Tuesday, November 14, 2006
After i had gotten all the official documentation sorted and the little boat ready for guests it was time to find these guests. It just so happens that Sunsail had just opened up their hotel at Club Colonna in Hodges Bay. It was two bays down from where I lived and kept my little boat. Perfect! I met up with the manager Roger and his assistant Robin, and organized a tour for them. I collected them and two of their friends and did “The North Sound Eco-Historical Tour” for them. They seemed to be having fun right off the bat and by the end of the day told me that they though I was onto a winner. These words of encouragement were exactly what I needed, but even more I needed guests. We decided to charge US $60 per person for the tour, and Roger and Robin helped out in that department by speaking about my business at their orientations. By the next week I had done two different trips for their hotel and things were starting to take shape. It wasn´t easy as I was on my own and the day for me usually ran about 12 hours. Let me just tell you that 12 hours out on the boat with the sea and sun to contend with are not the same as a 12 hour day in doors. By the end of a day I was exhausted. Anyway, I was trying to create something and was actually excited about the future. When you are trying to do something like this, it is never easy and I had loads of obstacles to overcome. I remember my mom getting cross with me one day telling me that it was time to get “serious” and stop messing about. I know it didn’t look like it to many but I was, and I could see the potential for me to be happy while making a living for myself.
Sunsail was just one hotel though and I because of the size of the boat, I could’t go further to collect guests. People were not interested in getting expensive cabs to come and join in on a new little boat tour. Not many people if any had heard about it on the island and the money was just barely paying the bills. It took 3 years before I wasn’t worried about the financial side of things every night.
Anyway, while I was trying to figure out how to get more business I was told to go and speak with Julie Patterson. Julie, had a much larger power boat and had been trying to do exclusive charters without much success. Her main problem was the price. My idea was to do a per person rate like Wadadli Catamarans and Kokomo Cats had been doing, but all the power boat companies were doing Exclusive Charter rates charging on average US $900 for the day back then. Anyway, her boat was on dry dock and it appeared as though she had given up. I approached her and she seemed immediately interested in working is some sort of partnership. Since she had paid for the insurance and was paying for storage she offered me the boat at cost as long as I maintained it and split the profits after operating expenses with her. This seemed a great opportunity for me and I took her boat right away. I then could start aggressively trying to get guests out of the hotels on the west coast. My Dad had a small property in Jolly Harbour where I could keep the boat and start tours from in the morning. The boat was perfect too with loads of space to sit 10 guests comfortably. It had a cabin, loads of storage space and plenty of shade too. After a few months I was still relying on Sunsail. The hotels wouldn’t sell my tour. I think they felt that I (being the widsurf bum) was not serious, but they didn’t know that the tour was something I had been doing all my life. When I was a little kid I would have to take guests from my grandparents hotel up to the islands, and I spent most of my time up there exploring anyway. I was serious and the tour was a great one. Still, I couldn’t get hotel guests though their sales reps. The Website that we had set up on day one was proving to be valuable and I was getting bookings that way. Many more people who didn’t book had seen in on the web and would go to their tour desks and hotel reps saying “we want to do eli’s eco tour”. After about 2 years of doing a few trips a week without their help, they started to understand that they were losing out on valuable commission. The reps and tour desks finally started to take notice. To this day however it is just crazy how many people work at the front desks of these hotels and just have no idea about what I do. I guess staff changes quickly and knowing about tours is just not part of the training. We have to constantly provide info to hotels about what we do. The funny thing is that the more “exclusive” the hotel the more lost the front desk staff seem to be. They know about what’s in the hotel but not much about what is out. Thank god for our website though because usually the guests know what’s going on and just need the hotel to make a booking (which we gladly pay 20% for by the way).
Anyway, after a year of using Julie’s boat, she decided that she needed to sell it. I went to every bank in Antigua and all wanted to know how much land I was putting up. I had a business plan….a working business with financials and they couldn’t care less. They wanted to only talk after I had shown them the collateral. Julie started to get impatient and I finally had to get my Dad to co-sign the loan with me. US $50,000 was a huge chunk of cash but it gave me enough o pay Julie off and to get a few other crucial things for the business. Now more than ever, I had to make it all work. TBC……….