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Online booking creates new dynamic for charters | Business | –

Capt. Larry Sydnor of Islamorada poles from the platform of his flats fishing boat. He is among many Florida Keys fishing guides who rely on online booking services to reach new clientele.

Capt. Larry Sydnor of Islamorada poles from the platform of his flats fishing boat. He is among many Florida Keys fishing guides who rely on online booking services to reach new clientele.
Fishing in the Florida Keys is a multimillion-dollar industry built on the backs of captains who have a gravitational pull toward the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Florida Bay, Everglades National Park and other locations in the area.
In an ever-evolving business landscape largely shaped by modern technology, the internet is helping guides book more fishing trips than ever, and, an online marketplace specializing in booking charter boats for recreational fishing, plays a large role in the shifting dynamics of the industry.
The company, which claims to be the world’s largest platform for connecting anglers to fishing guides, offers 30,000 fishing trips and 2,000 destinations worldwide. The service is helping guides in the Keys, but the service comes with its pluses and minuses, according to captains.
The service, which is commission-based, takes a small percentage of each successfully referred trip from the captain, which is deducted from the trip price that the customer pays.
Fishing Booker’s most beneficial quality for captains has been its ability to create more bookings, which means more working hours and cash in the pockets of some fishing charters in the Keys, according to captains.
Alex Monteagudo, a Key Largo resident and captain at Hold Tight Fishing Charters, said the service brings him about 25% of his business.
“If you only have three days of fishing booked for the week, Fishing Booker helps that become five. It’s so nice because it keeps you busy, and it’s just another way of reaching out to clients and getting them,” he said.
“Even the better captains that have been down here for a really long time have dates they need to fill, and Fishing Booker can fill in those cracks, so that’s kind of nice,” said Sharon Sydnor, wife and business partner of Capt. Larry Sydnor, who is based in Islamorada.
However, with the service comes a large percentage of new, little-known clients, some of who are internationally based. The usual clientele for local fishing captains often comes from word of mouth, and with some inexperienced anglers using the new service comes pushback from some charters.
“Some (captains) brush them off and think that they aren’t worth it,” she said. “They don’t appreciate people that don’t know what they’re doing or that have never been on a boat before. Some captains feel that they would have to hold their hand and have to work harder for these people than other experienced anglers that just want a guide. They don’t like, perhaps, that they’re babysitting people.”
While Monteagudo has nothing but positive reviews for Fishing Booker, he said that same sentiment isn’t shared by all fishing guides in the area.

“You’ve got some people that love it and some people that don’t, and some people think that the service makes too much money off of them,” he said.
In an age where the internet doesn’t always reflect real life, some captains are concerned about how the service portrays captains.
“Some people think it doesn’t show who they are as a whole,” Monteagudo said.
Fishing Booker, founded in 2014, says it is committed to making sure that all listed captains are verified with the proper licenses and credentials for safety purposes, but Sydnor said that the service has listed captains that don’t carry the proper qualifications on the website on certain occasions.
“I’ve written them very many times to say that they need to get on top of that. They’re going to get sued someday if someone has an accident and someone gets hurt,” she said.
One Upper Keys captain charged and sentenced last year for bringing back an illegal catch from Bahamian waters was listed on Fishing Booker, she said.
Still, the website is detailed in structure and has helped provides additional access for anglers seeking to use Monteagudo and Sydnor’s services.
Features on the website include numerous photos, captain biographies and a search engine that checks the availability for trips up to months in advance, along with fishing reports, ID and license verification, boat specifications, targeted fish species, types of fishing, amenities included on the boat, and what the trip includes, such as rods, reels, and tackle, drinks, live bait, and whether or not captains cleans and fillets the catch.
“In my experience, I think it’s a great tool, I think it really just helps clients get connected with different captains,” Monteagudo said.
“I’d say it’s a good thing. It’s a great filler out there helping us find more anglers. Fishing Booker helps me build a great client-guide relationship. It creates good, repeat business,” Sydnor said.
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