Destiny Water Adventures, A TravelPreneur Success Story with Kevin ONeil

Destiny Water Adventures, A TravelPreneur Success Story with Kevin ONeil

Episode Overview

Episode Overview:

Episode Topic:

In this episode of Travel-Preneur, Learn about the vibrant world of water sports with Kevin O’Neill, the owner of Destiny Water Adventures in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. From Kevin’s transition from being a parasail captain in Key West to founding Destiny Water Adventures, to the challenges and successes encountered in the water sports industry, this episode promises to be an exciting exploration of entrepreneurial journey and passion for adventure.

Lessons You’ll Learn:

Throughout the episode, listeners will get invaluable insights into entrepreneurship, marketing strategies, and the importance of customer experience in the water sports business. Kevin shares his firsthand experiences and lessons learned, offering practical advice on navigating challenges, fostering a customer-centric culture, and ensuring safety in water sports operations. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or a seasoned business owner, there’s something to learn from Kevin’s journey and the strategies employed by Destiny Water Adventures.

About Our Guest:

Kevin O’Neill, the dynamic owner of Destiny Water Adventures, brings a wealth of experience and passion to the podcast. With a background as a parasail captain in Key West and a keen eye for business opportunities, Kevin shares his journey of founding and growing Destiny Water Adventures into a thriving venture. His commitment to safety, customer satisfaction, and innovation has set a benchmark in the water sports industry, making him a highly esteemed  expert in the field.

Topics Covered:

In this engaging conversation, Megha McSwain and Kevin O’Neill cover a wide range of topics relevant to the water sports industry. From Kevin’s entrepreneurial journey and the inception of Destiny Water Adventures to the marketing strategies employed to stand out in a competitive market, listeners will gain valuable insights into the world of water sports business. Additionally, safety measures, customer experience, and the impact of weather and seasonal fluctuations on business operations are explored, providing a comprehensive understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the industry.

Our Guest: Championing Kevin O’Neill – A Visionary in Water Sports Entrepreneurship

Kevin O’Neill, the visionary owner of Destiny Water Adventures, is a seasoned entrepreneur with a background as a parasail captain in Key West. His journey from navigating the waters of Key West to founding Destiny Water Adventures in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, reflects his entrepreneurial spirit and passion for adventure. With years of experience in the water sports industry, Kevin has developed a keen eye for business opportunities and a deep understanding of the complexity  involved in running a successful venture.

As the driving force behind Destiny Water Adventures, Kevin is committed to providing exceptional experiences for customers while prioritizing safety and innovation. His dedication to customer satisfaction has earned him recognition as an industry leader, with Destiny Water Adventures becoming synonymous with high-quality water sports experiences. Kevin’s innovative approach to business, coupled with his unwavering focus on safety and customer service, has propelled Destiny Water Adventures to the forefront of the industry, setting a benchmark for excellence.

Beyond his role as a business owner, Kevin is also a respected figure in the water sports community, known for his expertise and passion for the industry. His contributions to promoting safety awareness and fostering a culture of excellence have earned him widespread respect and admiration. Kevin’s entrepreneurial journey serves as an inspiration to aspiring business owners, highlighting the importance of perseverance, innovation, and a customer-centric approach in achieving success in the competitive world of water sports.

Episode Transcript

Megha McSwain: Welcome back to another episode of Travel Preneur. I’m your host, Megha McSwain. Today we are diving into the vibrant world of water sports with Kevin O’Neill, the owner of Destiny Water Adventures in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Hello, Kevin. Welcome to the show.

Kevin O’Neill: Hey, Megha. Thanks for having me.

Megha McSwain: Kevin, can you share the story of how you transitioned from being a parasail captain in Key West to founding Destiny Water Adventures?

Kevin O’Neill: I was in Key West for about ten years, operating sailboats for a large water sport company down there. I was looking at some different opportunities up here in North Florida. In the world of sailing and driving a boat. I like the idea of having sort of an off season. I could get some more time with my family as I was working every major holiday in Key West.  Christmas and Thanksgiving are incredibly busy times down there. Snowbirds like to come down and do water sports, I sort of initially just thought I might come grab a boat for somebody else up here. I kind of looked at the area, I looked at the market, looked at neighborhoods, and it seemed pretty. I felt undervalued when I started. Look at some of the companies, their marketing and media. They’re just sort of behind the times a little bit. And it’s kind of dawned on me that, man, I work with a website and a good idea and a boat, not necessarily parasail. We could probably make something work up here. So, without really knowing, like where we would go or how we would run the trip, I conceptualized sort of a day of play. Well, it wasn’t my concept. It was happening down in Key West for, for years, where they do the sort of things like jet skis, kayak, paddle board, tubing, snorkeling, and they sort of put it all into this one, like water sport discursion.  There was nothing like that happening here.  I thought that we could bring that concept here.  That’s what we did. It was great. We started with one boat. We started with one boat and two jet speeds. We ended up getting into the rental and tour side and jet skis and boat rentals and, and today we have about, uh, 30 vessels on the boat and about 15 jet ski rentals.

