Hermes Torres, owner of Happy Fish Catamarans in the Dominican Republic, is no stranger to being a tour operator. He started working for a tour excursion company at a young age and continued to work in the tourism industry throughout his adult life, getting the opportunity to work abroad and gain tons of valuable experience. Eventually, he went to study on the business side of tourism and went on to create his own business, Happy Fish Catamarans, which focuses on providing high quality small group catamaran tours.
The key to success is adapting
Hermes and his business partner – who worked for a competing tour company before they started Happy Fish Catamarans – had a lot of shared knowledge and experiences and could easily identify what they liked about other boat cruise tours. But most importantly, they identified what they did not like about other tours. Booze cruises are popular in the Dominican Republic. The average booze cruise was overcrowded, had low quality drinks, and were centered around drinking – something that may work for spring breakers, but something that Hermes called outdated. The two took this compilation of complaints of other boat cruise tours, reversed it, and made their to-do list.
Hermes also had noticed a change in traveler preferences over time. Through first-hand experience and his own research, he saw a rise in popularity among small-group and private tour experiences. Small groups were a key differentiator for Happy Fish Catamarans and that differentiator also provided another opportunity: unlike the boats of his competition, his custom-made boats can go into shallow waters, allowing him to take passengers to a natural reserve that is less-trafficked for a more enjoyable experience.
By identifying all the negative aspects of the typical boat cruise, and thinking strategically about traveler preferences, he could create an experience that exploited the weaknesses of his competition to create an experience that travelers would remember for a lifetime.
Curating the perfect small-group experience
Hermes and his crew remain focused on the level of quality of their catamaran tours. Bathrooms are always kept clean and functional and the boats provide a good amount of shade to those looking for reprieve from the sun. All the snacks served onboard are made from fresh local ingredients and all drinks are premium and are local as well. “You see on Tripadvisor/Viator [reviews] that the drinks on the boat were better than at the hotel. We know that this is very important, because people come to have a drink and they’re going to be with us for a couple of hours so they need to get the best of everything.” All of this attention to detail has certainly paid off for Hermes and co. as their Small Group Sailing and Snorkeling tour currently boasts an average of 5-stars with over 700 reviews on Viator! That goes a long way toward ensuring they have an excellent product on Viator. “People need to know the importance of being well ranked on Tripadvisor and Viator. If you can do that, you can do better than your competition,” Hermes said.
Beyond the onboard accommodations, Hermes wanted to make sure that every guest on his boat would have something to do and enjoy. “We learned that people from the cities want something, people from the midwest or other places want something different. We put everything together so that we are able to please everyone no matter where they come from.” If a traveler did not like to drink, they could enjoy the fresh snacks on board. If they did not want to snorkel, they could go paddle boarding or sit on the sand bar. They could sit in the sun or sit in the shade. Hermes wanted everyone to feel comfortable onboard and feel as though they were among family.
Happy fish, happy staff
The feeling of being part of the family while aboard is underpinned by the fact that most of the staff has known each other and has been working with each other for years. Most of the staff are from the same local area and have spent years on the sea. They’re paid well and have even been assisted by the company during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hermes’ business partner is responsible for building the boats, making sure everything is up to code and the boats meet the highest level of quality. Some of the crew even have shares of the company, making it feel like a family business. Everyone plays their part. “If you have a good attitude, your mind is open, you respect people, and, most important, you like what you do, everything is much easier,” Hermes said.
What’s next for Happy Fish Catamarans?
While the pandemic has slowed down some of his plans, Hermes says that he’s excited for his three boats that are currently in factory to hit the water. He’s constantly thinking of new ways to improve the experience, such as adding more comfortable seating, more shades, adding additional slides, and even a barbecue onboard.
One of the new boats will be focused on fishing excursions. The boat will be able to go out to deeper water but will also be able to sail in shallow waters, opening up the possibility of a combo fishing and snorkeling excursion. With the addition of a barbecue, Hermes expects that people will be able to cook their freshly caught fish on the boat.
But an even more interesting next step for Happy Fish Catamarans might take place on land! They’re developing a land tour where they will take travelers through the local area, avoiding the typical tourist areas, where they can learn more about the culture and meet locals.
Whatever comes next, Hermes thinks that it’s important to partner with Viator, saying “The future is Tripadvisor and Viator. The future is not having my own website and paying a lot of money to advertise on Google and things like that, because, honestly, I cannot compete with the global advertising that Tripadvisor and Viator can do.” We’re all excited to see what new experience Hermes will be creating!