Last updated on March 25, 2021.
Scuba diving businesses and consumers have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This unprecedented worldwide event is leading to changes in consumer habits and preferences.
Is your dive business ready to adapt to new COVID-era consumer habits and satisfy new scuba divers' preferences?
First, we need to understand what changes are happening in consumers' and scuba divers' habits and preferences.
Let’s look at a study published in August 2020 by McKinsey & Company, a renowned US-based management consulting firm that advises on strategic management to corporations and governments.
“The period of contagion, self-isolation, and economic uncertainty will change the way consumers behave, in some cases for years to come.” ~McKinsey & Company
I will summarize the findings presented in this report and discuss how they apply to the scuba diving industry and your dive business.
We assume that scuba divers are experiencing changes similar to that of the general population discussed in this report. However, we will also highlight where we may expect to see a variation in these trends for the current scuba diver socio-demographic segment.
Scuba Divers Have Faced Changes To Every Aspect of Their Lives
Consumers have seen changes to every aspect of their lives — some of which have a negative impact on the scuba diving industry while other changes may lead to positive long-term results if we play our cards right.
Changes with an expected negative impact on a dive business:
- A decline in discretionary spending
- A reduction in tourist spending and travel retail
- A decline in retail store shopping & in-person sampling
“A 12% drop in private consumption is anticipated in the United States over the next two years, with recovery to pre-crisis levels only by 2023–24” (ibid.)
‘Discretionary spending’ is what is used for scuba diving purchases.
We have to plan for operating our scuba diving businesses in a recession-like-era even if it doesn’t fit the exact definition of a recession. People will most likely think twice before throwing money our way. We have to reassure them that it will be well-spent money.
Meanwhile, some wealthy people will continue to have access to discretionary spending. This is a segment that we can best serve with white-glove service.
The decline in tourism is huge and we are well aware of it. Many countries continue to have travel restrictions. For instance, even if the tropical island where your dive resort is located is ‘open for business’, travelers may have to plan for 14 days of quarantine when going back home. All of these rules — and they keep changing every week — will continue to have a negative impact on dive resorts' ability at attracting scuba divers. Once again, white-glove service for wealthy scuba divers may be a good segment to target if you are up to offering that level of service.
The flipside of that coin is that ‘local diving’ may be on the rise. I will cover that later under the ‘positive’ impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Otherwise, in-store shopping is on the down while eCommerce is on the up. What does that mean for your scuba diving business? I will come back to this point, below.
Changes with an expected positive impact on your scuba diving business:
- A relative increase in domestic tourism & outdoor activities
- A rise in remote working
If we play our cards right and capitalize on the increase in domestic tourism, we can revive local diving in a way that provides growth to local dive shops, scuba diving instructors, and divemasters. It’s such an important discussion that I’ve dedicated an article to it.
About Bleisure — Remote working from the Maldives?
Remote working could turn into an interesting opportunity for the dive industry. So far, ‘office work’ has moved people from ugly downtown cubicles to a kitchen table in a neighborhood that looks like a dormitory. But… Why would it stop there?
If you are working from home, why do you need your house to be in the middle of nowhere? Why not work from the beach next to a pier with a series of dive boats?
Canadian airline Sunwing recently promoted travel packages to ‘work from home at the beach’. Why not?
We all know about the ‘lifestyle’ of dive tourists touring the world while completing their divemaster and scuba diving instructor training. Typically, after a couple of years of working for nothing, they head back home for a real job providing them with real money. OK. Well… What if they could remain nearby, make good money ‘from home office at the beach’ and keep on participating in your dive resort operations, part-time?
To make this happen, all you need is fast and reliable internet. Then, you need to plan ‘packages’ as such. Simply take into consideration how long somebody can remain in your island paradise based on your local immigration rules.
“The working-from-anywhere trend could permanently blur the lines between leisure and business travel.” ~McKinsey & Company
There is even a term for this now: Bleisure!
Changes with an impact yet to be determined. It’s up to us!
There are trends that can be positive or negative, depending on your point of view, your position in the dive industry, and what you do about it.
