The phrase ‘cancel trip’ usually sends fear and shudders to whoever may read it. Customers who may have arranged their holiday around a dive trip would hate to read an email saying that the trip has been cancelled. Likewise, when customers have to cancel their trip both the dive centre will be disappointed to lose the customer and the customer may worry about losing some or all of the money that they have already paid. A cancelled scuba diving liveaboard trip, safari or cruise is never a pleasant experience, but these situations do happen from time to time. It is important to remember that in most cases, customers do not cancel their trips for fun or for frivolous reasons, and the boat operators only cancel a trip for safety or serious business reasons. The reason of the cancellation and who is cancelling who are important factors about how much money is refunded. This article was written before the Covid pandemic, but has recently been slightly revised. Therefore, while much of what is written below still applies, cancellations due to Covid infections or travel restrictions are treated differently.
Customer Cancellations: What Can I Do?
If you need to cancel a scuba diving trip, in particular a diving liveaboard cruise, it’s important to be aware of the cancellation policy of the company who you booked with, and to be honest about your reasons as early as possible. We always try to help our customers as much as we can, and most of our boat operators are willing to be as flexible as possible regarding refunds, credit notes and postponements. Our excellent relationship with all of our boat operators also helps in most cases.
Firstly, there are a few things to consider if you (the customer) have to cancel a booking that you have made for a scuba diving holiday. These include the cancellation policy, the need for insurance, and the situation that the boat operator needs to deal with in order to ‘balance their books.’
All of our boat operators have their own cancellation policy, which they feel is honest and fair. Some of them can be flexible in certain cases, while others stick rigidly to the contract. None of our boat operators have unfair cancellation policies, because if they did, we wouldn’t deal with them or send divers to them. Their policies are made to protect them as a business and other customers on each trip. If a customer needs to cancel at the last minute then the boat operator will lose the opportunity to earn the income that they expected to get for that cabin or space. Late cancellations give less opportunity to resell the space or cabin, and they need to protect themselves. Some of them have cancellation policies which are more favourable to the guests than others.
Personal cancellation insurance is a lot cheaper than you may think. When travelling abroad it’s common to buy some kind of travel insurance in case you get sick or injured or something else happens on your travels. We always recommend that our diving guests purchase insurance to cover cancellations as well as for diving-related incidents. There are lots of insurance companies who are happy to offer you a policy that is ideal for your needs.
Running a large boat with staff, fuel, food, licences and more costs a lot of money. Each trip has its own minimum cost for what a trip needs to earn to ‘break even’ and they need to cover that cost in order to stay in business. Imagine the situation where a boat operator has a cancellation policy that enables guests to cancel late and get a refund, but more than 50% of the booked guests on a trip make a last-minute cancellation. That boat operator will have prepared staff and food for a trip and then all of a sudden more than half of their income is taken away from them. They can’t cancel the food or not pay their staff. All of our boat operators are running businesses that need to at least break even, which is why most of them need to take some money from customers who cancel near to the departure date. Of course, if customers cancel a month or more before the trip, there is time to try to resell the space or cabin but it’s not always easy or possible. Each of our boat operators carefully balances what they need to earn and what is reasonable when they decide what to charge or refund for customer cancellations.
Customer Cancellations: Will I get a refund?
Refunds mainly depend on the cancellation policy of the boat operator, and sometimes the reason you cancel can affect the amount or possibility of a refund. The date that you cancel will always affect the amount or possibility of a refund purely because the dive operator needs time to resell the space or cabin. We always ‘fight the customer’s corner’ in trying to get the maximum or full refund for them. Also, because we offer lots of different boats and we get hundreds of customers per year, we can sometimes resell a cancelled cabin or space to a new guest even if the boat operator’s cancellation policy doesn’t allow for a refund. By doing this, we’re just changing the name of the customer, and the cancelling customer can often get a full or nearly-full refund.
Boat Operator Cancellations
Our boat operators only cancel trips for one of three reasons. These are if the weather or sea conditions may affect safety, mechanical issues, and undersold trips aren’t financially viable. In all cases, if the boat operator has to cancel a trip our, customers receive a full and unconditional refund if they don’t want to accept the alternative trip we try to offer. It is absolutely unfair for any customer to suffer financially if something happens out of their control.
Weather & sea condition cancellations only normally happen at the start or end of the diving season and usually only with trips that involve a speedboat transfer. The marine parks are open for certain periods of the year and closed for others. These periods are chosen by the government who know when the weather and sea are less predictable. Therefore, during the Indian Monsoon (May-October) the national marine parks on Thailand’s west coast are closed to all activity because this is when the sea can be rough. From mid-October until early November and from the end of April, some trips are cancelled due to the extreme weather that can cause high waves. Our boat operators always put safety first, and they never risk the safety of their guests or staff. They also don’t want to harm their boats, or have passengers vomiting or being uncomfortable. Our boat operators are very experienced and they normally only offer trips during periods when they are confident that the weather or sea will not affect safe travel. The larger boats are adept at sailing through waves and the captains know where to find shelter when mooring at night.
All of our boat operators regularly service and maintain their vessels. They have all of the low season (May to October) to refurbish boats and replace mechanical parts. Most are owned or run by Europeans and many of them are German. Mechanical failures are very rare. However, mechanical failures do happen, and if a trip is cancelled or changed for this reason, the boat operators are humble and honest. Our customers can expect a full refund for cancelled trips and a pro-rata refund for trips that go to a different location than planned.
Cancellation for business reasons is a sensitive topic for us. All of our boat operators are running a business and they have overheads, which include fuel, food, staff, park permits and more. Each of them knows the cost of a trip and the income that they receive for a trip needs to be at least equal to their costs. Otherwise, they run at a loss. Sometimes, some of our boat operators choose to cancel a trip because if they run the trip with 10-40% guest occupancy they will spend more money than they earn. We understand their business plan, but we don’t like this. We feel that customer happiness and reputation is more important than losing a little money for occasional trips. We would like to point out that we are at all times absolutely honest with all of our guests, and that if we take a booking from anyone for a trip that is not yet confirmed, we tell them in advance and keep them updated on the booking/confirmed status.