Friday, November 17, 2006

The History of AA "part 3"

After I finally got the loan, things were more stressful because business was still not as good as I knew it could be, and I had the bank to think about now. I couldn’t just scrape by like before… I had to find an extra US $1500 a month. It was at about this time that my internet bookings started to take off, and you can read all about that in the blog about “The power of the Internet”. Like I said before the reps in the hotels were even now taking notice of me. It was a great time for my business and I was enjoying being paid for doing what I loved doing. It was all working out, or so I thought. After a super busy year when all the maintenance and other big bills had been paid, I still didn’t have much to show for it. I took a few days trying to figure out where the money had gone. The books didn’t lie…..even after a busy year I wasn’t really making any money. I had worked sooo hard and had made Adventure Antigua a working company. The business was getting loads of recognition in the media and on the net and I felt like the business was here to stay. The tour operators and the hotels were booking my tour, and I was turning people away, but still after all that I hadn’t much of a profit. What the books showed was something that Xabier had told me when I first started out. Xabier is the owner of Wadadli Cats, by the way. Anyway, he said that it’s all about numbers as in numbers of people you take out. If you want to make a profit in this business you need to take large numbers of people. However I looked at it, doing tours with a 10 person maximum was never going to get me anywhere. Either the boat or my body would wear out before I could make enough money to get a mortgage and buy a home for myself. I started to notice several other problems at this point too which could threaten the newly acquired stability that I felt. One of them which was a total shocker had to do with the reps and hotel tour desks. Since I was getting so many bookings from the internet in the season, many times I would turn down bookings from hotel reps because I was full. After a while I noticed that their calls slowed down. I had many of them tell me that they didn’t want to call me anymore because every time they promoted my tour and got guests excited, I was full when they called me. They were tired of getting turned down by my company. I had worked so hard to get them to call me and as soon as I had them calling me it looked like I was going to lose them. Crazy but true!!! Another problem I was facing was the “piggy backers”. After I started my Eco Historical Tour and people in Antigua saw it doing well copycat tours started popping up. This is totally expected I guess but I knew that some of them would be able to gain market share immediately without doing any work. All of a sudden there were several tours with names like ECO TOUR modeling their tours after mine. I was more concerned with being flattened than being flattered. I had no choice to take the next step…..which was obviously to just get bigger.
All my internet people from both hotels and cruise ships had been telling me for 2 years that the main reason that they picked my tour was because it was small and “intimate”. “Personal” is what they called it. The big dilemma was how much to grow and how. Should I have several boats of similar size to the one I had now or just get one bigger boat? How much bigger should I get? What kind of boats/boat? What was most important when it came to design of a new boat? It took me about six months, but I finally found a power catamaran built by a company called Cooper Marine in St. Petersburg Florida. It was just by chance actually, because I was looking at a boat company from Belize up until then. Cooper Marine made boats specifically for excursions, and the one I ended up getting was built for a company in The Bahamas who backed out on it after it was almost finished. They had been trying to sell it for a year without success and had dropped the price several times. I got it for a great price I thought because the design was perfect for me and the numbers I thought I could carry was precisely what I was looking for. It had so much shade which is exactly what I was after too. It even had two cabins with a head (toilet) and a shower at the back. All I had to add were the seats and the huge ladders and it was ready to go. Finding financing for the boat was a bit easier than it was for the first loan, and along with three friends I went to collect the boat on Florida’s west coast in November of 2003. We had an awful trip from the Florida Keys to the Bahamas where we were all shocked by how rough it was in the Gulf Stream. It was soo windy and the waves were massive and short with currents making them truly unsafe for our trip across the channel. I figured that we would have calm seas while we passed through the Bahamas but it never eased up. We kept on going and finally got to The Turks and Caicos Islands a few days later. We were all tired and sore because the seas had been soo rough. The forecast didn’t look like it was going to ease up either. We had too keep going though because I had bookings in late November that I had to have the boat ready for. Also, my crew all had jobs that they had to be back for. We left Provo on a rough but sunny morning for Samana, Dominican Republic. This was the biggest crossing we had during the 1500 mile trip from Florida to Antigua. The boat kept crashing though the waves as all of us looked at each other with stress imprinted on our faces. I knew the boat wasn’t handling the short and steep waves well. About 90 miles out of Provo, I started hearing a knocking which immediately gave me the shivers. I stopped the boat in the rolling swell and did a search below deck. I found some major structural problems where it looked like the two “shells” that made up the boat were coming apart. After speaking about it, we decided that we had better turn back to Provo where we were sure to get repairs done or at least get flights back from. We slowly limped back to Provo and ended up getting in after the sky had tuned dark. I worried that the boat was in some major problems. I had just spent more money than I could imagine on a boat that I now couldn’t use. What was I going to do? …….To be continued on “part four”……….