Divers wishing to avoid the hassles of travel arranged through a general travel agent should consult dive travel specialists prior to going on diving vacations. These specialists are experts in arranging dive trips to various destinations around the world.
Let me begin article by stating up front this is not meant to be a commercial. During the past 20 years, I have traveled all over the globe on diving trips – some of them set up by myself and others arranged by dive travel specialists. Believe me, using the latter is a lot easier.
The success or failure of a dive trip is largely dependent on pre-trip knowledge, combined with booking know-how. There is a vast network of computers, references and agent procedures for arranging a travel itinerary but you must know how to use these tools in order to achieve the desired results.
Compared to the general leisure travel industry, dive travel is an offbeat activity. Divers travel to odd places that few tourists ever visit. As a result, information about these obscure areas is not easy to find. The average leisure travel agent does not have the time or the expertise to acquire it. Digging up such information is both difficult and expensive.
Because dive travel requires specialized knowledge, mistakes are often made.
Before we go any further, I think it is important to precisely define what a dive travel specialist is. A dive travel specialist (sometimes called a dive wholesaler) is an authorized, bona fide travel agent who books dive trips to a variety of destinations around the world. Compared to the 242,000 travel agents across the U.S., there are comparatively few dive travel specialists. It takes many years to build up the information, experience and personnel to correctly book a dive trip anywhere in the world. Dive travel specialists know a lot about a lot of places. They can issue an airline ticket on any airline, anywhere in the world.
Dive Specialist Versus General Travel Agent
You might wonder why you need to use a dive travel specialist in the first place. The reason is that diving is a much more complicated activity than normal travel. Most general travel agents do not have the time or the inclination to learn all there is to know about dive travel – it takes years.
A lot of things can go wrong with an itinerary if the agent does not fully understand the diving aspect of the trip. It is because of this knowledge gap that dive travel specialists evolved. And, during the past 20 years, their size and numbers have grown into a full-fledged sub-industry.
One important point is worth mentioning. Dive travel specialists work for you, the customer – not the hotel or the airline. Their goal is to provide a satisfactory service so you become a repeat customer. This is the way successful dive travel specialists build their loyal clientele – customers who continue to book trips year after year. They work hard at finding you the best value for your money. And, should there be a dispute between you and the hotel or you and the dive operator, the dive travel specialist is more likely to side with you.
10 Good Reasons
There are probably 25 good arguments for using a dive travel specialist for booking your vacation but we are going to boil it down to the 10 best reasons. These are the most compelling arguments for using an expert in this very complex and rapidly changing business.
1 The specialist has the experience and know-how: When it comes to know-how, nothing beats experience. Dive travel specialists book thousands to destinations all over the world, every year. Because of these repeat bookings, they have learned which airlines run on time and which don’t; which hotels give the best service and which don’t; and which dive destinations offer really spectacular diving and which ones are just average.
Through experience, they have uncovered the best air routes, the best flights, the best airports and the best ground transportation that will get you to the dive destination you desire. They know who is reliable, who is honest and who is willing to go that extra mile to make your trip enjoyable.
2 The specialist has been there: It is always reassuring to deal with a dive travel specialist who has actually been to the place you intend to visit. How do I know this? Because I frequently run into these specialists at dive resorts and on live-aboards around the world.
Most dive travel specialists “make the rounds” at least once a year – revisiting the resorts, dive operators and live-aboards they deal with. They make these visits to update their information and to make sure everything is running the way it should. They personally check the boats, check the rooms and check the dive sites – to ensure the quality is there.
When they say the air-conditioner in room 11 is the best, it is because they have personally stayed in room 11. The same is true with the best cabin on a live-aboard, the best dive operator on an island and the best dive site on the list. You can obtain firsthand knowledge on such elusive factors as water temperature, currents, visibility, coral reef health, fish life and so on.
3 The specialist receives the latest updates: Dive travel specialists have one major advantage over everybody else. They receive the latest news from dive resorts and dive operators around the world. Over the years, they have established a global network of personal contacts with direct communication lines leading to their offices. When a dive boat blows an engine, they are the first to know about it. When a hurricane destroys a dock or an entire resort, they get the news first. Today’s global network of telephones and faxes has made long distance communication to isolated islands a simple matter of dialing a telephone number.