Megha McSwain: Thank you mentioned you noticed that people were kind of behind on the times. How was that like not using a website for booking? Sometimes when you go to do these watersports, sometimes you can’t book online. You have to call and say, okay, you know, it just kind of seems outdated. What was your experience?

Kevin O’Neill: Like there are very few using major tech wave rides or Fair Harbor Pete. The website looked very outdated and they changed. I don’t know if you know this, but I also have a podcast as well. We talk to them on our show. Like, man, you guys have got. That it definitely drastically changed in the last two years. When we got here, it was Blue Ocean in so far as the marketing landscape. You know, some people working on Sd0 and stuff like that, they had some blogs. No one was really utilizing Google ads. I really wish I wouldn’t have started a podcast and told people to go on Google ads, because it’s like our cost per conversion and conversion has really gone up. It was just basically websites and marketing and stuff like that. They weren’t really going after every single avenue that they could Instagram, Facebook, you know, it’s obvious TikTok wasn’t there, but now Snapchat is developing and they just weren’t really getting after it. We see today, like a lot of internet entrepreneurs, the way they sort of market themselves. we’ve sort of applied that very early on in our, in our strategy.

Megha McSwain: And reflecting on your journey, what have been some of the most significant changes or growth moments for your company for Destiny Water Adventures since it started?

Kevin O’Neill: We went through a lot in seven years. As I mentioned, we initially started with the concept of an all-day water sport excursion in which everything would be provided to you. We were operating that on what’s called a foil island. They have the foil islands basically when they are dredging up an area so they can create a channel. They have to do something with the fan. They basically make like, become like a man-made island dependent like trees grow and geography and life and everything. It’s like a little island. But they call them specifically spoil islands because it’s quite literally the spoil from that they dredge out from the ground and they just put it over like next to the channel. Being that really wasn’t any one jurisdiction. It wasn’t the Gulf National Seashore. We have a park ranger who’s responsible for about 700 miles with a single boat. But regardless of the cost, the natural beauty would go out there. We’ll do charters. We did that. We scaled back for about two years, and then the county, Destin in particular, and Okaloosa County, not a huge one. Walter. Of course, because we have a little area here called Crab Island and a lot of people like to go when they thaw out there operating the powers that be. The county officials were concerned that Crab Island Part two, what’s happening in Crab Island is really popular. Sandbar. A lot of boating, a lot of drinking, a lot of people. Very famous tourist spot in Destin.  I guess the locals, they want to start to see what happens on these islands in the back, which is kind of like locals only sort of thing.

Kevin O’Neill: They brought me for commission. We basically said, no, you can’t operate out there. And we went through, you know, that happened literally overnight. We just decided to grow our boat rental side of the business. And then in year four, actually at that point we were up to about 15 boats and man 7 or 18 or something like that. The Marina where we were actually renting from decided that they were going to get into the business, and they evicted us with something like 30 days’ notice.  I needed to find a home. And it’s getting an extremely saturated market. Not a lot of space for commercial boats. I don’t know what it looks like in pack fit, but it’s a highly competitive market here. So, to grab yeah, 1520 vessels and just say, hey, you have a spot for me. It’s not easy. A friend of mine owned a smaller water sport company and it was kind of struggling at that and was right down the road. He just really didn’t want to have any part of it. And his partner was running the day to day and it wasn’t, wasn’t profitable.  they threw a number at me. That works for us, that works for them. We took over there. We bought our vessel, purchased their vessels, and have added some more vessels since then. We were really fortunate to end up where we did and when we did. Those are some of the challenges that we faced.

Megha McSwain: Like you mentioned. I mean, being overly saturated, of course, there’s some areas where it is not yet, but the ones that are, it’s hard to break into that because so many other people have been doing the same thing for a long time. So how does Destiny Water Adventure stand out in terms of services and customer service experience?

