Fishing Orange Beach

Should You Use or Fear Virtual Charter Office's like Fishingbooker.com or Fisherguiding.com?

One of the most recent trends we are seeing in the world of charter fishing and guided fishing trips, is there is new way customers can book fishing trips through what we call an online charter office or what we call a virtual charter office.  For decades, local marinas and cooperatives have always had an on property office that customers went through to book a fishing trip.  In return for the service, charter boats and guides would pay the office a fee for booking their boats for them.  We are going to start by looking at three different virtual charter fishing offices we have found advertising in our local area, from the perspective of all of the user groups who are affected by their online presence.  These views come from years of experience in the charter fishing business, as a recreational angler.   These following paragraphs are meant to educate you and shed some light on how good or bad these companies can be for your business or for your family's fishing trip.  The detailed thoughts are our opinion only.  You should do your own homework to see if these services would benefit you.  At the end of this article, we will summarize our thoughts for you about these virtual charter offices.

A consumer's perspective - One of the biggest questions consumers have is, "With Whom Should We Use To Book Our Fishing Charter?"  The answer is simple.  You should use the charter boat that offers exactly what you are looking for.   Sounds simple, doesn't it?  Well, it is not that simple.  Most people who have ever been charter fishing before, know exactly what they want and they go DIRECT to the charter boat's business website that they know and trust.  Everyone who is experienced in buying anything, knows that you get more when they skip the middle man or booking agent who is taking a cut off the top.

But what about all of those people who have never been fishing before and don't know any better?  They often have no idea as to what they really want except to have a good time and catch lots of fish.  Unsuspecting anglers who are surfing the internet, often click on the first charter boat they see listed at the top of the search results.  These are what we call sponsored ads, and that takes them to the person's website, who is paying a lot of money for the ad.   We are here to tell you that with companies like fishingbooker, fisherguiding and fishanywhere, have a powerful online presence and are doing a good job competing in local charter fishing markets, against local charter offices and charter boats.   Consumers who use these services are going fishing, but they are often steered to boats that they may not have chosen, if they had done a little homework and researched what they are looking for.  The reason being, not all charter boats are the same or offer the same level of service or quality fishing trips.  Some sell price and others sell service.  There is a difference in the two and you need to be aware of it before you make your buying decision using a third party website or booking agent.   As a consumer, you need to do your homework and choose a boat who has the best website, message and offers the best service that is backed up by hundreds of third party review websites.

From a charter boat owners and operators perspective - When you look up and see a competitor charter boat out fishing more than they ever have before, curiosity kicks in and you start looking around and asking people questions like, "Where is So and So getting all of those fishing trips from?"  This past year, we noticed a lot more charter boats fishing more than they ever have before, and we wanted to know where are they getting all those fishing trips from?  The U.S. Economy is groing at 4.2% GDP for 2018, but could all of those charter boats be running more trips just because of a good economy?    The answer is partly, YES!  The other part is because a lot of charter boats who do not have a lot of their own business anymore or the marina they are located at is failing to keep them booked, they are now using a third party, Virtual Charter Office like those mentioned above to book their fishing trips for them.  After looking into what these companies offer, what they charge for their services, there is a positive side and there is a negative side to them allowing someone to take a cut off the top.   What we found out after considering using these services ourselves, now is making us possibly re-think our own marketing plans.   Are we going to have to step up our own advertising to be able to be able to keep up with big corporations marketing budgets to remain competitive?  We most probably will.  Are we going to use one of these services to book our boat?  Probably not because it takes away the consumer experience of being able to talk to someone before you book your fishing trip, so you will be able to explain to them exactly what they should expect to receive.

From a marina charter boat offices perspective - Local marinas have been booking their resident charter boats for as long as anyone can remember.   It's the way we have always done things.   The charter office - is the place where all of the in town traffic and potential customers comes to see the boats unload and to hopefully to book their own fishing charter.  For boats who are new in business, this real charter office is ideal for helping them get started in business and to get their clientele built up.  For some really good marinas, it is not uncommon to book some charter boats 75 to 80 trips per year, or about 3/4 of that boats entire business for the year.  The trips these marinas have always booked are what we call shared expense trips, where you put groups together in order to reach a maximum capacity of some boats like 6 people or a minimum of 10 people for multi-passenger certified vessels.

