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March 2002 Vol. 17, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Picking Up the Pieces: The Misadventures of Tropical Adventure s

from the March, 2002 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The demise of dive travel agency Tropical Adventures has left many clients, vendors and employees high and dry. As we reported in January, Seattle-based TA and its sister companies Adventure Express and Dive Tours shut down without warning just before Thanksgiving, leaving what may be hundreds of thousands of dollars in clients’ deposits unaccounted for. Identical messages on the three firms’ phone lines blamed “the tragic events” of 9/11 and “the resulting downturn in the world travel market.”

Although the closures came as a shock to many, they were no surprise to ex-TA employee Donna Lattin, who now operates Seattle’s South Pacific Island Travel. She says Tropical Adventures’ problems began long before the terrorist attacks. “Yes, 9/11 has hurt the whole industry,” she concedes, “but we’ve been able to redirect most bookings from hot spots such as the Red Sea to safer destinations.” The real cause of TA’s downfall, according to Lattin, lies with the owner Brian Yesland, who bought Tropical Adventures from Bob Goddess, now retired in Fiji. From Lattin’s perspective, Yesland gave more attention to pursuing his personal interests than managing ‘ the company.

TA’s failure leaves the rest of the industry to pick up the pieces. Client files for the three companies were turned over to PADI Travel Network and Caradonna Caribbean Tours. No money accompanied the files. Some clients, who chose to do business with people they knew, have moved to other agents, such as Lattin, for resolution. No one has found any of the missing client payments intended to go to boats, hotels or dive operators. Many Undercurrent readers have contacted us; some individuals are out of pocket as much as $4,000-$5,000, some couples twice that amount.

Furthermore, no one’s been able to find any applicable liability insurance or bond coverage. In fact, it appears that Tropical Adventures was not even properly licensed in the State of Washington, so there’s no recourse from the state.

PADI Travel Network’s Christine Grange reports that they are resolving each case individually, with mixed results. A few vendors, such as the Ocean Hunter, have offered discounts to clients whose deposits have been lost. Some liveaboards and resort operators left hanging by Tropical Adventures recall a similar debacle when San Francisco’s See & Sea Travel went belly up in 1997. Ironically, Tropical Adventures had picked up many of See & Sea’s files at that time. So history is, sadly, repeating itself.

Lattin says that many employees of the three firms never received commissions due them — that’s how travel agents get paid — and also lost their year-end bonuses. Now they’re out of work in a shrinking travel market. That’s particularly unfair, says Lattin, because “it was the agents who made Tropical Adventures what it once was.”

We attempted to contact Yesland at his home number, but when we called the young lady who answered told us he didn’t live there any longer. She claimed to have no forwarding number for him, either.

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