Kevin O’Neill: User experience, customer journey is obviously the most important in our employee handbook. I’m a huge advocate of the customer journey and their experience with us began the moment they land on our website, the moment they call into us. It ends not after they step off the boat or jet ski, but hopefully never. Hopefully that journey continues with us and we retain them as a customer and continue to provide value, whether it be through content, through email marketing, through just basically keeping up with them and seeing how they’re doing and when they return back to town and let them know that, hey, we’re here, we offer a returning customer discount, all these sorts of things. So even if we don’t do business with the customer, they end up calling us. You know, we try to provide as much value information about the area and active stewards of our waterways. If we do acquire that person as a customer, that value continues all the way, all the way down from walking, getting there, getting their belongings into the car, getting their stuff to the boat, making sure they feel comfortable, making sure we have different toys that we have retail. They got sunblock. If they need ice, like we have everything for them. We want to make sure that Destiny Water Adventures existed as very much as a brand, even though that we operate as sort of a commodity business because it is a boat rental or jet rental, got much a tour that we have to make sure that we’re making that experience stand out and be the highlight of their trip, so that they come back to us for years to come.

Megha McSwain: And you mentioned making them feel comfortable and having everything that they might need. But also, safety is key in water sports. How does the team ensure for first timers and for return guests or just less experienced renters? How do you kind of implement those safety measures?

Kevin O’Neill: Truthfully, it starts with education and I’m going to throw this out there. It’s a little bit of a shameless plug because it just happened about two hours ago. I also am in partnership with a company called a boater Safety education. We’re sponsored by a national certification rather than operating in the state of Florida, something I’ve been working on for 18 months. Safety is a huge passion of mine. Being a captain on the waters of Key West, I’ve logged about 10,000 hours. I’ve got to be somewhere. When you become an expert at something, right? I got to be somewhere like, I have no idea. I’ve calculated that I’ve probably flown about 100,000 people parasailing. With those kinds of hours on the water, I’ve rented boats, I’ve driven head boats, I’ve operated in water sports in every single capacity, and two common threads I sort of see in a safe environment, right? To just sort of look at it from a 30,000-foot perspective is education and communication. Those are the two biggest hallmarks. The customer is, firstly, it takes the proper requirements that they need to possess the boater safety task or have some kind of boater education, whether it be the night before their trip down to the dock, they’re getting their brain prepped to get on this boat. Right? And then it continues when they reach our desk and we go through all the forms, the insurance, we have them checking that they’re not just flying through the checklist, but, hey, actually look at some of these checklists. These are really important. We reinforce it when they get signed in. When they hit the dock, they meet their dockhand. He’s going to go over the boat with them and he’s going to order the jet ski or whatever it may be, he’s going to make sure that we reinforce everything that happened from check in, everything that happened on the dock, and then very specifically to our geography, all the things that are applied practically while they’re on the boat.

Kevin O’Neill: Then we want them to do a lap, and we want to make sure they completely understand everything that they’ve just been told, because it’s all happened in the last two days and they’re a first timer or they’re new to boating. You know, we want to make sure that they’re comfortable, and if they’re not and they fall under six passengers, then we have captains on board. We say, hey, look, if you’re completely not comfortable, it doesn’t make sense to you. We have a captain. We can take up to six people on this boat. We can turn the rental into a charter, and we’ll get out there. We also make it really clear. Look, guys, if you got planned on drinking this afternoon, give us a call. We’ll come back. It’s not a charter. We’re not breaking even. It’s called people on the boat. We have to take the boat back into possession because you don’t have a sober driver on the boat. Then that’s what we’re going to do if we’re in the Coast Guard. And after we’ve seen everybody, we’ve had that conversation. We made sure that they understood. Like, look, we’re not trying to do illegal charters out here, but also, we want to reduce our impact. That could be happening out here. So, we also use tech. We use geo fencing collision avoidance on our jet ski. Yeah. Safety is paramount to our operation.

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Kevin O’Neill: Year-round difficult? I’ve welded other businesses that connect to our infrastructure. I also have a Jeep rental business where I call it Jeep Run. We’re actually transitioning to a straight up car rental business. I do, we do car rentals. We do events like inflatable bounce houses and water slides and stuff like that. That’s not necessarily to keep on running full hour all year long. It’s really to reduce the cost of labor, to make sure we’re keeping our staff going all year long. Because our staff is great. They’re the key to all of our success, to keep everybody safe. And they’re really boots on the ground when storms do roll in. But when weather does get gnarly, we have this epic of a when in doubt, don’t go out. We think that it’s going to be above 17 knots. Sustained. We think of lightning. If we even think that there’s a chance of it rolling in or a high probability and we shut it down. We’re in North Florida, so we’re at the top of the Gulf Stream. Like the weather here is extremely erratic, extremely unpredictable. Bill called 0%. And then all of a sudden, I’ve got 40 mile an hour gust. That is making sure my staff is trained with maritime tradition. Was the maritime professional the license captain? I try to teach that down to not just the captains that we employ, but the doc cam that one day might have their captain’s license.

