Agent Booking Vs. Direct Booking

Are you really saving anything?

As you search for boats between charter companies, you may have come across the phrase "Book direct and save" but might not be certain of its meaning.  Essentially, there are two ways to sell a charter: directly through some form of publication or other advertising, or through the use of an agent or charter booking service. 

Some boats are skippered by individuals who have elected to market their services entirely on their own using locally available media, and advertise their prices are at a discount.  Other skippers have elected to develop a network array of sources to draw their charters from, including hotels, activity desks, restaurants, and occasional direct booking.  Sportfish Hawaii is a booking agent and a state registered travel agent.  We know the fishing industry in Hawaii.

Skippers that work with a wide range of sources know how important it is to allow agents to maintain their competitiveness and willingness to continue booking for them by not undercutting their rates for direct booked trips.  But when they have the opportunity to book a trip directly, they simply charge the same rate and pay themselves the commission.  So in effect, booking direct with these skippers results in no monetary savings, however, booking with a reputable agent saves immeasurable amounts of time, effort and uncertainty.  

It is important to recognize the relationship these skippers must maintain with their agents.  If they started cutting their prices for direct booking, there would be no motivation for agents.   For the consumer, the selection of boats would suffer.  Just imagine if the airlines did this.  You'd never be able to compare prices or features with one phone call because every airline would make you wait 20 minutes on the phone before quoting a price.  Pretty soon you'd get so frustrated you'd take the first price you got and hope you weren't getting ripped off.  Or, you'd abandon the trip altogether.

It's about convenience.  Sportfish Hawaii is not a directory or a phone book listing, but a service dedicated to the industry of sportfishing.  By researching our boats thoroughly, you are afforded a sense of familiarity and consistency throughout the Hawaiian Islands.  Similar to driving across the country and tending to stop at the same gas stations and restaurants, using a reputable agent who has done their homework should give you a level of confidence in your charter.

When a trip is direct booked by a skipper that does not utilize an agency network, there is no quality control and you must trust the individual you speak with.  Since most everyone feels he or she is the best, you never truly receive an objective opinion, thus facing a higher degree of risk than if you use a service or agent.  Though every boat in the harbor must be operated by a licensed captain, must meet requirements for the state prior to obtaining a slip, and will work hard to catch you fish, beyond this you have no idea what you are buying.  Some operations are excellent and run from their reputations without needing any help from agents.  But some are not so excellent.  Deciding which is which is where agents can help.

Here are a few tips from Sportfish Hawaii on booking a charter trip (regardless of whether you use us or not):

1) Ask what the skipper's policy is on conservation and disposition of the landed fish.  Though Hawaii is a place where there are no limits on size or numbers on pelagic fish, many customers are becoming more demanding in their desire to release billfish and/or have some filets of other fish cut for them.  If the skipper is not willing to comply at all with your requests, it may be a sign that customer service is secondary to catching fish.

2) Ask the skipper about his or her best catches and how long ago they were.  Some skippers get hung up on a single fish they got 5 or 10 years ago and use that as their pitch, while others may not have caught as large a fish but maintain a consistent production rate throughout the year.  Remember, granders don't happen every day, so while the dream is important, so is a comfortable boat, a friendly skipper, and a chance to enjoy working on that dream. 

3) Ask how long it has been since the boat was "hauled out" meaning put in drydock for major maintenance.  This should be done about every 18 to 24 months.  Skippers who postpone their maintenance may be cutting corners on other issues as well.

By listening carefully to the responses of these three questions, you can often determine if a skipper truly wants to earn your business or is giving you lip service just to sell you a trip.  This way you can decide for yourself if you are saving anything at all.

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