When the charter office is booking 20 or so trips daily out of the 40 boats located in their marina, that means they are generating about $3,600.00 per day for about the 100 day summer season.  This is based on an average of $1200 per trip and the marina taking 15% off the top of each of the 20 or so boats they booked for the day.   When that number changes because of businesses like these virtual charter offices who are not anywhere around are booking another 15 to 20 of those boats, the marina charter office revenue falls down to about $900.00 per day or less, based on the same percentages mentioned before.   You might ask yourself, If I am a marina owner or charter office manager and all of a sudden we have lost our core income feed for our company, we had better get with the game and start booking more trips, or we need to look at making up the lost revenue that these two companies are taking from them.

Looking Online Into Virtual Charter Booking Offices In General

After a little online research into local fishing charters on the internet and on social media, we found advertisements or sponsored ads located at the top of the page offering fishing charters.  Some are fishing guides and the others are third party booking agents like Fishiningbooker.com, fisherguiding.com and fishanywhere.com.  Being fishing guides ourselves, we dug a little deeper into some of these advertisements and found out that the companies paying for these ads are paying some big money to be at the top of the search engine results.   They are not dumb.  They are paying money for internet placement  so what they are offering will give them top of the page placement.  Some have even gained a better generic ranking on Google due to having so much current, relevant content on their sites and even allow local charters to add their own fishing reports.  When we investigated these ads, we found out why.  They are virtual charter offices who are paying a bunch of money to get you to click on their advertisement so you would use their service to book fishing charters.   When we looked to see how all of this worked, we are starting to realize we may not want to use these services because they were not good for our business and they didn't give consumers the best return on their investment and a quality fishing experience.   They make anglers pay an up front non-refundable deposit for the trips they book.  That is alarming for today when booking a charter usually only requires a simple credit card number to be on file to set your trip up.

When consumers choose a fishing charter through a third party website (not the actual boat who is taking you fishing's website) to book your fishing trip, you the consumer are going to end up paying for it, one way or another.  Let us explain what is going on in the charter fishing world today and educate yourselves on what you can do to get the best fishing trip and keep your money in your pocket until the day of your trip.

One problem we identified is, there is a huge supply of charter boats in every port, including Orange Beach, Alabama.  There is only so many spaces on the first page of Google and Facebook, where local charter boats can be found.  Competition for business is tough in these local fishing ports. A lot of marina based charter booking offices have mostly failed to keep all of their boats booked in recent years.  This is why Virtual Charter Fishing Booking Companies are appearing online and trying to gain market share, making up for charter offices who can't book all their boats.  This is largely due to charter booking offices failing to keep up with technology and being able to provide "one click" service for consumers who want to book a no hassle fishing trip. 

We have been watching Fishingbooker.com, Fisherguiding.com and Fishanywhere.com advertising their services to both anglers and to charter fishing guide services, trying to provide a service to the angler and the charter boats, but ultimately, they are out to make money by booking fishing trips.  We are going to explore a few things about these companies, so you understand the basic concepts of how they work and what you the consumer, charter operators and local marina charter offices need to consider.

Who Are These Third Party Companies and Where Are They Located?

From their website, fishingbooker.com is located in Belgrade, Serbia.   According to their website, the company was founded by a software engineer named Vukan Simic.  He is the Founder and CEO.  He has a partner named Dino Delic as COO, and an entire support team, all of which are located in Serbia.   The domain is registered to Simic Tech Limited out of Hong Kong which apparently is Vukan's last name and his company.   We did find a local number with an area code of 850, which is the panhandle of Florida.  From their website, "FishingBooker is the worlds largest online travel company that enables you to find and book fishing trips.  They claim they have 25,280 trips available in 1792 cities, in 98 countries."

Fisherguiding.com is very vague about where they are located.   Being a virtual third party booking website, they probably left that detail out for some reason, just trying to look larger than they are as a company.  From third party websites, we found the name Edward Hill and Luke Campbell founded this company back on March 22, 2017.   These guys are apparently from the United States, but not much can be found on them.

Fishanywhere.com says they are based in Florida, but they hide who the are very well.   They have their domain listed privately, which means they don't want anyone to know whoy YOU are giving your money to or doing business with. The are a little different than the other virtual charter offices and say they promote conservation by allowing customers donate to them, but as vague as they are, who really knows.   From what we found, they charge 10% booking commission to book fishing charters as a flat rate.

Why Would Any Charter Boat Company Need A Virtual Charter Office To Book Them A Fishing Trip?

