Dive Industry Market Data & Statistics
Scubanomics’ Exclusive Industry Survey Results on Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
Awareness, intent to participate, participation rate, satisfaction, and dropout rate for scuba diving, snorkeling, and surface-supplied air (tankless) diving.
Darcy Kieran is the author of the reference book “Scuba Diving Industry Market Size & Statistics.”
With the dive industry getting ready to come out of a pandemic that hit us very badly in a market that was shrinking before the pandemic, we need to better understand our customers. More than ever.
Scubanomics has conducted an exclusive survey of the American population to evaluate awareness, participation rate, dropout rate, and satisfaction for scuba diving and snorkeling. We also evaluated the intent to participate by people who had never engaged with the activity. And because of our recent interest in surface-supplied air (tankless) diving, we’ve included questions to study that market as well.
The survey was administered to a Survey Monkey Audience of 311 American respondents aged 18 and older on April 26 and 27, 2021. The margin of error is +/-5.7%, with a confidence level of 95%. Responses were gender and age-balanced based on the most recent census.
The first step in selling any product or service is raising awareness. That is not a concern for the dive industry.
Americans know what snorkeling and scuba diving are. When is the last time you’ve talked to a stranger who had never heard of it? I can’t recall, personally! And that is what these numbers are stating.
In the dive industry and at DEMA meetings, there are often discussions about “the need” to promote scuba diving. That is a waste of marketing resources considering the fact that everybody (almost) knows what it is already. What we need are the two next steps in marketing: getting the people who are aware to become interested in participating and then act on it. However, as we will see later in this analysis, the intent to participate is quite high already. Therefore, what is missing is getting them to act on their interest.
Obviously, surfaced-supplied air diving is not as well known by the general public, although 47% is a good start for that part of the industry.
Scuba Diving Market Survey Results
Scuba Diving Participation
There is a significant difference between active participants and people who have tried scuba diving at least once in their life.
The annual SFIA Scuba Diving report provides us with the active participation rate. In 2020, 2.6 million Americans went scuba diving at least once, a drop of 4.7% over 2019. This represents 0.90% of the American population or 1.2% of adults 18 years or older.
Our Scubanomics survey found that 32.7% of American adults have gone scuba diving at least once in their life.
Scuba Diving Dropout Rate
If we compare the 32.7% of American adults who have tried scuba diving to the 1.2% SFIA active participation rate, we get that only 3.7% of American adults who have tried scuba diving were still active divers in 2020. We lost 96.3% of them!
Therefore, those who like to claim that the dive industry dropout rate is not an issue should stop misguiding their members! We need to find solutions, not deny the problems.
One of the reasons for this significant number of dropouts is the quality of the experience which is something that we have surveyed and on which we will report below.
Pool Scuba Tryouts
Another reason for the number of dropouts between “I tried it” and “I went diving this year” appears to be pool scuba diving.
48.0% of those who have tried scuba diving reported having done so in a pool. These people were most likely participants in discover scuba experiences.
When I had my dive shop, we followed marketing suggestions from our dive training agency and offered frequent free scuba tryouts in our pool with the goal of recruiting clients. In reality, the vast majority of them never registered in an open water scuba diving certification course. They probably marked scuba diving off their bucket list after that pool experience!
I have long suspected that scuba tryouts (discover scuba diving or DSD) were not helping grow our industry. We’ve discussed it in Strategy: Fixing Scuba Tryouts & Entry-Level Scuba Diving Courses. DSDs are a good source of revenues for dive resort operators catering to tourists looking at ways to load up their credit cards during their tropical vacations, but it doesn’t seem to contribute to developing the industry beyond that point.
Inactive Participants Considering Themselves Scuba Divers
Another key finding of the Scubanomics survey is the difference between Americans who actually went scuba diving over a period of 12 months (1.2% of the population 18 years and older, based on the SFIA survey) and the number of people who still like to define themselves as scuba divers although they haven’t gone diving in a while.
In the Scubanomics survey, among people who had done scuba diving at least once in their life, 52.0% claimed they were still scuba divers, representing 17.0% of the population 18+. In other words, 17% of the adult population define themselves as scuba divers, although only 1.2% of that population actually did a dive in the last year. It’s mind-boggling!
This represents a huge opportunity for the dive industry. It’s a pool of 35.6M adults.
Since these people still define themselves as scuba divers, they appear to remain interested in the activity. So why aren’t they diving? That is what we need to find out and fix. I would venture to suggest that our processes are too complicated for most people. Increasing convenience would probably bring back some of these divers.
Scuba Diver Satisfaction
We surveyed people who had tried scuba diving at least once in their life about the quality of the services they received during their underwater experience.
40.6% of respondents reported having been very satisfied, with another 18.8% somewhat satisfied, for a positive score of 59.4%.
Interesting! But what would be a normal level of satisfaction?
The average global customer satisfaction benchmark that includes all industries worldwide is 86%. We’re far from that!
Let’s think about that 59.4%… Imagine 10 people walking in a business, and only 6 of them are leaving satisfied with the service they’ve received. It’s bad! And let’s not forget those unsatisfied people tell their friends and relatives.
