How much should I tip my dive guide? How much should I tip the crew? Tipping expectations vary from country to country – and liveaboard to liveaboard – so it can be a complicated issue at the end of a dive trip.
Dive staff working on liveaboards and at dive resorts provide their customers with an invaluable service. Whether they are filling tanks, finding critters, guiding dives, driving boats, washing your dive gear or any number of related services, they make your dive trip an unforgettable experience. And at the end of that experience comes the often awkward, complex and complicated issue of tipping.
Tipping has become the normal practise at many dive destinations. But how much do you tip? Who do you tip? Should you only tip for great service? Should you tip at all? These are issues we all face at the end of a dive trip and there is no simple answer or rule of thumb.
A brief history of tipping
Tipping started in the late Middle Ages in Europe, when small amounts of money were given to servants as an expression of goodwill. It later spread to anyone providing a service. But tipping didn’t become widespread until the U.S. adopted it as a common practise after the Civil War, to show that they were just as wealthy and sophisticated as the Europeans.
Tipping generally died off in most European countries over a century ago, along with the use of servants, and was never a part of most other cultures. However, Americans continued with the custom and the practise became even more entrenched in the 1960s when the government ruled that workers could get lower minimum wages if part of their salary was supplemented with tips. The reasoning was that this would lead to better service, which it does in some cases, but as anyone that has travelled to the U.S. will know, tipping is expected regardless of the level of service.
Until a few years ago tipping was not common practise in most cultures outside of the U.S., however, with Americans travelling to more and more countries, tipping has become more widespread, especially in the dive industry.
When and where should you tip?
This is always a tricky question and varies from country to country and also from dive operator to dive operator. In Australia and New Zealand, we generally don’t tip dive staff, as they are paid a living wage. But having said that some liveaboards operating on the Great Barrier Reef provide envelopes for you to discreetly leave a tip. Americans often leave a generous tip, as is their custom, but there is no pressure for you to do so if you come from a culture that doesn’t generally tip.
Europeans, like Australians, generally only tip for exceptional service, so destinations that rely heavily on European divers, like the Red Sea and Maldives, don’t have mandatory tipping. However, as the resorts and liveaboards in these areas employ mainly low paid local staff, a tip shared between the crew is always appreciated.
In Asia tipping expectations vary. Some dive resorts don’t expect you to tip, so it is up to you. The crew on liveaboards on the other hand, usually expect to be tipped. But it is always a good idea to ask the dive manager if a tip is appropriate and how much to tip.
Wages are low in Asia, but so is the cost of living, and over-tipping has caused issues in the past. I have heard of some cases where staff have been given tips that are more than they would normally get paid in a month, and promptly take off to spend their new-found wealth, leaving the resort understaffed. So being over generous is not always a good thing.
Tipping has also caused issues in Melanesian countries, like Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, with staff taking off or even going off on drinking binges. This is an area where tipping is not expected, and can even make the receiver uncomfortable. Once again check with the dive manager and they will tell you what is appropriate.
If heading to the North Pacific, Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexico or any destination that receives a great deal of American divers, tipping is expected, regardless the level of service. This can be a little off-putting when you don’t come from a tipping culture, especially when you are expected to leave a tip of between 10% to 15% of the cost of the trip. And when some liveaboard dive trip costs US $4,000 or more, having to pay a US $400 tip, especially allowing for currency exchange rates, can be a bit of a shock.
How much should you tip?
This is entirely up to you. It should be what you feel comfortable with and within an acceptable range for that country (to avoid some of the issues mentioned above).
Working on a percentage of the trip cost seems to be the way most Americans tip (generally 10% to 15%). While this maybe the appropriate way to do things in North America, it is not the same in the rest of the world.
In Asia and the South Pacific, most Australian divers generally tip around AU $100 after a week-long trip, which seems to be happily accepted.
For the North Pacific, Caribbean and Mexico, and other destinations largely managed by American operators, you will be expected to tip 10-15% the cost of your trip.
Who gets the tips?
Some people only tip their dive guide, but it is always best if the tip is shared equally between all the staff, as it takes a whole team of people to make a dive trip enjoyable. Making sure the money gets to the right people can sometimes be an issue. Well managed resorts and liveaboards will ensure that the tips are shared equally between the staff. But some smaller operators have been known to steal their staff’s tips or take a cut of them.
Other rewards apart from tipping
Tipping is not the only reward you can give for great service. Spend some time to get to know the dive staff, ask them about their families and where they come from. At the very least, learn their names.
Also offer a helping hand at times. We may all love being pampered when the staff do everything for us, but it is still nice to give them a hand to wash your gear or occasionally carry a tank. Little things like that make their life a little bit easier and win you some respect. Rewards other than money are often also greatly appreciated, such as books, clothes, dive gear, chocolate or shouting the staff a round or two of drinks at the end of your dive trip.
Finally, tipping doesn’t excuse bad manners or allow you to treat dive staff like your personal slaves. These are hard working people that deserve your respect, whether you choose to tip them or not.