Kevin O’Neill: It’s very much a case of when you’re a licensed captain, you have a responsibility, in the eyes of the US Coast Guard, to help a vessel in distress. When we feel that there could be potentially a vessel in distress we can’t get to or we can’t call them, they’re too far away, then we’re on skis. We’re on high. We’re on our higher-powered hawk machine chase boat flying out there to go get them. If you don’t have the desire for that adrenaline rush, if you can’t run into a storm and run into the fray. And that’s not like your thing. Like if you go, hey, I don’t feel like this day, then you’re in the wrong, right? Right. Because maritime professionals, we get caught in storms, we get caught in stormy weather because of the thing that goes home. Thieves never made for a good captain or something like that, right? You got screwed that up. This is what we do. This is how you learn and how you get that sixth sense about where you go. This doesn’t feel right. We’re not even going to risk it. Sorry, guys. Let’s get you on another day or wait, because I’ve been in this situation a few times and something about the weather right now doesn’t feel right depending on what the radar says.

Megha McSwain: Thank God for people like you because sometimes people don’t have that awareness and kind of get greedy and go out anyways. And it’s not safe.

Kevin O’Neill: Absolutely. It’s something I rail against that, that there’s so much ability in this country. The State of Florida has been on the forefront of fighting it with bills like SB 6 or 6, most recently at the 30, which is an education bill. Actually, the fix was kind of an insurance bill. But,  you know, the fact is, is a lot of these states that have the regulation, you can just go buy a UPV or Uninspected passenger vessel, basically a recreational boat, and you drop it in the water, or you worse, you get like ten of them, drop them in the water, have no idea what you’re doing, and go, hey, man, I’m just going to rent boats. How easy can it be? You know, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. I’ve said that myself, but sometimes those eggs are human beings, and it fundamentally erodes the industry. If we have stuff like that happening, it happens. Sure. It’s really important.

Megha McSwain: You clearly have a passion for water sports and of course, the Florida coast and just kind of all that goes into this business in that state. And like you mentioned, it really comes down to when you’re running a business like this, having good employees that you trust and that are going to do a good job and share that passion that you have. So how do you think that translates that enthusiasm into creating these memorable experiences for the guests?

Kevin O’Neill: it comes down to culture and it comes down to having the ability, without sounding too cliché, but of leading from the front right, it’s very important that our employees and our management and ownership all know that the hierarchy at our company is our customer, and then it’s going to be employees and then it’s management and then owners. And, you know, Simon Sinek famously said that either leader eats last. And I think that it’s very important that you have at least a thread of that in your company culture. The passion portion of it, like passing that part of it on is being the ability, you know, when a guy got to go out into something that doesn’t, it’s not. I find it fun. And our leadership, the guys who are truly gone, their captains license, who are maritime professionals. They like the adrenaline rush of going into the fray. I will know right away if somebody comes back and they’re kicking dirt and they’re like, it’s raining and I don’t want to be out here.  I got cold and I had to go chase down a customer I know immediately, hey, this business might be for you. But man, if they come back and they get smiles like, oh my God, that was crazy. Like, I can’t believe that happened. And then the wind was coming. It was like lightning. We had to pull the boat off the thing and they got an adrenaline rush from it. I’m like, we’re going to work a little bit closer, man. It’s going to work with them.  Then we will pay for them to go through captain school. And if we don’t have enough vessels to support a number of captains and we just tell them, hey, the last thing I want to do is let you go.

Kevin O’Neill: But at the same point, like, if we don’t have enough captains shift to go around and I understand you need to get on a boat and be behind the helm because that’s your place as the leader. And so, you see it in people that their passion we just had I just had a talk with. One of my first hires. And I said, hey, I’m not seeing you move forward. We are holding you back in any way. You’re a great employee. But if we’re holding you back in any way, you’re not learning something here. If you’re not getting your captain’s license, you can’t just be stuck here. Like, what do you want to do? Where do you want to be? And he was like, I unequivocally want to be here. I want to be in the future. And we had a great conversation. So again, it comes back to culture and it comes back to education and communication. Talking with your people, making sure your people are learning, making sure that they’re happy and making sure that they’re growing. And just the same thing, as I said about the UX on the customer side, those employees are then going to be with you for a long time, or they’re going to stay on, they’re going to go out and they’re going to grow and set up their own thing. And I want to do whatever I go, sorry, I want to do whatever I can to support that.