Charter fishing businesses in the northern Gulf of Mexico are mostly seasonal and competition to book trips and to catch the biggest and most fish, is fierce.  Most of our revenue for our charter companies comes during the summer tourism seasons beginning around mid May (Memorial Day) and continues through early September (Labor Day).  Most fishing charters start each year fishing during spring break (March and April) and finish up the season during the fall months of September and October each year.   However, most local fishing guides and charters generate about 80-85% +/- of their operating revenue during the summer months when most of the tourist come to our area and are looking for activities for their family.  It is important for charter fishermen to book and run as many trips as they can while the fish are in season or when people are in town and wanting to wet a hook.   While charter boats are at sea during the day, they can't answer the phones or get email or reservations.  A Virtual charter office takes the place of all that.

The thought of using a virtual charter fishing booking office like FishingBooker.com or fisherguiding.com seems like a good deal on the surface to anyone who does not have a lot of their own business, is new in the charter fishing business, is located at a marina who's charter office hasn't kept up with marketing and technolgy or someone who operates from their home or a public boat ramp.  Now, we all could use a few more trips during the year, but at what expense? After looking into using Fishingbooker.com or Fisherguiding.com ourselves, we are not so sure what they are offering, creates a win/win for consumers, charter boats and local marinas where the boats are docked. 

How Charter Boats Sign Up and Start Making Money Booking Fishing Trips

When looking at the fishingbooker.com's website for example, it has a link that says "list your boat," The link on the webpage clearly advertises "Keep your Fishing Charter Fully Booked Year-Round - Without Wasting Money on Advertising."   "Claim Your Listing Free Listing."  In our opinion, what this is really saying is, "We are spending a ton of money advertising your market, and competing against you, so it would be a waste of your time and money to try and compete against us."  For those who are in the local market and your website is not ranking or getting you any business, you may be tempted to join up and let another company take your market share.

Just like so many internet directories we have seen in the past, they allow new and prospective fishing charters to sign up for the "Free Listing" where a charter fishing company can add their boat details, photos and payment policies.  It says "Once you set your listing live you can start receiving reservations immediately."  You then will be prompted to send in proof of your captains credentials, charter boat documentation or registration, etc.  They will even send someone over and fly a drone over your boat and do an dockside interview with you so you can tell the world what you do, how great you are and what you specialize in.  It's kind of like an infomercial.  This ensures consumers are getting a real charter boat to take them fishing.  The video allows customers to see what  you look like and sound like - kind of a familiarization type thing.  All of this self promoting,  doesn't prove that the captain or guide service offers quality fishing trips, has a safe, clean boat or is good with your family and especially children.  Remember, it's a paid advertisement, not a third party opinion or a third party review.

When you read their online sales pitch, who wouldn't want to join up and start running trips?  If you are not running many trips anyway or are located at a marina that does not book charters like they used too, the temptation to join a free service and start making money by running more trips is overwhelmingly attractive.  Well, hold on a minute.  There has to be a catch, doesn't it?  How can a free listing equal revenue for your charter fishing company?  The answer is obviously raises a big flag and ultimately is a big NO.   While talking to other captains who use fishingbooker.com, they have told us that after you submit your information, you will be contacted from a sales representative from fishingbooker and they will go over some things and explain how all of this works. 

This is where you will find out that a free listing is not actually free.  If you want to start making money and getting trips, you have to agree to pay them a commission - which is disquised as a customer deposit for a fishing trip.  Someone at fishingbooker.com has to get paid in order to keep all of those pay per click and sponsored ads at the top of the search engines and to keep fishingbooker's staff paid.  So, basically, if you want to get booked, you will have to agree on paying fishingbooker.com some agreed fee or percentage of the cost of the fishng trip.  These fees you can agree to range from 10% to 30% of the price of the trip and boat they are promoting, plus a 2.5% to 3.5% credit card processing fee.  Fisherguiding.com reportedly only takes a 6% booking fee.

Are You Paying Too Much and Getting Much Less?

From what we can gather from our sources and from what we can see online, fishingbooker.com reportedly controls who gets booked by allowing the charter fishing operator to choose their own percentage they want to pay fishingbooker.com for booking them a fishing trip.   In traditional fishing charter booking offices, they used to charge a 15% commission off the top of what the charter boat is selling the trip for as a normal rate.  The best fishing charters in the area stay booked and offer better services and overall quality fishing trips, without paying anyone a booking fee.  FishingOrangeBeach.com is a perfect example of a free service for charters that will always remain free and this website gets results for charter operators.

