The pandemic changed the landscape for millions of companies, causing many to go out of business. Tourism was hard hit by the lockdown, however, one business, Dive The World, was able to survive. We speak to their owner, Sheldon Hey, about how they did it and how Pomelo Pay’s payment products helped them.
Tell us about your business and how does it work?
Dive The World is a travel agency which specialises in scuba diving holidays around the world. We offer vacations in over 30 different countries to over 150 destinations. We have a range of add-ons in certain places but our core focus will always be scuba diving.
We work 100% through the internet, the website generates enquiries and we process those enquiries online as well as through live chat. We have a team set up in Asia, someone in the UK and then myself in South America, so we try to service enquiries 24/7 by always being available in those core time zones. So whatever the time or day we always have someone online.
How did you get started and why?
I used to do an office job but I thought to myself that I cannot spend the rest of my life doing this. I trained as an accountant and was doing a typical Monday to Friday style job working for someone else.
After a few years, I couldn’t face it anymore, so I decided I was going to change my life and do something that I really wanted to do. I soon became a ‘dive bum’ and travelled the world for a couple of years teaching diving. However I realised that although it was good fun and nice to be your own boss, in the end, you need to generate money as well.
I saw that there was a good opportunity to build my own online business. The money in scuba diving is not in teaching diving, but in selling diving. It is similar to snow skiing in that it is quite a high price ticket. If you want to sell a holiday it can be several thousand dollars for a week, so you can earn a decent-sized commission on those vacations.
The more products you sell, the more money you can earn and that’s what I decided to do.
I started up when I was in Thailand and then I added, Malaysia, Indonesia and eventually the Maldives and the Red Sea before establishing myself around the world.
What do you enjoy about your business?
I enjoy being my own boss and having my own working hours. It's also great to work from home. Of course, I really enjoy travelling. Certainly one of the benefits is that you get invited to all of these places, such as for familiarisation visits. They are all generally free, all you have to do is pay the airfare.
This gives me the opportunity to dive into all of the best places around the world at minimal cost. Scuba diving is one of my passions and I love being close to nature and the wildlife.
Another thing I enjoy is that we are making our customers happy, as they visit because they want to experience a wonderful holiday. As we have a wide selection of options, one of the nicest things is, I never have to pretend, as I know how great each one is.
I want to ensure customers are always happy by finding the best possible experiences. We often get customer testimonials saying that we have done a great job and that they have had the best time of their life. That’s really special and makes everything worthwhile.
As a tourist business, you must have many customers who wish to pay in a foreign currency. Does Pomelo Pay allow you to process foreign currencies easily?
We have customers all around the world, they pay in multiple currencies, and we have to find a way to process those in an efficient and cost-effective manner but we also have to pay the tour operator as well.
So we have the customer who has one currency and we have our bank accounts, which is another currency and we have to pay the operator which again, is often in another currency. We often have two conversions that we do (the customer to us, and then us to the tour operator), and we have to try and do that in the most efficient way possible. We have accounting in euros, pounds and US dollars so these are the main payment currencies that we have to pay our bills.
We use Pomelo Pay with these three core currencies and have separate accounts for this. The technical support team at Pomelo Pay has assisted us in setting up our online payment page as well as processing those currencies. That has been very helpful to us and in getting things established. So Pomelo Pay enables us to process customer payments in a cost-effective manner.
What do your customers like about using our products?
The bulk of our customers have been from the USA and they want to pay in US dollars. Naturally, that is one of the currencies that we allow payments in and customers like the flexibility to pay online and the instant support.
What we really appreciate most from Pomelo Pay, is the customer service. We can get answers very quickly from the customer support team and we can then pass that onto our customers in dealing with any issues that they have paying in the currency that they want.
How do your customers use our products to pay you? How has the product helped your business?
We use payment links. So, we send them a link to our payment page when they have chosen a product. We send them the payment link, which will have the chosen currency, booking reference and the payment amount.
The customer clicks on the link and it takes them to our website and it gets processed. That is currently how we do it and I am quite eager to explore other ways that we can possibly accept payments.
