Thousands of divers enjoy holidays of a lifetime on liveaboard boats in the Red Sea every year, but from time to time Diver Magazine hears from some who return disappointed.
Complaints include the accommodation, the food, the diving, too few dive guides, a lack of RIBs, sometimes all of these things. A common complaint is that passengers are not taken to promised diving destinations for one reason or another.
Do some people expect too much for their money Or could it be that liveaboard holidays in the Red Sea are just too cheap
A look at the situation shows that, in the past 15 years, prices have come down significantly in real terms. Many divers can remember paying around £1000 in the early 1980s for an all-in holiday including flights and seven days liveaboard diving out of Sharm. Now you can get the same thing for about £700.
When you deduct from that the cost of your flights (around £200), transfers and agents commission, there is not very much left for the local operator, who will be supplying you with all your food and accommodation - plus three or more dives per day.
The whole liveaboard business is now highly competitive, and prices are cut to the bone. This may look like good news for divers - the price per passenger for full-board accommodation, fuel, crew costs, and diving can be as little as £40 per day - but this does not even cover the cost of the diving alone in many resorts.
To compete, operators have to cut costs. Diving itineraries are sometimes compromised, and some vessels may be less than ideal for liveaboard work, displaying a distinct lack of craftsmanship in their build quality, among other things.
Crews are also seriously underpaid, often doing it for the experience and a so-called free holiday. When I was a dive guide on a notable Red Sea liveaboard, our deckhand, a computer programmer in normal life, was paid only $1 per day plus any diving he managed to squeeze in!
Moreover, crews are sometimes recruited from backpackers picked up in the home port, and it is not until they are at sea that their strengths and weaknesses are discovered.
Even skippers sometimes treat their time aboard as a holiday away from their normal work.
Boats at sea demand attention at all times. Crews are on call 24 hours a day. In such circumstances, the experience can be less than enjoyable for them, and this does not lead to a happy or efficient atmosphere.
For guests, meals can be more basic than expected, for supplies can be hard to get and little boat space sometimes gets allocated to the galley. Chefs often have limited skills.
Many of these problems could be solved by raising prices. More money could then be invested by operators in better vessels, better maintenance, better-qualified crews.
So, when choosing a Red Sea liveaboard holiday, do not automatically be seduced by bargain prices. Operators who have chosen to charge the right rate for the right package may actually be offering better value for money.