With fishingbooker.com, if you want to get trips or be promoted by their company, you can choose what percentage or commission you want to pay them.  The higher dollar or percentage amount you agree to pay, the more you will be booked.  Ultimately, the percentage you agree to pay them, is what YOUR CUSTOMERS to pay them when they pay an upfront non-refundable deposit.  You can tell what percentage the charter boat is paying them to book their trips by looking at the DEPOSIT Percentage a little further down the page of the individual charter boat you are wanting to book.  The rates charter boats pay them are reported from as low as a free listing, all the way up to 30% booking fee to the charter.  When we looked at those charters in Orange Beach, Alabama who require the most or highest percentage of deposit to be paid, those are the ones who just so happened to get special icon's or words beside their listing like "Just Booked" "In Demand" or "Anglers Choice Medal" on their listings.  All of those boats were paying 15% or more commission (deposit).

What You As A Consumer Needs To Know

First off, you are not getting the best fishing experience or fishing trip by using a marina charter office or virtual charter office located somewhere on the interweb to book your trip because you are paying a commission.  The best Trips in Orange Beach are booked when you go direct to the fishing charter you want to go fishing with.  If consumer's were savvy and did their homework, they would look on one of these virtual sites for research purposes only, and pick the fishing charter they want, then go around the middle man find that charter boat's personal website and book direct with that boat.  This would give that charter boat enough revenue for the trip (without having to pay a commission), which would give you the best fishing experience.

Let us explain this to you.  In order for a charter boat to stay in business, he/she has to make a profit.  By making a profit each year, allows charter boat owners and operators to reinvest in their businesses, maintain their vessels, buy new equipment, pay crews, marketing expenses and most importantly, feed their family.  A charter boats profits for the year are about 15% of gross revenue.  When a fishing charter has to pay a booking agent 15% or more commission to book their boat for them, that charter boat is only making a paycheck, putting hours on their motors, wear and tear on their gear, but definitely not making a profit.  This is a dangerous situation for the charter boat and can create a bad experience for the customers who use their services.   There are a lot of fishing charters who have to work winter jobs in order to make ends meet because they have to pay commissions to third parties, which results in them not making a profit for their business.

How charter boats who pay commissions try to keep their businesses afloat - Remember, nothing is free in this world but advice.  Most of the advice we have ever received has been wrong.  For those of you who are business savvy, you know what happens when a company doesn't make a profit.   Since competition is tough, many charter boats can't or won't raise their prices to make up for the difference if lost revenue caused by having to pay ridiculous commission to a booking agent.  They end up sacrificing service and looking for ways to save money in order to make up for lost profits.   Some charters who pay commissions often idle out to the fishing grounds trying to save money by not burning fuel.   They slow troll instead of getting you to where the best fishing grounds are.  They spend up to 30 minutes of your time making you catch your own live bait because they don't want to spend money buying frozen bait.  The fishing tackle they provide is usually old or worn out and poorly serviced.   The boat is usually in dire need of repair, upkeep and maintenance.

With this whole "Make America Great Again Campaign (MAGA)," what you need to know is, your fishing trip deposit money is being taken out of the local community or even out of the country.  For those of you who have seen in the past, how large corporations or foreign corporations come into small communities and end up putting the mom and pop businesses out of business.  Charter boats are small businesses and every dime you spend with them is reinvested back into the local communities.  By doing business with a company that is not local or in this country, this should at least raise an eyebrow or cause you to express some concern as to where your money is going and how it is effecting the local economy and community.

Online Customer Reviews - Can You Trust Somone Who Controls Their Own Reviews?

One of the most alarming things we saw on these two websites is how they handle and solicit their own reviews.   There is nothing wrong with a good review, but should you trust someone who posts their own reviews while promoting their own website?  As a consumer, you should only trust UNSOLICITED REVIEWS from third party websites and review sites like tripadvisor, yelp and google reviews for unbiased customer opinions.

