Updated on November 10, 2020.
In many places around the world, scuba diving is on hold. Tourism, all over the world, has come to a halt. Scuba diving professionals will figure out a way to survive this coronavirus pandemic and come out of it more robust, by adapting to a new world. But what is in store for our dive industry trade association, DEMA, and its annual DEMA Show?
Numerous business and social activities are being converted to ‘online’ at a faster pace than ever before — from education to retail sales. We work from home. Highspeed internet is our new best friend!
Most of these changes were already trending before the COVID-19 pandemic. Retail stores were having a tough time while online sales were up. Learning online was also growing — just like it is in the dive industry. On these fronts, the pandemic has simply (and astonishingly) made us jump ten years ahead as per a McKinsey & Company study we’ve reviewed in “A New Business Model for a Redefined Local Dive Center”.
So… Converting trade shows to ‘online’ seems like a natural step in this crazy world.
The trade show industry has been hit as hard as the tourism industry. Announcements about tradeshow cancellations have been pouring in since the beginning of the year. Every industry is affected. And many tradeshow organizers have opted for an online version of ‘some kind’ of a trade show.
The diving industry is no different. Earlier this year, the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA) announced the cancellation of our annual scuba diving industry trade show, the DEMA Show. It was planned for November in New Orleans. I was looking forward to going back to New Orleans! I’m tired of blingy Las Vegas and boring Orlando. But that’s a different story! Back to this year’s DEMA Show.
The first question would be to wonder whether it was justified to cancel our dive industry tradeshow. After all, the famous Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (FLIBS) is moving ahead with its October 28 to November 1st, 2020, event. Some people have chosen to ‘believe’ COVID-19 is not an issue — or that the deaths of strangers don’t matter. One or the other. I’m not sure! But that would also be a different story! I don’t know how FLIBS intends to maintain its international attendance at a profitable level when many international borders are still closed to travel.
After canceling the 2020 live DEMA Show, DEMA announced a virtual tradeshow from November 17 to 20, 2020. Along with this virtual trade show event, DEMA provides its usual ‘education package’, also online. The education program has already started. It’s running from September 15 to November 20.
It costs nothing for attendees to register for the online DEMA Show. It costs $30 for members to access the education program.
It makes sense, right? Sure. But what are the consequences?
Consequences of the 2020 DEMA Show Being Online
There are numerous short-term and long-term consequences to the DEMA Show 2020 being online.
Will dive industry professionals participate in the online DEMA Show?
In a couple of months, at the end of November, I’ll be able to answer this question! Meanwhile, the ‘buzz’ doesn’t seem to be there.
Usually, before the DEMA Show, we saw a lot of ‘DEMA Show’ talks on social media. People were looking forward to meeting some other people they get to see only once a year. There’s none of that, this year, because nobody will be seeing nobody!
Every year, one of the top reasons for attendees to go to the DEMA Show is ‘socializing and networking’. It was my Number One reason! Everything else I could get done online or over the phone.
Without the social part of the DEMA Show, is there still a DEMA Show? When our dive industry trade show comes to Orlando, everybody knows ‘the pit’ at the good ol’ Rosen Center. That’s where you crash at the end of the day to meet everybody and anybody. It is part of the experience.
Without having conducted a detailed survey on planned participation to this year’s online DEMA Show, I have contacted a few scuba diving gear manufacturers. None of them were planning on participating in this online event.
Are you? I want to hear from you.
Why do I need a limiting and limited calendar schedule?
Of course, besides socializing and networking, dive center owners and managers would do some business during a typical DEMA Show.
The three main sectors of business activity in the scuba diving industry are education, gear, and travel. You can manage all of them for your local dive shop without going to the DEMA Show, but face-to-face meetings were making some discussions more interesting and possibly, valuable.
Now that we have to have these discussions by phone or over a Zoom video call, why do I need to have my annual meeting with my main dive gear supplier on these exact DEMA Show dates set by DEMA? It may be much more convenient for me to have this meeting the week before, the week after, or the month after…
This is one of the major issues facing all exhibitions and trade shows. Once you move to an online event, why do we need fixed dates, once a year?
