The dive industry has been using the same business model to promote and teach scuba diving since John Cronin and Ralph Erickson founded PADI in 1966. During that time, technology has evolved, consumers' shopping habits and expectations have radically changed, and marketing has become digital marketing. In such a context, it is doubtful that the dive industry doesn’t need to change — like everything else.
Our core group of clients, the baby boomers, is shrinking. New scuba divers tend to be casual divers. The new generations have a different take on outdoor activities and traveling.
And since the dive industry has been shrinking for at least the last decade, it’s time we discuss how we promote and teach scuba diving.
We will look at the way we promote and teach scuba diving, the way we train divemasters and dive instructors, and the structural organization of our dive training centers.
Our goals are to find ways to make scuba diving more attractive to non-divers, deliver more value and convenience to divers, and adjust our marketing communications to this day and age.
How We Promote and Teach Scuba Diving Courses
The simple fact that we use the word “courses” in this title is already a problem, as we’ve discussed in Fixing Scuba Tryouts and Entry-Level Courses.
From this article, we’ve concluded that scuba tryouts are not providing an excellent first underwater experience to a majority of customers — and they are not a valuable tool to sell entry-level courses. If somebody is interested in learning to dive, we should get them on track to learn to dive instead of offering a quick dip that is often more scary than enjoyable.
Otherwise, our obsessive focus on skills, courses, and cards are not making our marketing message exciting. It’s not creating a fun environment for new divers.
People who are new to skiing, go skiing — even if they start on the little hill with a ski trainer. And they tell their friends they went skiing. They didn’t go to a “class”! That’s not the case with the dive industry. Everywhere you look, “courses” are promoted. Why do we think people bored at home want to take “courses”? They don’t. Perhaps we could call it scuba diving sessions instead of courses. Or call it scuba diving. When you go skiing for the first time, you will probably go skiing on the little hill with a ski trainer. You still went skiing. You didn’t attend a course.
And then, when they are in that scuba diving course, what do we do? We get them to do quizzes and exams. Then we bring them to the pool where we have them doing skills after skills after skills. And finally, we bring them to the great experience of going to “ open water.” And what do we do? We get them to do skills after skills after skills, almost non-stop, during four dives.
You have to be hooked on scuba to survive all of that and still want to continue diving.
We urgently need to look at what other industries are doing, how they are doing it, and what are their results compared to ours. We could start with the outdoor industry. Plenty of outdoor activities are growing in popularity while we are shrinking. Let’s study what they are doing right.
The Way We Train Divemasters and Dive Instructors
At the divemaster and instructor level, we are dealing with people already committed to scuba diving. In this case, there is no problem with these sessions being called “courses.” Training a professional divemaster or dive instructor requires theory and a lot of skill practice. That’s fine.
For the most part, these pro-level courses provide proper scuba diving training for divemasters and instructors — as long as the instructor trainer is professional. Since it’s not always the case, these pro-level courses would benefit from better quality assurance. In this case, it’s not so much about ensuring consistency in the quality of experience. It’s more about ensuring that the pros are real pros.
But that is just one part of it, and unfortunately, that’s where we typically stop in the dive industry.
Beyond their ability to demonstrating and evaluating skills, instructors need numerous other aptitudes to be part of a team offering consistency in the quality of the experience.
For instance, talking to clients requires training. How do you answer a complaining customer-student-diver? There are simple tricks very helpful in this type of situation.
Otherwise, we all know how dive instructors usually don’t want to be involved with the “dirty” selling activities — that’s beneath them. Well, unfortunately, they need to know the basics of selling. In all courses, instructors encounter student-divers asking them about dive gear, dive destinations, and dive courses. Wouldn’t it be nice if you knew how to ask questions to identify what is best for this particular customer? That’s consultative selling.
Focus on helping the client and the sale ensues.
Therefore, after completing their instructor examination with a traditional dive training agency, a divemaster and an instructor should receive significantly more training before they start interacting with student-diver-clients. Unfortunately, there is nobody in the dive industry who has deemed it valuable to develop and offer this type of training program. We are working on something. Stay tuned.
Otherwise, on the part about teaching skills underwater, are divemasters and instructors ready to teach after their IE? We believe a small percentage of these people are prepared. The first step after getting their pro-level card from the training agency should be an internship. They should teach scuba diving courses under the supervision of an experienced dive instructor known for providing a high level of quality, safety, and fun. A lot of professions are forced to do so. I had to do two years like that after getting my Engineering degree. Why don’t we require it? After all, people put their life in your hands. You shouldn’t wing it and learn as you go.
On that topic, why are new dive instructors allowed to teach entry-level courses right after their IE? This is the most dangerous and demanding course in the entire curriculum of dive courses. We should require dive instructors to have a fair amount of experience with students underwater before teaching entry-level courses.
There is a lot that needs to be redesigned in the way we promote and teach scuba diving.
Dive Training Center Structure
In Octopus Strategy: Selling Dive Gear vs. Providing Scuba Training, we discussed the differences between what we are currently offering and what today’s consumers expect. And we highlighted the significant difference between the setup we need to sell dive gear and the structure we need to promote and provide scuba diving training, in today’s world.
In summary, we need a centralized fully-stocked retail store & eCommerce warehouse setup to supply numerous dive training locations (either a pool or a dive site). These various smaller locations need to be identified as a dive training facility in online directories of dive centers.
We shouldn’t send a customer who is looking for a place to learn scuba diving, to a store where we sell gear. When I search for a fuel station, Google doesn’t list car dealers.
We should let them know exactly where the pool is. This requires training agencies to review their policy on what they list on their website. And it requires us to work with Google Maps to get these dive training places appropriately listed.
The octopus strategy is not something we can readily implement tomorrow morning. It requires investment in time and money. And to make it work, this strategy needs to be part of a branding and quality control plan to ensure consistency in the quality of the experience — to the point where the training agency’s website doesn’t matter anymore because people are searching for your reliable brand.
Promote & Teach Scuba Diving: What’s Next?
We’ve identified a few general directions to redefine the way we promote and teach scuba diving. However, dive training is a vital component of the dive industry. Therefore, we believe the next step is setting up a workgroup to undertake the development of a brand new Blue Ocean shift in the dive industry.
This work team needs to include educational design experts, lawyers, and business & marketing people focused on providing better value to the consumer, at a lower cost. This team would also require a strong IT team. No matter the model by which we teach scuba diving, it will involve a website, an app, and online learning.