Megha McSwain: Looking ahead, what new ventures or expansions are you considering for the business, if any?

Kevin O’Neill: Like I said earlier, I do a podcast as well. It’s called The Awkward Watersport Guys podcast, basically marketing best practices for watersports. We put on an event every year, and the last 18 months ago I started working on the Florida Temporary Boater Safety Certificate. It is state certified and nationally certified. Once you start going through the process, which is now like something, you can just spin up like a course online and be accredited, basically an irrevocable driver’s license. But for boating and getting more into the B2B space, as far as working with operators that sort of start hammering this education home, right? Because I am so passionate about it, I really believe it’s important that the operator that does have the capital to drop those ten boats, whether it be tactics that could be Chicago on the river, it could be anywhere. Because they have the capital, they don’t necessarily have the resources nor the pedigree to understand what it means to operate a safe and profitable water sport business. Right? Safe obviously being the more important metric. I see this sort of thing time and time again where operators get in the business and they either bite off more than they can chew, or they get caught with their pants on with weather, or somebody gets hurt like it happens all the time, whether employees or customers.

Kevin O’Neill: Our first battle on that front is to make sure we have educated guests, and that’s where I take my boat pass too obviously where our efforts are focused for that. But moving forward in the future, what we would like to do is act as the ultimate educational resource for operators and livery professionals as well, because to my knowledge, we’re the only education platform that is actually owned, operated and run by maritime professionals and livery operators. And part of Destiny is concerned, I think, that we’re going to probably expand into different territories in the years to come. We’re sort of maxed out in this market. I think of what we can do as far as boat rentals and jet skis and that sort of thing. A head boat is in our future, I have partners on this. We have a lot of different things and a lot of different growth spurts. Right now. I’m really excited about all of it.

Megha McSwain: Cool. And for those aspiring to enter the water sports business, what advice would you offer based on your own journey and success?

Kevin O’Neill: It’s difficult to answer because I have experienced the many highs and lows of business and do things the right way, and what I mean by that. And look, and I’m not an astral permission guy. I beg for forgiveness all day long. When it is your county or your city or the state to a degree, right? You don’t want to get your clients with the cookie jar or be running illegal charters. I don’t mean it like that, but if you have a dream or you have an idea, don’t wait on that. Like execute and act on that. Obviously, always make sure you’re operating safely and you have best practices and you can learn. But listen to podcasts like Travel Preneur or podcasts like ‘Doc’ or ‘Awkward Watersports Guys’, like to mix it up with the industry, ask questions, get educated, execute ready, fire, aim like, execute on the thing that you want to do. But also learn while you’re doing it and never quit learning and educating yourself. That’s the best advice I can give.

Megha McSwain: That’s important. Well, thank you so much for sharing this journey. And it sounds like you guys are growing and growing fast, so that’s very exciting. Let our listeners know where they can learn more about the company, the podcast, where they can connect with you, all of that stuff. Plug away.

Kevin O’Neill: It’s all free. You can reach out to me. I’m Kevin at Sydney Water We also have the “Awkward Watersport Guys Podcast”, which you can find on Spotify, Apple or at our website which is Water Sport And then we also have a Facebook group and feel free to send me Kevin O’Neill. I’m in North Florida, send me a Facebook friend request and it is a private group, so I have to invite you or you can request to join. But yeah, hit me up.

Megha McSwain: Awesome. Yeah, I’m sure. I mean, who wouldn’t want to just come down to Florida to rent a boat? That sounds really nice right about now. These cold winter months.

Kevin O’Neill: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And then dusty water adventures. Com, you’re listening to this, and you’re in town and you want to rent a boat or a dusty home. Hit us up. You heard about some of the travel Preneur podcasts that will give you a 10% discount. How about that?

Megha McSwain: I love that. That sounds good, you all heard that? That’s Florida. I mean, I might be on my way. That sounds amazing. Come on. Well, Kevin, thank you so much for joining us. To our listeners, please like and subscribe to the Travel Preneur podcast for future episodes and leave us reviews. That helps us a lot and we will see you next time.