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February 2009    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 24, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Thumbs Down: Gamboa Tours, Panama

from the February, 2009 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The experience of Edwin Granite (Chaddsford, PA) with this tour operator in Panama City illustrates why serious divers should never book their trips through a tourist desk. Agents working on commissions booking trips with less-than-first-rate dive operations mean divers can end up paying far more than if they booked directly.

While at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort for Christmas, Granite made plans with Raiza, Gamboa Tours desk agent there, to do a days diving with ScubaPanama at Drakes Island and Buenavista Reef. It was with the understanding that I would pay $308 for diving, anticipating that I might be the only diver and required to pay for the entire boat. However, I had emailed ScubaPanama prior to arriving and if there were other divers, I would pay the standard rate of $120 for one diver. Transportation, food and diving were to be provided by ScubaPanama, not Gamboa Tours.

There were eight other divers on Granites trip. Two of them were also staying at the resort, and Granite found out later they paid $308 too, but for both of them total. When he went to Raiza for a refund, she said the fee would remain $308, then she put it on his hotel bill. To my dismay, Raiza explained that if I had arranged the diving with a simple phone call directly to ScubaPanama or had the hotel concierge arrange the diving instead of booking with Gamboa Tours, I would have been charged by ScubaPanama for the one-diver rate without any additional charges.

Granite wrote a letter to Gamboa Tours owner Gary DeLeon protesting the charge. In return, he got a measly $44 credit on his Visa. The reason I booked with Gamboa Tours is that usually when a tour operator books the arrangements for me, there may be an additional fee but the booking efficiency is better. The lesson I learned here is that booking directly with the dive operation is better, and exclude an intermediary tour operator whenever possible.

Thumbs Down: Gamboa Tours, PanamaHes right in that tour operators can book trips efficiently in out-of-the-way locations, but Gamboa Tours charged the most expensive one-day, land-based dive weve ever heard of and, to rub it in, the diving was far from great. By now, first-rate dive operations worldwide should have Web sites with specifics about their trips and rates, and they should be able to answer questions and make trip confirmations by phone or e-mail.

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