What A Charter Boat Operator Needs To Know Before You Use These Services

When you allow a foreign or non local company to take your profits out of your pocket, your local community and even out of the country, you are hurting yourself and your local community.  When you allow a non-local third party or an online booking agency to book your boat for you, you are hurting the very local marina's you keep your boat docked at and causing them to lose much needed annual revenue and profits like you need.   What many captains and guides realize is, when they pay a commission to their own local, charter office, that money pays the bank mortgage, salaries, upkeep of marina, parking lot, fuel docks, marketing, etc.   By having a nice facility or marina to work out of, attracts more customers to the location.  Poorly run marina's are an eye sore to the consumer and they end up going eslewhere to find nicer facilities, better maintained boats that provide a better service. 

By having consumers go direct to the captain, gives the boat extra money in their buget to burn the fuel to get yourself offshore to where the better fishing is.  The extra money goes toward buying and maintaining their boat, their tackle and having the best baits for you to use.  The 15% plus commission saved, means you the consumer gets a better fishing trip on a boat that is more reliable and have a captain who is not stressing about trying to make up the difference in lost revenue by staying closer to shore, idling out and not burning fuel trying to put you on quality fish.

Solution for Consumers Wanting To Go Fishing

  • If you are looking for a fishing charter on either of these third party websites or a marina website, you need to do your homework and find the boat you want.
  • In order for you to get the best return on your investment, all you have to do is contact the charter boat directly or go to their website and you will get the regular every day price and may not have to pay a non-refundable commission as a booking fee.  This way, the captain makes a profit and you wil get a better experience, better boat, better bait, better tackle and the list continues.
  • Find a charter boat that operates like a hotel and holds your credit card number on file until the day of your trip.  This way you keep your money in your pocket longer.
  • Do not agree to pay an up front deposit on any trip less than 12 hours.
  • By not paying a non-refundable deposit up front will protect you in case you have bad weather and can't go.  With charters who only take a credit card number to hold on file, don't charge you or keep your money if seas are too rough or you can't go fishing.

Solution for Charter Boats Wanting to Grow Their Business

  • You need to take the 15% you are paying someone to book your boat and invest it into marketing and advertising.  This can be online, billboards, rack cards, working with hotels and other venues.  Doing so will help balance out your business so you are not totally dependent upon a third party to book most of your trips.
  • You need to support your local marina by allowing them to book your trips.  If you don't pay them to help you will slowly see a decline in the marina facilties, service, etc.
  • You need to be careful and keep your prices up.  When more boats find out that they can book trips using one of these websites, you will end up getting in a low price war in order to stay booked.  Then, everyone loses.  The customers will lose because you won't have the revenue to run a productive fishing trip.
  • As we have all seen in the past couple of years, it is getting harder to catch quality fish close to shore due to too many people fishing short trips and hammering the fish in those close zones.  If you are forced to cut your prices in order to run trips, you are going to be stuck in a fishing box like everyone else and those fish are going to continue to get over fished and the entire stock will be depleted.  Then everyone loses.  You lose a customer because they didn't get the trip they expected.  You lose money because you ran cheap.

Solutions for Charter Boat Marina Booking Offices

The unintended consequences of not booking your fishing trip with a local company direct is, marina's are feeling the crunch of lost revenue.  There is even talk amongst those in the know, that the marina charter offices are going to make their marina's profitable again, or things are going to change drastically at their location.   Some are even talking about getting creative and charging the charter boats extra money for those who are booking their own trips.   As you can see, there are some adverse effects of not keeping your money local.  Who knows what is really going to happen at these marinas, but one thing for sure, charter boats and marinas have to be competitive, offer excellent customer service and remain profitable in order to stay in business.  Most of all, they need to be technology savvy and be able to meet the demands of customers.

  • You need to invest in a booking system like these two companies do, so you can allow your charter boats to get booked with just the click of a button.
  • If your revenue keeps declining because these two websites are taking business off your plate, you are going to have to make up that revenue somewhere to offset the losses caused by these two companies and those who may be like them.
  • You may have to raise slip rent.
  • You may have to start charging for parking.
  • You may have to start charging a per person fee for everyone who gets on your boats, whether you booked them or a trip they booked themselves.
  • You may have to up your 15% charter booking fee to 20%
  • You may have to up your credit card processing fee to the maximum amount allowed.
  • You may have to make it a rule for everyone at your marina to buy their bait, fuel and ice from your charter office.
  • You may raise the price of fuel.

This article is only an opinion of our staff.  Our intentions are to inform and enlighten consumers, charter boat owners/operators and local charter booking offices, that there are some things you need to consider when using a virtual charter office. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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