbal abuse over the phone to coerce us into not charging them.

Jacks Diving Locker on Kona charges full price for a prepaid diver or snorkeler who cancels within 24 hours notice most of the time. The notice period increases to 72 hours during peak seasons such as Christmas holidays. However, says owner and managing partner Teri Leicher, If we are able to rebook the spot, the diver or snorkeler will receive a full refund. If we cant rebook the spot, she adds, they are issued a standby voucher that can be used at a later time.

Live-aboards have additional problems with cancellations, since theyre providing accommodations as well as diving. Nautilus Explorer owner Mike Lever (who moves his boat from Vancouver to Cabo San Lucas in the winter) says his charter fees are nonrefundable unless we are able to resell the berth. In that case, Lever subtracts a 10% administration fee from the refund, to cover credit card charges and foreign exchange conversion. Operating in two areas with a lot of exposure to variable conditions, Lever highly recommends trip cancellation/ interruption insurance, adding we are happy to provide that service for our clients.

Reef Encounter & Compass Cruises of Cairns, Australia, demands 48-hour notice for cancellations or booking alterations. Less than 48 hours NO REFUND, says Sales & Marketing Manager Lyndell Ross. But he adds: Sometimes we will bend [this policy] if, for example, they are sick. According to Ross, There are people who think if it is blowing 20 knots ... they would like a refund if they cancel after the trip. We wish we could have wonderful weather every day of the year -- but unfortunately that is not the case and it still costs money to operate.

We and other operators run small, 18-passenger vessels, and dont have the ability to selfinsure as many larger resorts, airlines etc. are able to do, says Clay McCardell, proprietor of Explorer Ventures Ltd. which operates live-aboards in the Caribbean and Australia. In other words, he explains, we do not pad our package prices in order to be able to provide refunds or credits. Instead he urges his passengers to purchase travel insurance, not only to cover themselves for weatherrelated delays but also cancellations in the event of injury, illness, a death in the family, airline connection problems, and the like.

Sometimes, its the condition of the water not the diver that leads to a client cancellation. Subscriber Dawn Vigo (Chicago, IL) had a positive experience with Amoray Divers in the Florida Keys two years ago. Her prepaid package included 5 two-tank day boat trips, and 3 one-tank night dives. Half way through the week, Vigo recalls, we had a day in which conditions were very rough. The divemaster at Amoray gave us each an option of whether we wanted to go on the day trip and said that if we decided not to, we could pick up an extra boat trip later in the week, or get a refund. He seemed very concerned not to pressure any of us into diving in conditions we werent comfortable in. The night dive trip was canceled. I was able to make up the day trip the following day and received a refund for the missed night dive. I, of course, was not charged for that days rental gear. Adds Vigo: We all know how difficult it is to decide to stay on the dock when we want to dive, and I was very grateful that they took the money issue out of that decision-making process.

Reader Marj Griffing (St. Paul, MN) and her husband had a similar experience with Quiescence in Key Largo. They gave Quiescence a credit card number to hold the reservations for five days of diving, but when they arrived, Marj recalls, the weather was iffy with 3-5 foot seas. They said it was up to us whether to go out or not. We opted not to go out and they didnt charge us. Marj notes that the Quiescence staff was pleasant to us when we checked with them each morning. On the last day, they commented that it was more important to them that we were happy and safe than to collect a nonrefundable fee and have us angry and giving them bad word of mouth advertising. And, as proof of that approach, Marj says, We plan to go back to the Keys again this winter and will dive with Quiescence assuming the weather gods cooperate this time!

As in most aspects of dive travel, there are no industry standards governing customer cancellations. This installment covers only the good in terms of some of the most flexible dive operations and how they handle bad weather and customer cancellations. Next time, well focus on the bad and the ugly and what your options are in terms of avoiding paying for diving you dont receive.

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