At the DEMA Show 2019 in Orlando, Florida, Alex Brylske presented “Trends and Predictions for the Dive Travel Industry”. It was a refreshing take on what the future holds for scuba diving professionals who want to make a living out of their passion for scuba diving.
Imagine if we could re-energize the scuba diving industry by merely changing the way we look at it, to be more aligned with current market opportunities and consumers’ expectations!
An Evolving Scuba Diving Industry Landscape
The dive industry has a foot in a few different sectors, mainly travel, education, and gear retail. All three of these industries were changing before COVID-19 hit. Since then, the pace of change has been accelerating. Are we keeping up? Or better yet, are we getting ahead of the curve?
That is part of what we will discuss. We will suggest a new ‘way of looking’ at the three different products and services we provide to scuba diving customers. This revitalized approach can have a positive impact on customer acquisition and retention.
The Good Ol’ Dive Industry
The scuba diving industry sells six different products and services to consumers:
- Training (Education)
- Toys (Equipment)
- Trips/Travel (Experience)
- Rental Gear
- Refills (Fill Station)
- Repair & Maintenance (RAM)
The 3 Rs (the last three services) are support services. We will focus our discussion on the big three: education, equipment, and experience.
When training scuba diving instructors, we used the following representation of what a local dive shop sells.
Traditionally, dive centers would collect money from new scuba diving clients in the following order:
- Scuba Lessons
- Dive Gear
- Dive Travel or Local Dive Outings
The first time a customer comes to a local dive store, it could be because he is interested in any of these three products or services. However, traditionally, in an origin dive center (local dive shop), most customers are coming in for training — to learn to dive — hence the most prominent arrow.
For a local dive shop, the profits came from the middle step: selling overpriced scuba diving equipment to new dive students. The importance of this source of profits explains why local dive shops would promote cheap scuba diving lessons to get people in the door. Sending them on a dive trip after certification was often an afterthought.
I remember when I got my entry-level scuba diving certification in a Northern town. I had to pry information out of my dive instructor about where I could go scuba diving once I receive the plastic card from the dive training agency!
In his DEMA Show presentation, Alex Brylske recalled how a dive store owner taught him dive travel was a “necessary nuisance”.
This business model doesn’t work anymore. We see it in the financial results of local dive shops. We also see it in an alarming scuba diver dropout rate.
A New Dive Industry Paradigm
“A paradigm is a standard, perspective, or set of ideas. A paradigm is a way of looking at something.” ~Vocabulary.com
The scuba diving industry is long overdue for a new paradigm.
Nobody wakes up at home one-morning thinking, ‘I always wanted to buy scuba gear’! People come to us for the experience of scuba diving. And that is where we urgently need to focus.
Instead of the dive trip (or dive outing) being an afterthought, we need to put it at the forefront. And we need to put ‘selling dive gear and scuba lessons’ where they belong: Nothing more than an element of support for the activity of scuba diving.
This is how this new paradigm looks like:
It’s not just a different drawing! It’s a different way of thinking.
Dive training, scuba gear, and the experience of scuba diving are not equal partners.
We can no longer be in the business of selling snorkels and teaching people how to blow bubbles. We need to see ourselves as part of the experience economy. We’re already late on that front! Very late.
Adventure Travel & Experience
Alex Brylske uses the term ‘adventure travel’ instead of ‘experience’. We prefer not to limit ourselves to ‘traveling’. During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen a growth in local and inland scuba diving as people were looking for activities close to home.
Whether it’s on a dive trip to Bonaire or a Saturday outing at the local quarry, we are in the business of providing an experience.
A provider of experience charges for the feeling customers gets by engaging in the experience. If the feeling is good, they come back. It’s a much more solid foundation for a scuba diving business than having to constantly recruit new clients to peddle c-cards and dive gear to them.
That being said, Brylske is right that the adventure travel industry should be our focus instead of the dive industry.
Not everybody wants to go on a dive trip to do nothing but scuba diving, 5 times per day, all week. We see a trend in adventure travel (pre-coronavirus pandemic) where people go on a trip and participate in numerous activities during their vacation — hiking, scuba diving, snorkeling, stand-up paddling, historical site visits…
The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) defines adventure tourism as a trip that involves at least two of the following three elements:
- physical activity
- natural environment
- cultural immersion
Every dive trip has, at least, the first two elements.
The international adventure market is more than $600B annually (except during a pandemic). That’s an exciting pool to jump in!
Satisfied Customers vs. Enthusiastic Customers
To build a business around the experience of scuba diving and repeat business, having satisfied customers is no longer enough.
“The greatest danger you’ll ever face at work is thinking everything is okay if your customers are satisfied.” ~Dr. Alan Zimmerman
Enthusiastic customers are more price tolerant. They won’t switch to the competition just because your prices are slightly different, as long as your prices seem fair and appropriate. An enthusiastic customer is a loyal customer and a brand advocate.
To get a satisfied scuba diving customer, usually, we just have to provide safety and fun. To get an enthusiastic customer, we have to do a whole lot more, starting by where we spend time and energy.
Whatever we put our focus on, is what we’ll have success in. Hence why Alex and I are talking about a ‘new paradigm’. The way we look at our business makes a difference in how we manage it and what we ultimately deliver to scuba diving clients.
Here’s what Dr. Zimmerman suggests we do as our first homework: “Select five of your ‘satisfied’ customers to focus on, this week. Do one thing to build your personal relationship with each of them. And do one act of service that is unique or personalized to each of them.”
That’s a start!
Otherwise, an emphasis on the experience means that we need to raise the bar on how we operate. Participating in scuba diving activities should be convenient and fun — on top of being safe, of course. Let’s think about how we can accommodate people. Asking them to jump through hula-hoops to grab dive gear here and an air fill there is not the way to go!
Once we are on that route where selling scuba equipment and dive lessons is just an ‘add-on’ supporting the experience of scuba diving, we will also be on the route to implementing the new business model we are proposing for local dive shops.
From Enthusiastic Customers to Environmental Advocate
The next step in Alex Brylske’s presentation at DEMA 29019 was to ascertain that we can further convert enthusiastic scuba diving customers into environmental advocates, which is the main focus of Alex’s work.
The topic of the environment in the dive industry is big enough for us to keep it for a forthcoming article. Subscribe to Scubanomics, below, to stay in the loop.
You may be interested in more dive industry statistics and market data.