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October 2003 Vol. 29, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Left High and Dry

when dive operators overbook

from the October, 2003 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When I book a dive package at a resort, I expect to experience the diving the resort offers. Of course, weather, water conditions, and other factors at times are beyond the dive operator's control, but we've recently seen disturbing reports from people who'd gotten less than they'd bargained for. Sometimes the operators' excuses smelled -- well -- fishy.

There really are two types of problems divers face: overbooking, so you can't get a seat, and flat out refusing to go. Here are two cases where resorts had so many people that, although the divers prepaid, they were treated shabbily.

David and Miriam Hungerford (Orange County, CA) pre-purchased a seven-day, twotank morning dive package, via their travel agent, at the Plaza Resort Bonaire. Upon arrival, Toucan Diving told them they could not go along on the boat trip the following morning -- instead, they were required to view a 10-minute video and do a checkout shore dive. That meant they would miss one day of their prepaid morning dives, since they were leaving on an early morning flight their last day.

David Hungerford told Undercurrent that he hadn't seen anything about a mandatory checkout in the confirmation material (although this notice does appear on Toucan Diving's website -- first dive is a check-out shore dive and orientation -- Hungerford booked through a travel agent). The shop agreed to let the Hungerfords view the video that afternoon but would not waive the mandatory checkout dive, although the couple had just completed five days of diving on Curacao. After some discussion, he recalls, "they then told us that the boats were full." According to Hungerford, "Toucan's policy during our stay was fill the boats to capacity and then take out another boat if necessary."

Hungerford requested assistance from the dive shop operator, in documenting for his travel agent why he and his wife could dive only six of the prepaid seven days. Ramon "was either incapable or unwilling to grasp the situation," in Hungerford's words, so they left with the situation unresolved. Since then Hungerford and his travel agent, Scuba Travel Ventures of San Diego, have contacted both Toucan Diving and the Plaza Resort, requesting a refund for the unused boat dives. Toucan has never responded. "The personnel at the hotel were very gracious," Hungerford says, "but they said that they were unable to offer any refund, since our trip was booked through their U.S. representative." The Plaza Resort and Toucan Diving don't allow refunds on unused or partially used portions of tour features.

In situations like this, it is not the money, it's the principal. Divers don't want to purchase a package, only to learn that the rules at the resort will screw them.

Last July, David Funderburk of Greeley, CO, prepaid for six twotank morning dives at Divi Tiara on Cayman Brac, with the option of purchasing a one-tank afternoon dive. "When we got there," he reports, "they told us that the resort had overbooked and that all they could do for us was to give us two-tank afternoon dives. Their attitude basically was take it or leave it. Also, we were promised unlimited shore diving, but unfortunately they did not have any extra tanks for us to use."

Then there is the problem that if you haven't tied down every detail at a dive resort, you may get your room -- if you're lucky -- but still not get on the boat.

Bob L. (PA) traveled to "super inclusive" Breezes Curacao last December with nine divers. Upon arrival, they were told there was no record of their reservations, and nothing was available. After some heated discussions, rooms mysteriously opened up. Then, when the group showed up for their checkout dive, they were told that no morning dives were available all week, because only one boat was in use. This despite Bob and his friends having expressed their interest in diving when making their reservations and having requested rooms near the dive center. The group made do with a shore dive the first day, and then, after a lot of bitching, the management arranged for a boat from another resort to take them during the rest of their stay. As Bob puts it, "We don't take vacations so we can spend the week being confrontational with people!" Bob finds that traveling with large groups gives him added leverage in dealing with dive resorts and operators.

But this does raise the next point. If one hasn't prepaid diving at dive resorts, the limited capacity of their boats and an overflow crowd might mean you're out-of-luck.

When Floridian Brian Bolton and his wife booked a trip to Costa Rica's Sol Playa Hermosa Beach Resort in July, they were eager to dive the Bat Islands. Diving Safaris charges extra for this trip and requires a minimum number of divers. But Bolton was assured by his tour operator, Bill Beard's Adventure Travel Costa Rica (an affiliate of Diving Safaris), that he could get out to the islands. Bolton expected to be diving Nitrox.

When he arrived, Bolton says Earl Gibbs, proprietor of Diving Safaris, told him that Nitrox was unavailable, due to a broken oxygen analyzer -- and the spare too was broken. No other options were offered, and he was left to wonder whether Diving Safaris actually had a Nitrox capability. Next, he was told that not enough divers had signed up for the trip to the Bat Islands. Then the story changed, and the conditions were supposedly too rough to visit the remote location. But Bolton learned that the nearby Ocotal Resort had made the trip at least two times during his stay. Bolton had asked to be hooked up with another operator to make the trip, but says that Gibbs made no effort to accommodate him.

So take nothing for granted. When planning a trip, check Undercurrent's Chapbook (Undercurrent) to learn from other divers. Read the fine print, such as cancellation and refund policies. Before you send off a deposit, be sure you list your preferences and any concerns, either by phone or e-mail. And communicate directly with the resort or operator, not an intermediary. Carefully gauge the nature of the responses you get. Vague or specific? Client-friendly or perfunctory? If the operator doesn't seem genuinely interested in accommodating you, try someone else. A good, knowledgeable travel agent should be able to handle most of these inquiries for you.

If the resort or live-aboard is fully booked when you want to go, inquire whether a group has reserved a block of rooms and whether you can contact them. Chances are they may have had a cancellation, and you can plug into the open slot. You may even save a few bucks by piggybacking on a group rate. Many travelers have found new friends and good dive buddies this way.

And pay by credit card. If you don't get what you paid for, your credit card company may resolve the issue.

In today's environment, travel providers should be bending over backwards to woo clients, so don't feel you have to settle for unfulfilled expectations.

-- Ben Davison

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