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October 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 34, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Fiji Divers Caught in Pricing Battle at Garden Island Resort

from the October, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Garden Island Resort on Taveuni is a well-known place for Fiji diving, but it’s best to stay away until the dust settles from a bitter, drawn-out fight between the former owners and current management. Aqua-Trek sold the GIR property to Hong Kong-based Chi International in June, but alerting guests about the transfer and renovation plans has been low on both parties’ agenda.

Subscriber Mark Rohde (Scottsdale, AZ) arrived in August, five weeks after the sale was completed, but says the managers “wouldn’t honor the pricing quoted when we contracted with Aqua-Trek. Prices for things like night dives jumped by as much as 50 percent. An extra day of two-tank diving cost me $126.”

Then Undercurrent received an out-of-the-blue e-mail on August 25 from GIR general manager Nigel Douglas, saying, “We wish to inform the industry that any clients booked through Aqua-Trek could have their stay here jeopardized if full, correct payment from Aqua-Trek is not received prior to arrival . . . Aqua-Trek is not the General Sales Agent for the resort, so please contact us directly.” A day later, Aqua-Trek issued its own statement to the industry, calling Douglas’ words “libelous and untrue.”

Apparently, dissension started as soon as the sale contract was signed. After vacating, Aqua-Trek erased its history of past bookings and changed all diver contact info of future bookings to solely Aqua-Trek. “Chi just bought the physical property, not the business,” says Maryanne Hines, director of Aqua-Trek USA. “As the North American sales agent, we hold the clients, the resort does not.” But Douglas and his wife Carol, GIR’s sales and marketing director, disagreed, telling Undercurrent the contract stipulated Aqua-Trek would hand over a full list of contacts for bookings. The lack of information meant GIR couldn’t contact future guests about the changeover – and the price increases.

That’s the other debate. Hines said Chi signed the sale papers, agreeing to the prices Aqua-Trek would charge its customers. Carol, who worked for Aqua-Trek but now works for Chi, disagrees, saying the lawyers never signed off, and they had decided to raise rates. Aqua-Trek USA was officially contracted as U.S. sales agent through March 2009, but Carol told all booking wholesalers to send final payments to GIR instead. Hines’ reply: “Bookings were already sold at a certain rate, so we couldn’t go back to clients and say they owe more money. And we were sending payments, management just refused to collect payments based on the contracted rate.” Carol negates that, saying Aqua-Trek USA had not paid GIR for any bookings since June 11 and the current amount outstanding is nearly $200,000.

The stuff hit the fan when a dive group of 18 arrived at GIR on August 16 (Carol told Undercurrent it was only four people) for a four-day stay. Deanna Cunningham, one of the divers, says her group had prepaid, including the fuel surcharge, and GIR had accepted the vouchers. But then Aqua-Trek USA received an e-mail from Nigel stating, “The guests will not be permitted to leave the premises until either they or Aqua-Trek pay IN FULL.” The Douglases presented their bill, including an extra $720 in additional fuel surcharges, to the divers at checkout. “We tried to ask them to ‘help’ us through the mess, but they were adamant that their contract was with Aqua-Trek and not us,” says Carol. “We then said that we would not be offering the final service of an airport transfer.”

But Cunningham says the Douglases also called the police. “They presented us with a bill for nearly $37,000 and said we couldn’t leave until we paid it! They had accepted our vouchers, we had paid for our drinks and spa treatments, and had a receipt showing a zero balance. This was plain and simple extortion. The police wanted nothing to do with this and left. We arranged our own transportation to the airport and there was nothing they could do to stop us. The resort staff was wonderful but management was rude and aggressive. If they have a problem with Aqua-Trek, they should take it up with them, not us.”

Aqua-Trek is now transferring divers to Paradise Taveuni, 35 minutes south. Says Carol Douglas, “As Aqua- Trek was responsible for 90 percent of our bookings, we decided it would be a good time to close for renovations.” GIR will reopen as a more upscale resort in February.

Regardless of the outcome, both parties are losers when it comes to how they involved divers in this mess. Furthermore, we can’t condone any hotel manager who calls the police and threatens guests who presented prepaid vouchers. We suggest you take Garden Island off your travel list until the managers treat us divers like trusted adults once it reopens.

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