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October 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 42, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Bad Weather Can Happen

but should you pay for dives so canceled?

from the October, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Nobody can control the weather, and dives can get canceled. It's how the dive operator handles the business side of things that can make the difference between the client feeling merely disappointed or totally cheated.

Chip Wright (Hebron, KY) and his wife were at Brac Reef Resort on Cayman Brac for four days of diving with Reef Divers in early August when a tropical depression formed to the east of the island. On what was supposed to be the third day of their diving, the morning dives were canceled due to the weather. The decision didn't surprise them and was easy to agree with. That said, the shop told them that there were no refunds for dives canceled by the shop. Chip was told to claim the missed dives on their travel insurance. Chip thought it morally wrong to keep money for a service that was not provided, and contacted the resort's U.S. office a few days after he informed Undercurrent of his dismay.

This incident clearly identified the need to continue to focus on training our staff on circumstances like we experienced as a result.

"The fellow I spoke with, Jason Belport, apologized for the lack of a faster resolution while we were on the Brac. He reiterated that they normally do not offer refunds for weather-related cancelations. I didn't push for more information, but I still don't understand how this can be considered by anyone to be an acceptable practice: the money is collected, no expenses are incurred, no service is provided, yet the business keeps the cash."

For his trouble in contacting the U.S. office, Chip was offered a $273 refund for the lost dives (based on the discounted rate of the package), or credit to be used on a future stay on any of the islands of $1000 total, to be used within the next year."

This raises a question: If the dive center does not normally offer refunds, why did it do so, albeit belatedly, in this case? Was it the threat of the oxygen of publicity? There appears to be some confusion among its staff as to which is the correct procedure, so we asked the boss.

Undercurrent contacted Reef Divers, which has dive operations at Little Cayman Beach Resort, Cobalt Coast on Grand Cayman, as well as Cayman Brac. Bradley Barnett, its chief operating officer, wrote a comprehensive answer explaining that staff [initially] erred in refusing compensation [to Wright] for the lost dive days. "It has always been our policy to provide guests with a credit when diving is canceled due to weather conditions or other circumstances that are no fault of the guest. This is what should have happened as a result of the schedule disruption due to Tropical Storm Earl.

"This incident clearly identified the need to continue to focus on training our staff on circumstances like we experienced."

"Our policy for missed dives is two-fold. First, if we are forced to cancel diving due to circumstances outside our control (as was the case with Earl), we make every effort to make up the missed dives. In the event we are not able to make up all of the missed dives, the guest can elect a refund for the value of the missed dives, or they can select a future credit that is twice the value of the missed dives."

Mixed Experiences

Gary Rippendorf (Redwood, CA) was also diving with Brac Reef Resort during the first week of August and reported a very different experience than that of Chip Wright. He wrote that "It was too rough for the boats to go out on the 2nd August. The dive staff at Brac Reef Resort/Reef Divers drove us by truck and rental van to the other side of the island on the following day and provided us with two shore dives. On the 4th, they also added a second afternoon boat dive, thereby making up for one more of the lost dives.

"The net effect was we missed one day of diving, despite two full days of very rough seas when the boats clearly could not go out. Reef Divers made an extraordinary effort to minimize the impact on us."

We asked for the experience of other Undercurrent readers regarding missed dives: some operations don't give credit (yes, they take your money, and you stay home), and others rightfully refund or give credit (though having to take the credit on a return visit seems manipulative, indeed). And many divers are philosophical about it all, as was Sandy Ruffin (Tempe, AZ) when the same thing happened to her in August at the Little Cayman Beach Resort, where Reef Divers is also located: "To us, it is understandable a dive resort is not able to credit dives under such circumstances. They tried to add additional dives to the remaining days to make up for lost dives. However, we were scheduled to leave and were not able to make up our missed dives."

She received no refund.

In early January 2015, it seems as if Reef Divers wasn't refunding money. Sandra Maruszak (Meredith, NH) at Little Cayman Beach Resort told Undercurrent, "They demanded pre-payment for dives at the time we booked the trip. They had to cancel an afternoon dive due to wind, which I understood, but when I asked for a refund they said their policy was no refund for dives canceled due to weather.

"I had planned on taking my last day off from diving and asked if I could make up the missed dive on that day. They agreed, but said I could not make up the dive in the morning because those were two tank dives. (I wanted the morning to allow 24 hours before flying). The woman behind the desk said I could only swap an afternoon dive for an afternoon dive. I offered to pay for the second morning dive. She wanted to charge $65 each (for my husband and myself), and I felt I should pay the same as I was paying for the group package (if you dive multiple days, you have discounted dives vs. the single dive rate, and we were there for ten days).

