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August 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 32, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Online Dive Trip Booking Portals: Part II

they fall far short on personal service

from the August, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Online purchasing has become the convenient way to buy what we need. If what arrives is not what we want, we have the option to return it. It's not the same with complex dive trips, and by the time you discover you bought the wrong product, it's too late. Most divers need guidance to ensure a foreign dive trip will meet our expectations. However, there are new kids on the block in the form of very seductive online booking services for diving that use clever algorithms to get attention onto your phone or computer's display. They're causing a ruckus all round in the dive travel industry.

"My experiences with online dive travel agents are not very good."

Following Undercurrent's article on this nascent online travel booking revolution in July, we received a comment from Sandro Lonardi, head of marketing for diviac.com, a leading online portal, in which he said, "Booking with Diviac offers divers superior choice, convenience, and price. Over 270 liveaboards to choose from, 24/7 unbiased advice and support from our scuba travel experts, true online booking with live availability and prices, no hidden fees, no credit card fees and free dive insurance on all qualifying trips."

A Liveaboard Boat Operator Replies

This was balanced by an email from Gabrielle Villarino, with 15 years working with top-rated Indonesian liveaboards under her belt and at present managing MSV Amira.

She was damning when she wrote, "My experiences with online dive travel agents are not very good. Most of them [are not familiar] with the products which they are selling online and nor do they understand the logistics, nor the dive region."

"We receive many inquiries from serious, dedicated dive travel agencies from all over the world. Most know their offered products very well, they know the procedures, the logistics, the culture and the dive location."

New players are challenging traditional agents today by offering more automation.

"Many have been working in this industry for 10 to 20 years or more. Most are dedicated, hardworking, make no promises the operator cannot fulfill, plus they are both knowledgeable and experienced."

"Most dive travel agents have been on the boats or at the resorts which they are selling -- and most have very high standards and morals! Many of them bring groups and lead the trip."

"In recent years, I have dealt with several online website booking agents. Most have no clue about the product, the location, or the logistics they are selling, and sadly, there are several that are underselling the liveaboard or dive resort online with pop-up ads!"

"I understand it is a new business in today's online world, but I think divers should book with a certified dive travel agency or directly with the resort or liveaboard! Better than trying to save a few dollars booking online and then having issues afterward!"

This was the overall feeling of Eric Ohde (Redding, CA), who wrote to tell Undercurrent that, while he had enjoyed the service he got from traditional dive travel agencies like Caradonna and Bluewater Travel, he was less than enthralled with the newer online portals. He wrote, "They do not have a good update of rooms available, nor did they have experienced folks to answer questions both times I have called them. I really like the personal touch that experienced dive travel companies offer. I hope that [the online portals] do not gain market share, as I don't think they are up to par for experience or personal service."

Virtually every travel agent now has a comprehensive website, and it's important to recognize the difference between those and this new breed of high-tech online portals.

Divers Are Not a Homogenous Group

Dirk Werner-Lutrop of Diversion Dive Travel, based in Australia, wrote Undercurrent to point out that dive travelers are not a homogenous group, and vary by dive and travel experience, by personal likes and by cultural preferences. His "products" are very individual, driven by the passion for diving more than a mere profit motivation.

"Our job as dive travel specialist is not just to sell a ticket. The job has many facets. It starts with identifying the particular needs and wishes of our clients and then identifying products that are a good match. Some people rely on social media for that information -- others trust our experience."

"The next step, once the decision on the product has been made, is to set up the travel itinerary to safely and conveniently get the client to the destination."

"And once the trip is happening, it requires monitoring to be able to manage any unexpected changes. I'm sure every diver has had to deal with flight itinerary changes, lost luggage and weather events. Our clients appreciate that they can rely on our professional team to deal with the fallout and fix things -- many times in the background without the client even needing to know about it."

He says, "New players are challenging us traditional agents today by offering more automation and matching the booking process to now-familiar patterns we know from airline, hire car and hotel bookings. This offers a simple process, but it disguises the complexity of the dive travel product and creates a wrong impression that what is sold is a standardized and comparable product."

When traveling to locations on the other side of the world, Harvey S. Cohen (Middletown, NJ) says he prefers to deal with a traditional travel agent and relies on the agent's personal service. He likes having somebody he can phone for help who is on that side of the world, knows the local idiosyncrasies, and is likely to be able to respond in real time.

Another subscriber, Mark Leiserowitz (Houston, TX), simply wrote, "I read your article about online agencies. I personally would not trust my money to them."

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