This is part two of a two-part series. Read part one here.
While diving into dive vacations can be a lucrative niche for travel agents, it also requires a very specific expertise, combined with the knowledge and reliability of established dive organizations.
Susan Waymire, CTC, is a certified and experienced diver, and an independent TravelStore adventure travel advisor based out of the Bend, Oregon, area. She recently dove off Wolf Island, one of the Galapagos islands, famous for its shark breeding grounds.
“It’s very dangerous diving, and people seem to have this perception that Galapagos is this placid environment. It’s not. There are four major currents there, with upswells and down swells. And the water is cold. So, maintaining buoyancy is difficult,” Waymire said.
In fact, the operator required advanced certifications for the dive. Still, on her trip, an older fellow diver got pulled down 120 feet into the ocean when his camera was weighed down by water that flooded it.
“You cannot see the bottom there, so it was pretty scary, watching an instructor dive rapidly down to save him. It really drove home the importance of knowing what the destination is like for my clients.”
Experienced agents can also help clients handle less life-threatening issues, like transporting their own equipment. Experienced divers prefer to take their own equipment because they know how and when it was most recently serviced.
“An experienced dive agent knows that it’s worth it to book a client in business class for comfort, AND the extra luggage allotment,” Waymire said.
Advisors can build a loyal, lucrative base of dive clients because these travelers prize expert assistance for a variety of details.
First off, divers need to be certified and have their documentation with them for reputable dive operators to even take them out into the ocean. Dana Storr, CTA, a Los Angeles-based agent with the TravelStore, started selling dive vacations about three years ago when two women in their mid-40s came to her saying they wanted to do something exotic and different.
Storr recommended snorkeling off Antigua, where she had spent a great deal of her summers during her youth. They took her up on her suggestion. Her clients went about planning their pool instruction and certification on their own, but when it came to getting their open water certification, Storr got very involved.
“It was nonstop phoning, to them, their instructors. All I kept thinking was, if there is something missing, you’re there only for a certain number of days, and if you don’t have all of the paperwork and your spots reserved, you’re not going out,” she said.
Not all clients come certified, said Bill Beard, owner of Bill Beard’s Costa Rica, so he offers a full certification course as well as his Discover Scuba Diving classes, to prepare guests. All of Beard’s dives are by boat and are always guided – usually with a ratio of four divers to one divemaster.
Storr works extensively with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) to source reputable dive centers and operators, and to assist in getting her clients certified way in advance of a vacation. “With a sport like this, you need to let the professionals do what professionals do. You need someone like PADI making sure you are working with a reputable company,” she said.
Safety second, too
Safety comes into play when planning the itinerary, too, and dive vacations can be complicated to plan depending on the destination, the physical danger inherent in a specific dive, and other activities clients may want to participate in while on that trip.
“I’ve seen experienced divers carried out to sea off Belize in a heavy current,” Waymire said.
“My big thing is researching for my dive clients until I feel confident it is the right experience level, that the operators are going to keep them safe, and that the destination fits their travel style,” Storr said.
To set up a client’s itinerary, Storr said, “there’s so much to consider, like the timing for their return flight, the number of times they can dive in one day based on the transfer time to the location. How far out into the ocean they have to go, and factors like strong tides or currents. It’s not a typical vacation, where they can ask you to book them a final game of tennis an hour before they depart for the airport for their flight home.”
(PADI recommends divers should not ascend to a high altitude within 12 hours of completing a single dive or 18 hours after doing multiple dives.)
Once you feel you have matched the right client with the right dive experience, coordinating their schedule still relies on knowledge and experience that a great travel agent can offer.
Jan Mauer, owner of Exciting Vacations, LLC, in East Brunswick, New Jersey, is a certified scuba diver and certified Tahiti Tourisme specialist. Her contacts at Tahiti Tourisme introduced her to TopDive Centers in French Polynesia, so she has confidence in sending her clients to remote places like Rangiroa, and says she relies on TopDive for special requests.
When a client is ready, Mauer loves introducing them to places like Tiputa Pass, a very popular dive spot in the Rangiroa Atoll. “It’s the clearest water, between two very small islands, with the most incredible sea life,” she said.
Mauer likes to book dive clients at the Hotel Kia Ora Resort & Spa, in Rangiroa, a very short drive from the dive site. “But you have to figure in travel time for their entire itinerary, because there is only a very tiny airport there with limited air service.”
Some dive locations are only accessible at certain times of the year or the day. Storr noted how for certain destinations, weather can impact underwater visibility, decreasing the wow factor of a dive vacation. “It goes back to knowing times of year, understanding the location,” she said.
“What we really do is save customers time and maximize their vacation time,” said Beard. “We know what works logistically and how to work the itinerary to save both money and valuable vacation time. For example, one of our most popular options is our rafting link that is an adventure transfer, so customers are not losing a day just traveling from one region to another, they are enjoying an experience along the way,” he said.
Even diving with a popular cruise line, like Lindblad, could benefit from the dive knowledge of an experienced travel advisor.
“Depending on time of year, water temperatures, the client’s tolerance for cold water, I might advise a Lindblad client to ensure they bring a thicker suit for warmth. Jumping in the water and realizing you’re too cold to dive could ruin the trip,” said Waymire, who was specially certified in and has her own equipment for cold-water diving.
Then there’s making sure clients have the right insurance, and the right amount of coverage. Waymire works with Divers Alert Network. Typical travel insurance excludes scuba diving, and certainly wouldn’t cover the thousands of dollars for specialty emergency care for something like hyperbaric chamber treatment.