Like many goods, services, & activities, online shopping is taking over. In the past, holidays were almost always booked through a travel agent, usually in your local town or city. Nowadays, people are buying so many more things online, and this is true with Similan liveaboard diving cruises. Very few people travel all the way to Thailand’s sleepy seaside town of Khao Lak and then decide to book a scuba diving safari. Almost everyone books before they arrive, and this booking experience can be a lot of fun, it can be easy, it can be a headache, and for some it can be a worrying minefield. There are so many boats, so many trips, and then so many people selling the same thing. How can you know what to do? This blog explains the advantages and disadvantages of booking a Similan liveaboard trip direct or through an agent. It does not go into details about choosing a trip, but more about choosing who you pay for a particular trip.
Surely, if I know the trip I want, booking direct is better?
Book direct: Yes, this may be true, in most cases. If you are absolutely sure that the trip you have chosen is the perfect one for you, then booking directly through the boat operator makes a lot of sense. You can get direct answers to your questions from the staff, manager or owner. But there are disadvantages to doing this as well.
Book with an agent: The potential disadvantages of booking directly (even if you know that the trip is ideal for you) vary. For example, if the trip is cancelled due to them not having enough guests or a mechanical failure, then what can the boat operator offer you? Of course, they can offer you a refund, but you didn’t travel all the way to Thailand just to get money back that you already paid. You want to go diving. Boat operators for the Similan Islands have various kinds of relationships with each other. Some are good buddies and help others out, but there is friction and local politics. If your boat operator cancels the trip you booked, it’s very unlikely that they will be able to offer you a wide choice of alternative trips. An agent with 20 or more liveaboard boats will easily be able to offer the best selection of alternatives.
Book with an agent: Also, the price you pay is no less booking directly compared to booking through an agent. In fact it can be more! Yes, more! Some boat operators are unwilling to absorb the fees that PayPal and credit cards inflict on the recipient. They may tell you (the customer) the price of the trip and then add 3-5% if you choose to pay using a card. How else can you pay if you’re overseas or even in your hotel in Thailand? As an agent for almost all Similan liveaboard boats, we know that it is unfair for us to pass on PayPal or credit card fees. In fact, the banks and PayPal don’t like merchants doing it. Instead, we absorb this fee as a business overhead. As well as the price, we also offer free gifts to our liveaboard guests.
When looking at what’s available for you to choose from, it’s difficult to come up with an advantage of booking directly.
Book direct: Some people don’t want too much choice, and they feel blinded by lots of information. So, these people may benefit from fewer options. However, with so many variables such as cabins, dates, boat features, staff nationalities, booking terms and more, it’s quite easy to find the perfect trip for you if there are enough options to choose from.
Book with an agent: The advantage of booking through an agent is that they nearly always have a wide choice of boats and trips. They deal with several boat operators and can offer a selection of boats (run by competing operators) for dates to meet your schedule and budget needs. We have an excellent relationship with the boat operators of nearly 40 boats that offer diving trips to the Similan Islands. Don’t worry about there being too much choice, our date search has filters for you to include only certain types of trips, boats, destinations, price ranges etc.
Independent & Honest Advice
Book Direct: We would like to think that all the boat operators are honest. Certainly those who we deal with are. However, none of them are independent. They will always promote their own boats and services.
Book with an agent: Here the agents have a huge advantage. Especially agents like us who have so many boats offering diving trips to the Similan Islands. We are completely independent, and we are therefore able to give unbiased advice. Yes, we have our ‘favourite dive centres’ usually because of the relationships which develop over the years. But that’s where it ends. If one of our favourite’s boats or trips isn’t ideal for your needs, or a boat we seldom sell is perfect for you, we will always give genuine advice on which trip is best for you. And to be able to do this, we often ask guests questions so that we can get an idea of which boat or type of trip would appeal to them or suit their needs best. For example, knowing their age, nationality, experience & confidence underwater, and more information enables us to advise which trips to look at or to avoid.
When you first make contact about booking a Similan liveaboard diving cruise, it’s most commonly through the website, and the reply will come to your email address. Sometimes, customers call directly, and this is becoming ever easier with chat applications, Skype calls, and other ways of using Wi-Fi to call telephones.
Book with an agent: Dive centres and boat operators have so many things to do and think about during the day. These include organising their staff & trips, including food, equipment, transfers and more. Even if they have office-based staff to answer emails, they normally only work certain hours of the day. The best Similan liveaboard booking agents have staff online at all waking hours, and ready to answer emails immediately. We always prioritise answering customer emails, calls and messages above everything else. Of course, us answering your first enquiry as quickly as possible is important for us to be able to get your attention and then your business. But we also strive to always answer every other communication from customers straight away. It’s no good us showing how quick we are to reply to the first communication and then be slow and lazy after that. We always reply straight away, and with good & full answers, which is how we get good feedback reviews from our customers all around the world.
But surely the price is better booking directly?
No. Due to the agreement between the dive centres who own the boats and their agents who sell the trips, the prices are the same. Of course, the agents earn some commission from the boat operators, and the boat operators would prefer customers to book direct to avoid paying this commission. But the agents can send customers to a boat operator that they might not have got themselves directly. Boat operators need agents to maximise their online audience and therefore the chances of getting divers on each trip. It’s only fair that the retail price that the customer pays is the same, regardless of who they book through. Therefore, there is no financial advantage to you (the customer) in booking directly. If you book through an agent, it’s the agent’s job to receive the money, pass it on to the dive centre, collect your diver information and arrange logistics for pick up and for equipment sizes and requirements. If the agent is earning commission from the dive centre, then good agents need to take care of this information exchange. Some lazy agents just take the payment and then pass the diver’s email address on to the dive centre, and the dive centre’s contact details to the customer. This is not how a Similan booking agent should behave. We take the best care of all our guests, and we are the only contact up until when they are in the safe hands of the dive centre staff. Yes, we give the dive centre’s details to the customer and vice versa, but that’s only in case of emergency or if one or the other wants to communicate directly.
Book with us: you get the best price, best service, no added payment fees, and free gifts. We have the widest selection of trips, we give honest and independent advice, and we’re always online to help with small questions and problems. Just look at our reviews!