True story: A couple has a great time on a liveaboard trip due mainly to the considerate and knowledgeable guidance of the cruise director. The couple wants to remain in contact with the cruise director so they exchange email addresses. After finishing his contract, the cruise director decides to begin his own travel program. He sends out a trip announcement for a trip on another liveaboard (same country), and the couple that knew him from the original liveaboard joins this trip. They have a fantastic trip. But the ex-cruise director just made two enemies: his former employers and the original booking agent, who both who accuse him of “stealing” their clients.
Times are hard everywhere. It’s an especially tough market for dive travel when disposable income for things like vacations is not flowing like it did back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This is a niche market with small profit margins and an even smaller population of divers worldwide who can afford the higher end dive trips.
There is a lot of competition for clients, and it’s getting a bit ugly. People like that former cruise director and even people like Burt and I wear a few different hats just to make ends meet. So the other day, when a friend called and asked us to work as a guide for a private client who had chartered a local liveaboard and was bringing a group of friends to Indonesia, we were delighted. That is until the owner of the boat said he didn’t want us there. He was afraid we’d steal his clients.
Taken aback we declined the offer, but since this idea of “stealing” a client that “belonged” to someone else had cropped up again it made me wonder how someone who goes on a dive trip belonged to the agent who booked him on the trip or even to the person who owned the dive operation? What about all the different places someone has dived? What about the probable multiple dive travel agents that he has dealt with? Did they each own a piece of him? Hell, what about freedom of choice?
We often team up with other people to teach photography courses during their trips, and we occasionally guide private clients. We do not actively solicit email addresses while working with someone else. If we happen to be on a boat or at a resort that we have been invited to without our own group, or when we are working with other trip leaders we will direct people to our web site if asked about our own travel programs.
I wonder if you, the diving public, are aware of what goes on behind the scenes in this very competitive market. Do you feel wedded to the agent who booked your trip or the boat or resort you visited? What about cruise directors and group leaders?
I am not particularly comfortable with the direction that all of this competition may be driving us, and hope that it does not become a trend. (In all fairness, there are many agents and dive operators who do not feel like they “own” their clients.) While I understand that traveling divers are always on the lookout for the next new thing and that destinations rise and fall like tidal changes, I also believe that “clients” should be recognized and treated as valued “guests” who come and go of their own free will.