- Focus on health and hygiene
- Nesting at home
- Preference for trusted brands
- A surge in eCommerce and online learning
Clients looking at learning to dive will expect top-notch hygiene practices on the maintenance of the scuba diving gear they will use, the pool, and other facilities. We have no choice but to up our game on that front. If we take health & hygiene seriously, there shouldn’t be any negative impact on the dive industry.
The new tendency people have of nesting at home may sound bad for an industry for which the success depends on people going out. Yes! But you may turn this to your advantage. For instance, what prevents you from offering private at-home scuba lessons? There is just so much home renovation one can do!
We mentioned earlier that a white-glove approach to wealthy clients with discretionary money may be a good market to target. Well… Private at-home scuba lessons fit very well in that VIP approach.
McKinsey & Company observes that “the explosion of small brands, underway before the pandemic, has given way to a strong preference for global A-brands.” This is a hot topic for the scuba diving industry.
We are lacking reliable worldwide scuba diving A-brands. The quality of the experience you get at 2 different dive centers with the same ‘Training Agency XYZ’ sticker on the door can be night and day. The basic requirement for a trusted A-brand is consistency, and there is no such consistency in the quality of the experience in the dive industry.
Meanwhile, your own craft brand (your local dive operations) may not have enough visibility to be attractive to new clients. Furthermore, can you be certain of the consistency of your own dive operations?
In a world with a limited number of clients looking at stretching their dollars, it may be time for dive centers to stop trying to be everything to everybody. Trying to run 6 businesses under the roof of a small enterprise never made sense — and even less, now.
Until we (urgently) redefine the local dive center, we should focus on what we do best and build a personal brand around THAT. For what we are not good at, let’s refer clients to other businesses where they will get the best.
The surge in eCommerce and eLearning is part of this reinvention of the dive center. Covid-19 simply accelerated the trend.
I’ll get back into discussing craft brands, A-brands, and the redefinition of the local dive center in a forthcoming article. Be sure to subscribe at the bottom of this post.
Scuba Diving Businesses Must Rethink How and Where They Engage With Consumers
As consumers and scuba divers adopt new behaviors to adapt to a new reality, “(dive) businesses will need to adapt to fundamentally different consumer preferences and behaviors regarding how consumers get their information, what and where they buy, and how they experience the product or service” (ibid.)
There are numerous aspects of your dive operations you can work on to adapt to a new reality. Beyond what we have discussed above, there’s the question of how and where you engage with consumers — both current scuba divers and non-divers.
A reduction of in-store shopping and a boom in using online sources for information and entertainment mean that digital channels are even more important — and that is not an area where local dive shops have been strong.
Part of the problem is trying to be everything-to-everybody by offering products and services from six different business types within one dive shop. It is pretty much impossible to excel at each business area and even harder to position your brand as a reliable source for all of them. A bad experience in one area of your operations leads to a negative feeling toward your business as a whole.
It is time for local dive center owners, scuba diving instructors, and other scuba diving professionals to focus on what they are the best at providing to consumers, and build a brand around that. It is time for us to redefine the dive center.
Otherwise, we need to optimize for a consumer who shops less frequently and consumes less, overall. Therefore, it is more important than ever to maximize sales to each potential client we interact with.
How are your selling skills? How are the selling skills of your team members? ‘Winging it’ is not a way to do it anymore — not that it has ever been!
Finally, “with consumer preferences changing rapidly, retailers and other consumer-facing companies need to provide a strong feedback loop. That means improving their ability to collect data and qualitative feedback to stay ahead of the trends.” (ibid.)
Dive industry businesses have limited tools and resources on that front. Local dive shops typically have a very basic point-of-sale (POS) system providing some customer-relationship-management (CRM) features — but they are limited. Dive gear manufacturers, for the most part, don’t even know who is purchasing their products because of the current distribution network focusing on local dive shops. The only industry stakeholder with significant data is the training agency — and they are very stingy with their information!
A change in how we define the local dive center and how we operate it would help offset this current lack of a data management system.
“While the details of the next normal are still unclear, its overall contours are coming into focus. Because many of the longer-term changes are still being formed, companies have an opportunity, if they act now, to shape a positive future.” (ibid.)
You may be interested in more information about the scuba diving industry and the COVID-19 pandemic.