Last updated on March 25, 2021.
“Get your facts first; then you can distort them as you please.” ~Mark Twain.
At Scubanomics, we’ve regularly discussed how much the dive industry is operating blindfolded because of a lack of reliable scuba diving market data. We’ve also examined how dive training agencies are a notable contributor to this dive industry predicament. And we got a prime example, this week, with scuba diving certification agency SSI.
On March 23, 2021, under the disguise of a press release, SSI pretended to share information on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its affiliated local dive centers.
They trumpeted that “48% of SSI Training Centers showed an equal or increased number of certifications over 2019” (source: SSI Press Release), and they go on to explain the reasons why:
- Half of American SSI dive centers aggressively attacked the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- SSI dealers benefited from SSI tools and support campaigns.
- SSI was there to provide hands-on support to its dealers.
They further state that their “SSI Open Water certification [results] were 50% better than those reported within [the] industry surveys”.
To properly manage a business, we need market data. Unfortunately, this isn’t it.
Problem 1: Misleading Statements
We’ve thoroughly analyzed U.S. 2020 scuba diving certification statistics.
During the coronavirus pandemic, states with good and accessible local dive sites (like Florida and Hawaii) experienced an increase in scuba diving participation and certification — for the first time in years!
In fact, the whole outdoor industry was booming in 2020. Johnson Outdoors 2020 financial results are a prime example of this silver lining to an otherwise bad year, with a growth of 158% in their watercraft division, 62% in camping, and 28% in fishing. Johnson Outdoors’ 4th division is dive gear manufacturer Scubapro.
Therefore, if 48% of SSI dive shops are located in American states where scuba diving was growing simply because people actively looked at outdoor activities that didn’t require catching an international flight, SSI did not perform better than the industry. They were surfing on an outdoor industry wave.
If SSI wants to demonstrate that their dive centers are performing better, they have to compare themselves to what is happening in the market they operate in. For instance, if a market is up 10% while a dive center is up 5%, that would not be good news!
Problem 2: What ‘dive industry numbers’ are they comparing themselves to?
Since the parent company of dive gear manufacturer Mares acquired dive training agency SSI, we have to expect SSI certification numbers to be better than those reported by the industry — but that is just a statistical game.
The scuba diving certification statistics that we get from our dive industry association (DEMA) do not include SSI numbers. SSI does not report its dive certification numbers!
Simultaneously, SSI’s growth strategy under Mares’ leadership has been to attack PADI’s market shares aggressively. Therefore, it is a simple math equation. In the official dive industry certification numbers, we expect that a certain percentage of the decline is due to certification switching from PADI (reported in the official numbers) to SSI (not included in the official numbers). We’ve discussed this issue numerous times before.
It is ironic that SSI would trumpet how they do better than the industry when they ought to, structurally. Certainly, it is good for their financial bottom line to convert PADI dive centers and instructors to SSI, but it has the consequence of overly depressing the official dive industry statistics.
Problem 3: They are insulting 52% of their clients!
Look at the three reasons SSI provides to explain scuba diving certification growth at 48% of SSI dive centers in the USA. Apparently, it is because these dive centers have “aggressively attacked the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic” by rolling up their sleeves (source: SSI Press Release).
OK. So… If your SSI dive center experienced a decline of 5% in scuba diving certifications, you did not rise to the 2020 challenges. Got it? You did not roll up your sleeves to get to work!
Let’s think about this for a second. If your SSI dive center was operating in a state where scuba diving certifications were down by 85% because of pandemic-related structural reasons and, yet, your dive center only had a 10% decline in dive certifications; I would think you are a master business artist! Yet, based on SSI’s press release, you are to blame for a decline.
Meanwhile, an SSI dive center with 2% growth in a state that grew at a 10% rate during the pandemic is praised by SSI while, in fact, they performed very poorly.
What does the dive industry need from scuba diving certification agencies?
I’m sure SSI’s marketing department was eager to publish a self-congratulatory message in the hope of converting more dive centers from PADI to SSI, but perhaps their PR department should have taken a closer look at it before they release it! Insulting 52% of your members is usually not a good move.
We never get ‘real numbers’ from dive training agencies. Short-sighted marketing goals drive them. And that is exactly what is wrong with dive industry agencies — all of them, not just SSI. Under the disguise of sharing information, they systematically produce ‘pep talks’ that provide no actionable data for their dive center and instructor clients.
As an industry, we urgently need to realize that sharing accurate scuba diving market data is in everybody’s best interest. It happens in every other industry I worked in. We need dive industry leaders, not used car salesmen!
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