There is a huge opportunity in the dive industry for a brand to establish itself and grow its business based on consistency in the quality of the experience.
Non-Divers Intent to Go Scuba Diving
Among survey respondents who had never tried scuba diving in their life, there was a notable interest to get underwater at one point.
- 19.5% of respondents declared to be very likely to go diving.
- Another 10.5% were likely to do so.
That’s a total of 30% of non-divers, which means a market of 42.4 million adult Americans. Since the entire dive industry issue about 1 million certifications a year — worldwide — we are barely scratching the surface.
What about snorkeling?
Based on the Scubanomics survey, 69.8% of American adults have done snorkeling at one point in their life — somewhere between their backyard pool and the ocean.
We actually wanted to know how many Americans were familiar with using a mask and a snorkel. The pool factor is more significant with snorkelers than it was with scuba divers. 60.2% of those who have tried snorkeling actually did it in a pool.
A more important finding is the level of satisfaction with the service received by snorkeling tour operations. It is even lower than the results for scuba diving.
36.4% of respondents reported having been very satisfied with the service received while another 17.7% were somewhat satisfied, for a positive score of 54.0% compared to 59.4% for the service received by scuba diving operators.
It makes sense since, in many cases, the dive boat operator and the snorkeling boat operator are one and the same, with snorkeling often being treated as a nuisance required to increase the profitability of the dive charter.
What about surface-supplied air or tankless diving?
As reviewed earlier, awareness for this type of diving (46.6%) is significantly lower than it is for scuba diving (96.4%) and snorkeling (96.8%).
Therefore, participation is obviously lower as well. Only 15.1% of American adults have participated in tankless diving at one point in their lives compared to 32.7% for scuba diving and 69.8% for snorkeling.
The dropout rate, however, is significantly lower. Only 19.2% of past surface-supplied air divers declared not participating in the activity anymore.
Among survey respondents who had never tried surface-supplied air diving but knew what it was, there was a meaningful interest to try it.
- 16.7% of respondents claimed to be very likely to go diving with such a system.
- Another 8.3% were likely to do so.
That’s a total of 25% of aware Americans who had not tried it. Since the level of awareness is still low (46.5%), it means a current market size of 24.3 million adult Americans.
What do we conclude out of this?
Many executives in other industries would kill to get the levels of awareness and interest we have in scuba diving.
With these numbers, we should be booming — like numerous other outdoor activities have been in the last few years.
To grow our business, we need to stop hemorrhaging divers dropping out, starting by fixing our low level of satisfaction with the service they receive from scuba diving operators and reducing the complexity of our processes. We’re in 2021. Whatever we offer has to be convenient to consumers.
We are in the business of helping people discover the rest of their world — the 70% made of water! We are not in the business of selling plastic cards and dive gear — these are ancillary products and services.
If we find ways to bring more people underwater, in a way that satisfy today’s consumers’ expectations so that they keep coming back, the rest of our products and services will sell by themselves.
This was our first Scubanomics survey with a limited number of respondents to test the market. Next, we will adjust the questionnaire and re-run it on a larger sample size with the following goals:
- Understand better the current level of participation by people who have tried scuba diving (or the other activities) to reconcile that figure with the active participation rate in the SFIA survey.
- Investigate what we need as an industry to bring the dropouts back underwater.
- Further quantify the size of the untapped market for scuba diving, snorkeling, and surface-supplied air diving.
- Investigate what we need as an industry to bring the interested non-divers underwater.
The low level of customer satisfaction is a major concern for the industry's growth. It most certainly fuels the dropout rate. But understanding this issue and creating solutions for it will require a different kind of analysis. We’ve already reviewed this opportunity in Strategy — Consistency in The Quality of The Scuba Diving Experience: Defining and using quality assurance and branding for customer retention and satisfaction in the dive industry.
If you are interested in collaborating or co-sponsoring the next iteration of this survey, please contact us.
Also from Darcy Kieran:
- Handbook: Your Career and/or Life as a Scuba Diving Instructor: How to Make a Good Living Out of Your Passion for Scuba Diving.
- Logbook: Advanced Scuba Diving Logbook with Checklists for certified scuba divers, divemasters & dive instructors.
- Handbook: Advanced Guide to SPF Scuba Diving for Scuba Divers, Divemasters & Dive Instructors: Develop Better Scuba Diving Skills, Dive Safer, Save Money & Have More Fun!
- Handbook: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide To Scuba Diving: How to Increase Safety, Save Money & Have More Fun!
- Logbook: STARTER Scuba Diving Logbook with Checklists while getting your open water diver certification!
- Reference book: Scuba Diving Industry Market Reports, Data & Statistics.
Side note: During your surface intervals, have a look at my novels with a scuba diving twist, starting with “Mystery of The Blue Dragon” and “Shadows on Ocean Drive.”
You could help the dive industry by taking part in ongoing dive industry surveys. You will also find results from our past scuba diving market studies here.
Don’t be left out! Subscribe to Scubanomics: The Dive Industry Compass to be the first to know about new dive industry market data & insights. Otherwise, be our “dive business buddy” on LinkedIn, Facebook, and elsewhere.
What now? Have a look at the complete Scubanomics Table of Contents.