Saturday, April 23, 2011

Busy April for me.. which brings up a subject... When to book your scuba diving and other activities in Kona Hawaii...


I've been very busy this month between manning the shop and dive charters. Tomorrow's Easter and I'll take my second day off of the month since I've no charters and a decent excuse to be out of the store.

I'll try to touch on my opinion of when to book charters and other activities. This post will kind of ramble... People are so varied as to when they book activities, I used to wait 'til last minute and then do a lot of calling around myself, nowadays (since I'm in the biz) I lean towards booking things earlier for best selection.

The reality is, most of the time if you aren't interested in a specific operator and your schedule's somewhat flexible, you can wait 'ti the last couple of days and find a spot somewhere. At least among the dive businesses in Kona, most are pretty good about referring people elsewhere when they can't make your charter happen. Not sure if the other activities businesses in town are the same though. Once you have a specific operator, or a specific schedule in mind, then it probably behooves you to try to set something up in advance. We do have some really busy times here, Christmas, spring break and such, where it can be tough to find seats on short notice. Christmas week of '09 for instance, I had every charter fully booked by the first week of November... I remember it because that was right before I had my website crash (if you go back in the blog to that time you'll find my griping about it).

Every business is a bit different. I was talking to one operator a couple years back that does diving with more of a snorkel lean, and was told that about 90% of their business booked within 72 hours of the dive. For me, that'd scare me to death... I probably book 90% of my business at least 2-6 weeks in advance. It'll be interesting to see how that mix changes as the shop starts picking up. Currently I have a fair amount of biz booked in May, some in June and July, and 15 charters started in December. Late summer and fall are quiet for now. My goal is to more or less know my schedule well in advance, and then fill in the gaps with walkin customers.

Some people are surprised so many divers actually book in advance. The question I get from time to time is "what happens if it's just us on the boat 30 days from now, are you gonna cancel at the last moment?". Well, that can vary from operator to operator. In the past I have worked for operators that made the late afternoon or evening call the night before the dive to cancel on occasion because the boat wasn't full enough to run at a profit. I did it myself a couple times when I first started the boat charters, but frankly I felt bad about it and decided that's not the way I'd like to be treated as an early booking so I decided to honor all early bookings (no matter how painfull financially). What I've found is that for the most part, if I book a diver or two a few weeks in advance, 80% of the time it works out that I end up booking on top of them and it's all worth it in the long run. I get my share of "private dive" days, but they're fewer and further between than early on. I was looking at Tripadvisor earlier today and noticed a new review from one of my advance booking customers that went out solo with us. Nice to see he had a good time.

So what happens on short notice bookings? Well, that can be another story altogether. I get my share of larger groups (4-6 divers) that call on short notice wanting to go out, but I've already got 2-3 passengers on board and can't fit them on... I end up referring them elsewhere. I wish I could help them out, but it's first come first served. Sometimes I'll get a single or couple that come in and want to go diving three days from now and I've got the day open... unfortunately, in my mind I'm under no obligation to book a money losing charter on short notice. Luckily most of the short notice divers have a flexible schedule and we can usually pick a day that works for both of us or I'll refer them elsewhere. We'll be coming into our busy season here in a few weeks, and with any luck the store will start picking up and the walkin traffic will improve to the point to where I'll be able to go out every day even on short notice.

Bottom line, every industry and operator is different, some are primarily last minute bookers, some book well in advance. It's well worth checking in advance to at least get a feel for any activity or operator you're interested in.

Here's a black phase Longnose Butterfly from Kona. Hawaii has an endemic species of longnose butterfly with a longer nose than those found elsewhere in the world. In Kona we sometimes see a black phase. Nobody's sure exactly why it occurs, but they can go from yellow to black and back.



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