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February 2001 Vol. 16, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The travel agent/wholesaler link

from the February, 2001 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When a diver plunks down a deposit for a trip, he greases the wheels of the dive travel industry. It’s a fair system when it works. It helps resorts stay in the black by insuring that people don’t book trips unless they intend to take them. It helps divers by insuring that they have space on the boat or a room to stay.

By putting down, say $100/person, dive shops and travel agencies provide the seed money that makes group trips a reality. It’s why a destination is willing to hold several spaces. If the agents can’t sell the spaces, they’re supposed to be able to cancel within a specified period - say 60 or 90 days - and get a refund, freeing up the rooms so the resort can sell them elsewhere.

Travel wholesalers — the agencies that represent the resort or liveaboard and deal with other agencies or individual divers — are often the matchmakers for group trips, assuring that all goes smoothly. Divers, resorts, dive shops, and small dive travel agencies are literally banking on the wholesaler’s honesty and reputation.

Premier Dive Travel in Caledonia, MI arranged a group trip for January 2000, with Aquatic Adventures, a wholesaler with offices in Toronto and California. They sent Aquatic Adventures $1,050 in August 1999, to hold spaces and airfare. When Dee Hudson of Premier couldn’t fill the trip after she “promoted it like crazy” she sent a letter on October 27, 1999, canceling the trip - 90- plus days out - and requesting a refund.

The refund was not forthcoming, and, according to Hudson, the excuses Aquatic Adventures’ Thomas Hirtz offered covered the waterfront, from “the check is in the mail” to “the airline won’t give us back your money.” When Hudson talked to U.S. Air’s representative and he begged to differ, Hudson turned the matter over to a collection agency. She told Undercurrent in December that she has yet to see her refund, though US Air has refunded the money to Hirtz.

Hirtz says no refund is due. He says their normal “terms” allow deduction of a $100/person administration fee from any deposit to be refunded, and Hudson booked space for 30. None of the documents Hudson furnished us cite Aquatic Adventures’ terms. Furnishing the terms to Hudson seems to be one of the details that fell between the cracks - along with her refund.

Keith Keller, president of K&K Travel in Berea, Ohio, had similar problems. Besides unpaid commissions and problems getting tickets customers had paid for, Keller says Aquatic Adventures charged divers’ credit cards at amounts higher than his quoted rate. Keller says his agency reimbursed customers after Hirtz refused to, but lost several good clients “because of our dealings with Aquatic Adventure Tours.”

Hirtz says his terms clearly state that disparities in the exchange rate between Canadian and American dollars must be borne by the customer that Keller says conflicts with Hirtz’ verbal statements. Keller says he repeatedly requested written confirmations but failed to receive them so “I can’t prove or disprove his comments.” To hear Hirtz tell it, he is the aggrieved party, because Keller’s disgruntled customers initiated chargebacks on their credit cards and left him out of pocket to the tune of $450.

Although there’s plenty of smoke, with little put in writing, it’s hard to find the fire here. Hudson and Keller asked to receive everything in writing, but didn’t. In neither case, it seems, were traveling divers out of pocket. But, the case illustrates again: get everything in writing or you’ll be subject to the good will of the provider. And, relying on the ethics of others is sometimes not much of aguarantee .

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