Campfire on beach reached by canoe

Two firsts for Otter Adventures…

This month saw two firsts for Otter Adventures – but not ones that I am proud of or will be celebrating.

Last weekend was the first time guests that had been booked in for quite a while did not turn up. This was then followed by my having to postpone/cancel trips due to personal illness.

Every business has it’s low points and this has been one of mine since I started Otter Adventures in 2017. As these are both situations that may affect you if you book a trip, I thought it might be worth sharing how I have managed these. That way it won’t just be the ‘Terms and Conditions‘ that you’ll be referring to.

Cancellation by Otter Adventures

Let’s take the illness. Thankfully not serious (a high temperature), but it has taken me out of action for several days now. It looks like I will still be out of action for the rest of the week.

This would constitute a reason out of my control (force majeur) to cancel your trip and issue a full refund. Not what I would want to do though…

When I first realised that I was not going to be able to fulfil trips (Monday), I contacted all bookings for the week to see if I could postpone rather than cancel. Hoping that I would be much fitter by mid-week, I opted for Thursday and Friday as they were both without bookings at that point.

Contacting visitors to the area is a challenge in itself as they often struggle with mobile phone reception or WiFi access points (even in their accommodation). Some accommodation providers are better than others and some regions across the peninsulas more 4G enabled than others. This is why I ask for a mobile phone number in advance of your trip. I can then use email, text and phone calls/voicemail to get a message to you if I were to need to cancel/postpone your trip.

I did manage to get through to everyone before the end of the day and they were all very understanding. Thank you. The majority were able to postpone their trips until the end of the week.

However, it now looks like my fitness has not come back and, rather than risk taking people out when only at half-strength, I will be contacting them later today (Wednesday) to arrange full refunds as quick as possible.

I didd look into getting a freelance guide in to cover the trips. Having not done this before, and being unwell, I would not have been able to induct them into the business. This means that whilst the could have taken the guests out and had a great time, it would not have been an ‘otter adventure’. It is something that I need to consider more seriously now – a pool of freelancers that understand my business model and know the area.

Cancellation by you

If you know that you are not going to be able to make your booking, for whatever reason, get in touch as soon as you can. Although I am a small business and every penny counts and there are clear Terms and Conditions, I am also human and understanding.

One booking last year cancelled within a month of their trip with a change of personal circumstances. The terms say that up to 15 days before the trip I may retain the deposit if I cannot fill the places vacated by your cancellation. This booking was at a relatively quiet time of year so I was not fully booked and, although I did not fill the places, I did refund their deposit in full.

Had the booking been during the busy season (Easter holidays or late-July through to early-september), I would probably have held onto the deposit until the trip date in case I was able to fill the places. I get quite a few late booking request during these periods and have referred a few bookings to other companies when I have been too busy.

If your cancellation meant that I could have taken that booking, then I will have lost out.

Not turning up

In this instance, I still do not know what happened. The booking was made through a French travel agent. A company that has used my services before and has been very efficient every time. On this occasion, I had no choice but to email the travel agent (they do not provide me with contact details of the clients – that is another issue) and head out as there were other guests to consider.

As far as I am aware, they did not turn up and I have not heard from the travel agent despite my email.

The agreement I have with the agent is very similar to my terms and conditions except that within 14 days it it full payment if cancelled or not showing up as communications are often slower due to having to go through the agent to reach the client.

The outcomes?

Firstly, I wonder what effect postponing and then cancelling trips has ups my reputation? Everyone has been very understanding, but is obviously disappointed not to be able to make their trips. For some,this would have been the highlight of their holiday – and I can only apologise for not being able to deliver what we had negotiated.

Secondly, the issue of having a pool of freelancers to cover me is to be investigated; but they are rarely available at very short and sudden notice.

Perhaps some form of income protection insurance for small businesses in case of illness or similar circumstances might be worth investigating. In two years I have not had to worry about it… It also helps me financially if I am ill for longer periods or during the busy season. It is of no comfort to you if your trip is cancelled.

As for not showing up – I reiterate that you should get in touch with me as soon as you know that it is going to be a problem for you. That way we can do something about it together. The more notice you give me, the more likely I am to refund your deposit as I am more likely to be able to fill your places.

Whilst I will try to contact you if you do not show up, I may well have other guests and be concentrating on them. So please do not expect a long conversation about refunds at that point. Or indeed to receive a refund. Sorry.

While these two firsts for Otter Adventures are not great ones, they do show how I interpret the ‘Terms and Conditions‘. They also highlight how they impact upon me and my business and a couple of areas that I need to address as I grow Otter Adventures into the premier multi-activity provider on the West Highland Peninsulas.