Have you seen any benefits since using our solutions e.g. is turn around quicker? Are there less queues?
The two things that I really liked about Pomelo Pay, is that one: it is cost-effective, the pricing is very good compared to most of the competitors and the second thing is that the customer support is excellent.
We do get quite a few enquiries as scuba diving is quite a high priced ticket, so payments are occasionally declined. When payments don’t go through customers are not really accustomed to that. Naturally, customers question this and can panic but the service we get from Pomelo Pay on this has been great.
Unlike many payment processors, Pomelo Pay took a considered, risk-based approach to DTW's credit assessment and profiling to provide continued support to our business during this difficult time.
What were the most important features you looked for when deciding on a payment processor?
Like I said before, it was important that the payment processor offered good customer support and was cost-effective. During the pandemic it was particularly difficult to find a payment processor that was positive about the travel industry, so Pomelo Pay’s support during that time was invaluable.
What is the most popular dive destination?
Pre-pandemic it was Indonesia and the Maldives but during the pandemic Indonesia closed down. The destinations that have been good for us and diving has to be the Maldives and the Red Sea in Egypt.
The main reason is that the Maldives did a very good job in controlling the pandemic, and has been open since July 2020, which was one of the only places that people could go to during that time.
Mexico stayed open as well and has stayed popular as it is close to the USA. Most of our customers are from there and were allowed to travel. Having a destination that was close to the USA and welcoming tourists was good for the industry, as Europeans, Australians and Africans were not able to travel so freely.
What are the biggest challenges facing your industry?
The pandemic was one of the biggest challenges we have faced. Not being able to travel has been huge. Back in Feb/March 2020 when it hit, we were wondering like everyone else how long it was going to be with us.
Here we are 2 years later and half of the world is still frightened to travel. The UK is now allowed to go on holiday but it is still very slow and not many people are travelling. It is still taking a bit of time for people to become accustomed to travelling abroad again.
What was the impact of the pandemic on the tourism industry and has it picked up?
Looking at traffic and our volume of clients, I would say traffic is roughly about half of what it was pre-pandemic. I would say our volume at the moment is around 20% of what it was pre-pandemic, which is better than zero.
During the pandemic, we had to put our staff onto skeleton hours. We had invested a lot of time in training our staff and making them experts in various destinations around the world. They had also invested in us so we didn’t want to let them go, we wanted to continue to pay them at least something during the pandemic.
We didn’t get any support from the government as they are not UK staff, so they were not entitled to any support and we had to find a way to keep them and support them ourselves.
We established a much reduced schedule and then very slowly, started to build up their hours. Like our staff levels, our customer levels are slowly growing again. I am feeling pretty confident that this year, things will build back up.
After the pandemic, what were the most popular payment solutions?
We do have our three main currencies, as I mentioned before - so we always offer these as payment options. Many people these days are used to paying by card, but we always offer alternative options, either bank transfer or by card. People do prefer bank transfers if it is a large sum of money, for example £10,000. 95% choose to pay by card.
What are your plans for the future?/ How are you feeling about Dive the World’s prospects for 2022?
I am the principal owner of the business. When all the staff were put onto skeleton schedules for two years, I didn't get a salary at all just to try and give the company the opportunity to breathe for a little bit and to keep the staff on.
During this time, I also used it to add quite a lot of new destinations, some in the Caribbean, as it is better than doing nothing for the company. I added new places and new products in anticipation of the pandemic slowly easing, so we actually have a lot more to offer now than we did pre-pandemic.
We are also going through a new website design, and we have also upgraded the systems on the website with the latest versions.
So, overall I am pretty optimistic as we are in a better position now than we have ever been. We were not the only ones suffering, everyone else was suffering too and maybe it has cut some of the competition out. I imagine the travel industry has felt the most impact out of all the industries.
You can almost foresee a rebound as people have not been able to travel for 2 years so now everyone will want to travel. So fingers crossed that people think of us when they want to go diving.
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