Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rockport Skimmer - or Scammer?

At 7:15 a.m. Saturday we were very excited. We were in Fulton harbor, standing beside a boat called the Skimmer and waiting for the crew to arrive. We were going on a 3.5 hour cruise to see Whooping Cranes and other birds. We'd done the 4 hour drive down from Houston in driving rain the previous day but Saturday was dawning dry and clear.

The departure time, 7:30, came and went with no sign of the crew. I phoned the company at 877-TX-BIRDS but all I got was an outdated recording.

At 8:00 we gave up and returned to our hotel, where the receptionist seemed embarrassed to tell us that it wasn't unusual for Skimmer trips to be cancelled.

Back in Houston, I called the Skimmer office and left a message for them to call me. They called back later and told me that the trip had been cancelled because there weren't enough people booked. They said they had called us Friday afternoon to move us to another trip. (Never mind that we had already left Houston by then, that our voicemail didn't show a record of a call, and that moving to a later trip would have cost us another $140 in hotel charges.) Apparently they won't run a trip if fewer than 10 people book it.

To be fair, the Skimmer web site does mention a 10-person minimum but there was no mention of a possible cancellation when we made our reservation, even though we told them that we were driving 200 miles from Houston (and spending $140 for a hotel) specially for the trip. From what we were told on the phone, the Saturday morning trip was definitely on.

When you first think about it, the 10-person minimum policy seems reasonable. But, if you think a little more, it really isn't. Imagine if restaurants, motels, airlines, movie theaters or other businesses had such a policy. Or imagine if 9 people booked and drove down to Rockport from Houston for the boat trip. Even though the people would have spent hours driving there and hundreds of dollars on hotel rooms, the company still wouldn't do the trip because they would only have received $405 in ticket sales. Earning $405 for a morning's boat trip doesn't sound like a bad deal to me! But I suppose the people who operate the Skimmer would rather inconvenience nine people and lose their goodwill than forego those extra $45.

Oh, well, it seems that this is the way a lot of businesses run in these greedy days. I wonder whatever happened to "the customer is always right"? It obviously isn't a policy that the people at 877-TX-BIRDS subscribe to.


Birdwoman said...

I'm so sorry you were disappointed. Next time try the Wharf Cat. I do think you'll be happy with them.

Jeff said...

They've already contacted me! I think I'm going to enjoy going with them.

mkircus said...

I've been using the skimmer for whooping crane/migrant watching for 20 years under 3 different captains.

I have always had a very positive experience. The last time I went, I took a group of 12 birders/kayakers. The captain stayed out longer and showed us a couple of rarities in the bay.

I too, lived in Houston at that time. You might want to consider leading a trip for your friends so you will always have the mininum required.

And yes, you should have also been warned about possible cancellations.

Marilyn Kircus

Jeff said...

I don't think there's a problem with the captains or crew. I've always heard good things about them. I think it's the management that's the problem.