As scuba divers and travel junkies, we never fail to notice if a dive shop has any trips posted for their customers. Every shop we’ve been in is different in this regard. Some offer local trips to nearby reefs, wrecks, and/or springs. Some do trips that are a couple of hours’ drive away like an aquarium that allows divers to jump into their tanks for an underwater tour. Still others arrange for international liveaboards and resorts in faraway lands. How do they do it?
There are three primary ways that a dive shop owner would arrange for travel services – on their own, through an internal agency that the shop operates, or utilizing an external agent/agency.
On Your Own
Going it alone is easy and common for local dive sites. The shop operates their own dive charter and books divers looking to explore the local sites. Owners can also opt to try and arrange group travel to resorts and liveaboards on their own. This is where we’ve had the most feedback about lost deposits, not being able to keep up with the travel questions in addition to running the shop, and simply forgetting to promote the trips. Trying to go it alone is a tough road. Negotiating with a supplier one-on-one doesn’t always yield the best results; you don’t have the buying volume or the established relationship. Yes, you might be making some money off the deal, but that’s only if you fill the trip. If you don’t fill the trip, not only have you lost money and time for your efforts, but you’ve also let down your customers. That’s not the impression you want to make with your clients is it?
Run Your Own Travel Agency in Addition to the Scuba Shop
Larger scuba shops especially ones with multiple locations may host their own travel agency with travel professionals within their proverbial walls. It’s true one stop shopping for the client – they buy their gear from one counter and book trips at another. Obviously running your own travel agency in addition to a scuba shop requires significantly more business savvy to run two very different businesses, more employees, and the host of issues that come with it! It’s not for everyone and certainly these are few and far between due to their complexity.
Partner with a Travel Agency
Partnering up with a travel agent or agency is usually the easiest, fruitful arrangement between two small business owners each with their own expertise coming together for the benefit of client satisfaction. (If it’s not satisfying or fruitful for any party, then you need to re-evaluate your partnership!) Arrangements can be formal via a contract or informal with a handshake and verbal agreement. There are several ways that the partnership may manifest itself. The dive shop may ask for a few trips that they would particularly like to advertise and the travel agency would perform the background work to make it happen. Or it could be even simpler and the dive shop just wants to promote whatever the travel agency has going already just so they can show some added value to their clients without any added risk on their part. Or still yet, it could be a combination of both.
A good travel agency with strong understanding of diving should be sought. It’s a relationship like any other so as the dive shop owner you should be asking questions to help determine if this will be the right relationship to pursue. Here are a few we suggest as a start:
- Who will I be dealing with when I call your agency?
- Who will my clients deal with when they want to book a trip?
- How are trips booked – Online? Call?
- Do I need to pay the travel agency any retainer for services?
- Are there any other fees involved for your travel services?
- Can you provide a custom website for my customers?
- Will you provide information for me to share like printed or electronic flyers or social media posts?
- Do you have other ways of marketing your available trips?
- Can my dive shop book an exclusive trip only for my divers?
- Are their trips for all budget types available?
- Are you a scuba diver or do you have agents or associates who are and can relate to my clients?
As avid divers and travel professionals, we’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and questions about servicing travel for your dive shop clients. Post them in the comments! You never know, it could be the start of a beautiful friendship.