The dive travel specialist has access to information that is much more current than any diving magazine, newsletter or newspaper. These specialists are focused on the events and daily operations of dive resorts all over the world.
4 The specialist knows which resorts fit your needs: Not everyone seeks the same kind of diving vacation. A resort that might be perfect for one diver might be terrible for another. It is like shopping for shoes – everyone has different needs and different tastes. If you tell the dive travel specialist precisely what you are seeking in a diving vacation, the specialist can usually recommend a dive resort or live-aboard that fits your personal needs.
The primary goal of any dive travel specialist is to match your personality and travel needs with the right resort or the right live-aboard. If he or she can achieve that goal, you will be a satisfied customer and thus return to book your next vacation. These specialists build their business on repeat customers and that is why service and satisfaction are so important.
5 The specialist has important contacts at the airlines and resorts: Because dive travel specialists actually visit these far flung destinations, they have developed a network of personal contacts. As a result, they can often get things done that you or a leisure travel agent could not. If they have difficulty obtaining a room at a popular resort, they might call the owner. Years of developing relationships with owners of resort dive operations, hotels and live-aboards have provided personal access to key people.
6 The specialist can get through when you cannot: Have you ever tried to place a telephone call to Palau, Malaysia or Rangiroa? It is not easy. Differences in time zones, language and phone systems often make it difficult to connect – let alone get a reservation. This is where the dive travel specialist excels. The specialist can often get through when others cannot. They have learned all the little communication tricks such as when to use telex instead of fax, alternate telephone numbers or how to word a fax for prompt confirmation.
7 The specialist tells you the full story: The travel business is like any other business. The seller (resort) often tries to entice the buyer (you) by advertising or offering a very attractive price. This low-ball price is generally achieved by partial disclosure. The resort states the price of a very basic package but does not mention all the extras you will end up paying for. When a dive travel specialist books your vacation, he/she prepares a full and complete itinerary – listing all of the costs and requirements. He/she lets you know if you will need a passport or a travel visa, as well as where to get it and how much it will cost.
The specialist provides full disclosure of airport departure taxes, government room taxes, mandatory gratuities, diving permit charges, ground transportation prices, recommended tips or any other costs you might tend to overlook. Generally speaking, there are no surprises when dealing with a specialist.
8 The specialist’s customers receive preferential treatment: You would like to think that everyone is treated equally but life (and business) is not that way. One of the extra benefits of booking through dive travel specialists is that their customers generally receive preferential treatment – if choices have to be made.
The resort manager, dive operator or live-aboard captain is eager to please a customer sent by a dive travel specialist because they know they will get more business in the future. If the customer is unhappy and complains to the specialist, there might not be any future business. Once again, customer satisfaction is what makes this business go around.
9 The specialist is the first to hear about good deals: Price comparison shopping is not the way to buy a dive vacation. Experienced dive travelers have learned that value is the key – not price. Super low package prices are often based on cutting corners and limiting service. These are not the right ingredients for a happy diving vacation.
On the other hand, there are times when good deals are offered. The owner of a hotel discovers his marketing plan did not work and the resort is going to be empty for the next three months. This is when he calls the dive travel specialists and offers a special promotional price for a limited period. Sometimes it is a brand new hotel or resort that is just opening its doors and never gave any thought to pre-opening advertising and promotion. The place is open but completely empty. This is when the novice resort owner calls dive travel specialists in desperation and offers a special introductory price for a limited period.
While these special offers are random occurrences, the dive travel specialist generally keeps a list of repeat customers who are more than happy to take advantage of such deals and are able to depart on short notice.
10 The specialist can get you back home in case of an accident, injury or serious illness: Today’s exotic dive vacations generally involve overseas travel to foreign countries where the language and customs are quite different than ours. When you book your dive vacation with a dive travel specialist you can take comfort in knowing you have a friend back home. If there is an emergency – an accident, injury or serious illness – the dive travel specialist will work hard at getting you back home. These specialists have contact with key airline personnel, foreign governments and U.S. Consulates all over the world. They know who to call, what to say and what paperwork is required.
In ending this column, let me also make this one disclaimer. The dive travel specialist is good but not perfect. I am sure mistakes are made from time to time but they are certainly not intentional. Remember, the success and profit of their business depends on customer satisfaction. The point is that you may have a better chance at achieving a happy, enjoyable dive vacation with a specialist than without one. And, it does not cost you a penny more.