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August 2007    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 22, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Is the Travel Info You Need Online?

some dive resorts don’t list all your costs on their Web sites

from the August, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The Internet is a great place for finding information about dive resorts, but you need to dig for the details. Even though remote resorts have Web sites promoting their services, not all have full and accurate information, especially about extra fees and charges. And even if you’re booking through a travel agency, don’t expect it to have all the details, especially if the resort is a small, obscure place it has never worked with. More than ever, it’s up to you to get the answers.

Case in point: Undercurrent reader Don Beukers (San Jose, CA) booked his last dive trip through Reef & Rainforest dive travel agency for what he thought would be a pretty inclusive week at the Matana Beach Resort on Kadavu. He got a shock at checkout time. “I had paid for five days of diving, but it turned out I had only paid for five two-tank dives and was charged US$660 for the additional dives.” A waterfall trip he thought was inclusive was $40 per person, plus tax. “A bar bill for a bottle of wine, beers and a couple of margaritas added an additional US$430.” As at most resorts, there was no market nearby to buy beer or wine. “I wish that all the information was upfront to eliminate the surprise.”

Matana Resort’s director Cameron Forster puts the blame on Reef & Rainforest, saying it’s clearly stated that dive packages are sold in lots of two tanks per day. “Our agents usually tell guests they can pay for any extra diving when they are at the resort.” For the special Manta Excursion, guests are told they can swap two of their prepaid days or pay $280 Fijian for the full-day excursion. “Dive forms are given to all divers on arrival with diving costs described, which must be signed and returned before diving starts,” says Forster. He also says agents should tell guests they’ll need to pay for drinks, which is why both bars have a price list placed on every countertop. “We did everything to state these costs upfront. Travel agents should understand we’re a dive resort on a remote island and advise their clients accordingly.”

Not so fast, says Beukers. Matana didn’t make those charges clear enough to him while he was there. “Reef & Rainforest gave us a good explanation of the costs involved, however, I don’t think they knew of the ‘extras’ and as such, did not advise us of them. I don’t like the way Matana led us into situations where ‘extras’ are needed without a full explanation.”

Reef & Rainforest’s Jenny Collister, who booked Beukers’ trip, says Matana did not provide her with all the details. She had told Beukers about the two-tank days but did not know about the dive trips costing extra. “We give clients the information we are given, and we also give them the resort’s Web site address to get more details.”

However, Matana does not give many details on its Web site. Its “Rates” page is sparse, listing prices only for twotank morning excursions but not stating how much extra dives cost. A separate page for the “Manta Encounter” gives a brief description of the three-tank, all-day dive but no price. The Fact Sheet page is “coming soon.” That’s the same information Collister had on hand when she booked Matana. She says Reef & Rainforest doesn’t recommend Matana to divers that much, mostly because it is miles away from the popular Astrolab Reef – probably why they charge extra to dive it. “If they don’t list the extras on the Web site, then we can’t be aware of them.”

According to Colleen Gleason, owner of dive travel agency Sand Dollar Tours in Fort Collins, CO, 90 percent of dive resorts don’t list extra charges on their Web sites. “The more they are off the beaten path, the less information they list.”

Undercurrent did a random search of dive resorts around the Internet and found a mixed bag. Some resorts are very detailed. Buddy Dive Resort in Bonaire plasters prices all over its Web site (www.buddydive.com) for dive packages, gear rental, room rates, breakfasts and a la carte diving. Even though it’s remote, Sorido Bay Resort in Raja Ampat is very clear on its Web site (www.iriandiving.com), with its “Rates” page listing what is included in a package, what costs extra and the prices for both. Some well-known resorts’ Web sites are surprisingly obscure about some or all of their costs. Ramon’s Village on San Pedro Island, Belize, doesn’t list prices for anything. Turneffe Island Lodge, also in Belize, does a good job of breaking down the rates for various multi-night packages during high, low and mid-season, but it doesn’t describe what is and isn’t included in its Fishing, Diving, Beachcomber and Combo packages. It offers no prices for gear rentals or a la carte diving. They mention trips to the Blue Hole, but it’s doubtful that is one of the five included dives in a three-night package.

Chances are the “Rates” page you see is the same one travel agents look at before sending clients on trips there. “Some resorts we deal with all the time so they send us all the information, but for other sites, we either find it out from their Web sites or just from client feedback,” says Collister.

Lesson learned: It’s up to you to take responsibility for getting the information. You can’t rely on your travel agent to do all the work anymore. Agencies’ commissions are now under 10 percent of a trip’s total, so at best they gross $300 from your $3,000 Fiji trip. That will probably get you an hour’s worth of a travel agent’s time, so don’t expect them to handle a lot of detailed requests. And if you’re not book- ing your airfare through an agency, which provides much of the commission, it won’t pull out the extra stops for you. If it doesn’t know the resort well, it probably can’t anyway. “We can’t spend hours digging around on the Web site to search for the extras,” Collister says. “It’s up to the resort to let us know extra charges so we can tell clients and put it on their vouchers. That, or put it on their Web sites so it is very clear.”

In the Internet age, even dive resorts should know that they need to be more transparent with their pricing. However, there may still be some cost-related issues that you will only discover once you get there -- like how many divers going to Saba don’t know that its marine park fee is charged per dive instead of per day. If you want a good deal on a dive resort, book through a travel agency specializing in dive travel packages – Undercurrent gives a list of good ones in the annual Chapbook. If you want to travel easy without any price shockers, pick resorts well represented by these agencies so that you can get the lowdown on all extra costs (such as the fact that Roatan’s Fantasy Island Resort “free drinks” only covers coffee and tea but not juice, soft drinks or alcohol).

If you do want to try a new resort, the good news is you have a direct line even to the most remote one. Send an e-mail asking for what’s included in a package, what is not, and how much those extras cost. Resorts probably aren’t withholding information intentionally, they may just not realize their Web pages lack details. In your e-mail, include a request for them to list all their rates and extra charges on their website. You’ll be helping them become more professional, and you’ll be doing a big favor for other divers planning their next trip.

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