"I offered to sit on the boat during the second dive, and she again refused, saying they did not allow people only to pay for one of the two morning dives -- they were a set. I asked to speak with her manager. He was lovely, and allowed us to dive the two-tank morning trip for no additional cost. While it had a good resolution, if I had paid for diving every day of my trip, they were not prepared to refund my money."

So, while there has been confusion at Reef Divers -- this Little Cayman tale is confounding -- you've heard the policy from the CEO. If Reef Divers has to cancel for any reason, you get other dives or a refund. Reef Divers needs to get its act together.

Most dive operators do refund unused dives. Chris Karrer, the owner of Sardinia Divers in Italy and Herradura Divers in Costa Rica, was emphatic. "Not refunding customers because the shop canceled the dives for whatever reason is not acceptable." And, Undercurrent agrees.

And it shouldn't take a confrontation to bring such matters to a satisfactory conclusion. Mark Miller (San Antonio, TX) reports a splendid resolution from other Cayman operators. He says he had pre-booked dives with Conch Divers on Little Cayman and In-Depth Divers on Cayman Brac.

"My wife and I had our trip canceled [while] in flight to Little Cayman due to a tropical storm that became a hurricane. Everyone was great, and all money/deposits were refunded promptly. We were able to find accommodations and a dive shop on Grand Cayman. Happy ending!"

That's proper service: kudos to In-Depth Divers and Conch Divers.(In-Depth Divers has since relocated to Grand Cayman).

They said their policy was no refund for diving canceled due to weather.

Bob Gerzoff (Atlanta, GA) fared much better in Curacao when a tropical storm appeared to be approaching. He told Undercurrent, "Not only did they not charge me for the dive, the bought me a beer at the bar while we sat and watched the horizon!"

Playing Hardball

It doesn't happen only in the Caribbean, as D. Jonathon Blake (La Verne, CA) reported, and he had to play hardball to get a refund. "I purchased a six-dive package via the web site of One World Dive shop, located at our resort hotel in Zanzibar. I checked and the next morning, I and another diver from Germany, plus two snorkelers showed up. The dive guide said the waves were a little choppy, but we went anyway. It wasn't too bad. The visibility wasn't very good. The next morning, the dive guide said he didn't want to go out because of bad weather. I saw other boats going out.

"The third morning, the dive guide again didn't want to go out because of bad weather. Still, other boats were going out. The fourth morning, it was the same story. I told the store owner that I wanted a refund for the four dives I didn't make. At first, he refused, saying it was due to bad weather. What was clear to me was there were only two divers, and it wasn't worth it to him to make the trip out. He finally agreed to give me a refund, but tried to charge me full price as if I had only purchased two individual dives. I told him no way, and that he should charge me for each dive at the prorated six dive package price. We argued back and forth, and I finally told him I would advise my credit card company that he did not provide the service as agreed and he would get nothing!"

Package refunds are tricky, as Jim Tullos (Flower Mound, TX), the owner of a small tour company, pointed out, "When a person pre-purchases a dive package, generally it is at a cheaper rate than if you were to purchase a-la-carte. It is difficult to refund part of a package. And many packages include lodging and sometimes the meals. How much of the discount applies to the diving vs. the lodging or meals? The only fair way to refund a portion of a package would be to cancel and refund the entire package and re-charge it at a non-discounted rate. Most packages state that there are no refunds."

What if You Bail?

When bad weather strikes or is just forecast, some people voluntarily bail. Is a refund justified?

Phyllis Nitzkin (New Orleans, LA) stayed at the Palau Pacific Resort in 2012, pre-booking her dives. "We had to leave as Typhoon Bopha was making dead on for Palau. We had only three days of our five-or six-day trip. Requests for refunds were refused. I did get a refund from my trip insurance, but that is not the point. The dive shop and the hotel acted as if we did not want to stay."

But, some people just chalk it off to experience. That's your choice. Paul Martin (Arlington, MA) took it on the chin in St. Croix two years ago when the dives he'd pre-paid at the Dive Experience in Christiansted looked to be too difficult, thanks to the weather. He chose to move to Frederiksted on the lee side of the island and dived there instead. There was no refund.

"We decided that St. Croix was in a slump and the shop was probably desperate enough to have done the dives if we had showed up and insisted, so we took our lumps and just agreed to pay as we go in future trips with this business."

And, a word of advice

William and Judy Shepherd (Satellite Beach, FL) recommend: "While we have had dive operators attempt to refuse refunding dive trips they canceled, we have found the following advice very helpful.

"First, have them put their refusal in writing to include the circumstances for the trip cancellation."

"Second, inform them that you subscribe to Undercurrent and they can expect to see their name in print in the near future as well as in your trip report. If they still refuse, do the previous and report them by name. Word-of-mouth reports are the surest means we divers have to spread the word about such practices."

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