Secrets of the international fishing agent
Charlie White, director of fishing at Roxtons Fieldsports, talks to Fish and Fly about the 2012 prospects for Iceland, while giving a fascinating insight into the wider role and responsibilities of one of the UK's top destination sporting agencies. But first, with the Russian season already under way on the Varzuga and the other Kola rivers and Norway set to open on June 1st, we asked him about another great destination salmon country, Iceland:
‘IT IS STILL EARLY DAYS for Iceland,” writes Charlie White. “Their season starts on June 1st but most rivers don’t really kick off until July 1st. I know that there has been a lot of snow over the winter and they are excited about this season’s water levels (important in some of those smaller rivers as they can get very low in a low-snow year).
“Most of the decent rivers are pretty full and I would warn Fish and Fly members about cheap offers. There are layers to Icelandic fishing and while the top layer is very expensive you do find that as you go down the leagues, the quality of the fishing falls a lot faster than the prices do. You can end up with a relatively cheap Icelandic fishing trip (and by relatively cheap I mean relative to other Icelandic offerings) and spend a fortune having a poor time of it in sporting terms. Better to spend a total fortune and have a great time!
“Fish and Fly readers interested in visiting the country should also demand catch stats by the week and not by season totals (which is historically how all Icelandic rivers report) as most of the smaller rivers allow worming in the last two weeks of the season and they are total killers. You can go to a river that appears to catch a lot of fish every year and find out that in the week you are there, they never catch very many and the records are heavily skewed by that last period of fishing.
“As ever, talk to someone who knows about it. A river owner just needs to sell you a trip for this year and doesn’t really care whether you come back, an agency needs to keep you on board as a client and not go around slagging them off. Even if it is not Roxtons – ha, I just had to say that! –do use an agent as you will get an independent view as we don’t care which river you go to as long as you have a good time and come back and think we have done a good job and tell everyone else about it! We get the commission for whichever place you end up in so have no need to promote one above the other and can simply recommend the one that is most likely to work for you.
“Over and above all that – we work on commissions from the lodges (and all lodges pay the same so there is no bias caused that way) and cost nothing to use. On top of that we are bonded and if you have booked your trip with us and a volcano goes haywire, it is our problem to get you home, not your own. If you cannot go then I have to find you something alternative worth the same value or give you your money back even if I have no chance of getting that money back myself.. Why people book direct is beyond me!
“For every other destination there is a price for a weeks’ worth of fishing which is the same whether you book it through an agent or not. A lot of saltwater lodges, for example, have a rates page on their website and if we were more expensive than the website then we would go out of business almost immediately. If we send a client to the lodge, they give us 15% of the total cost of the week.
“So, for a week that costs $5,000, the client is charged $5,000 whether they book it with us or directly on the internet. We get paid because we charge $5,000 but only get an invoice for the lodge for $4,250. For that 15% we market the lodges, produce brochures, have websites, bang the drum about their product and so on. It is a strange business model because clients simply do not believe us when we say it costs no more but it is the truth. We are often cheaper overall than booking direct because we do not charge banking charges (which you have to pay if you send money overseas) and we have contracts with a lot of the big airlines and so can save people money there.
“If you book it direct you have no help, no advice on when to go there (as lodge websites tend to highlight the period that they find difficult to sell) and no cover at all if that lodge goes bust or something else happens. It is a no brainer to use an agent but people just don’t believe that they can get a service which costs them nothing.
“This is why I get a bit irate when people say ‘Roxtons are bloody expensive’ – actually Roxtons are free but the products we represent are expensive because we only focus on “the best possible chance of sporting excellence”. If you extrapolate it to the nth degree you will notice that in fact we never get paid by clients – the lodges are the ones who pay us…
“There you go! A small insight into the frustrations of selling yourself!!!
“Just to add, I think that agents as a whole have been terribly bad at selling ourselves as we take all the risk out of the booking and give people peace of mind that their money is safe so they can just focus on enjoying the holiday.
“I spend a huge amount of my time with the CAA and ATOL (the Government agencies that regulate travel companies) to demonstrate to them that we have enough cash and wherewithal to get someone out of trouble if there is an airline collapse or a lodge goes bust or even if we have to work out an Icelandic ash crisis.
“To give you an idea of what can go wrong – last year we had a family staying on North Island in the Seychelles and because of the ash crisis they had to stay there for 5 more nights than they had booked. North Island costs $6,000 a night and we were obliged to pick up the tab for them as we could not get them home when we had contracted to and so it cost us $30,000 – if they had booked direct they would have had to pay for that themselves…
“Finally, we have been to every destination that we represent and can give first hand advice on what to do and what not to do. More to the point it is not worth us sending someone to a destination that won’t work for them as it leads to loads of problems for us in terms of reputation etc and there is even an argument for saying no to people. If you are running a lodge you have to fill the space year on year and might not be quite so keen on turning people away.”
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