Currently, trade show organizers are simply rushing at ‘moving’ to online what used to be a face-to-face event. Eventually, we will adapt and find better ways to satisfy the goals pursued by these former face-to-face events.
Besides, DEMA Show is proving this point. The usual ‘education program’ presented during the week of the DEMA Show is now offered online over a period of 2 months, from September 15 to November 20. And the recording of these presentations will be available online afterward. So… Really… I can get the information and the training I want, online, whenever I want.
‘Fixed dates’ no longer make much sense.
Each scuba diving industry stakeholder group can work around dates that make sense for them to conduct business. For instance, it may be that dive gear manufacturers want to conduct meetings with their dive shop clients in the Fall, but dive resorts would prefer Winter meetings. The door is open to more flexibility.
Will we eventually go back to face-to-face tradeshows?
That’s a question the entire tradeshow and exhibition industry is asking itself.
A Global Recovery Project study found that ‘live’ events are still preferred (even if out of reach at the moment), but ‘digital’ is playing a more substantial role. And this increased role of digital will remain. Pretty much everybody agrees that face-to-face is better for networking. But everything else can be done in other ways.
Respondents in that study “indicated they appreciated the reduced costs for attending online events and that the quality of the content was starting to compete with that of face-to-face events — with 52% saying the online content was as good as, if not better, than live events.” ~TSNN News, September 8, 2020
‘Reduced costs’ are something many dive store and dive resort owners will be extremely sensitive to, over the next couple of years. Even scuba gear manufacturers and dive training organizations will manage a very tight budget for quite some time.
In a recent promotional email message, DEMA promoted the new online dive industry trade show by stating: “DEMA Show Online allows you to connect with high quality leads through digitally-powered matchmaking services and reach more attendees due to lower costs and reduced barriers of participation, while reducing overhead costs and enhancing ROI.”
Interesting. Convincing, even!
If that is so, why would I go back to the old formula with a lower ROI?
We expect to see less interest in exhibiting at a live DEMA Show once it comes back to life. We’ve already heard of 2 dive gear brands currently not planning to attend the 2021 live DEMA Show. And on September 29, the second-largest dive training agency in the USA, SSI, announced it will “forego all 2021 trade shows” (source: DiveNewsWire).
Of course, it’s still early to be discussing the Fall of 2021.
But one thing is sure. For the live DEMA Show to survive after the coronavirus pandemic, the DEMA organization will need to find ways to create significantly more value for exhibitors and attendees — to increase the ROI.
Can DEMA survive without the DEMA Show revenues?
If you are a DEMA member and you bother asking for (and looking at) the financial results, you will find that DEMA lives on the DEMA Show profits.
Here are some ballpark figures.
- The DEMA Show profits account for about 75% of DEMA’s revenues.
- Membership fees provide less than 20% of DEMA’s revenues.
- More than 60% of DEMA’s operating expenses are allocated to salaries and payroll expenses.
- Of the money spent by DEMA (excluding the tradeshow expenses), about 40% goes to ‘programs’ to help the industry like the ‘Pool Tour’ and the ‘Go Dive Now’ promotion.
So how can DEMA survive without 75% of its revenues? Membership dues barely cover half of the salaries and payroll expenses.
The answer is: It can’t. Not in its current form, at least.
DEMA is a not-for-profit organization. It must balance its budget.
Even if DEMA cuts all of its ‘programs’ designed to help the scuba diving industry, it is still not enough to cover operating expenses.
Over-spending on an Expensive Online Event Management Application
It appears DEMA opted for an expensive solution to operating the online DEMA Show: A2Z Events, hosted on the DEMA website. In comparison, the new online consumer dive show “Scuba.Digital” used a very inexpensive solution: Hopin, hosted by Hopin for $99 per month, and it worked!
Therefore, not only the 2020 online DEMA Show will not provide the $1M+ in profits needed to keep operating the DEMA organization as usual, but this year’s tradeshow may actually lose money!
What Can DEMA Do To Cover The Shortfall in Revenues?
This dilemma is not particular to the scuba diving industry. Have a look at the not-for-profit organization behind the famous Burning Man extravaganza. Last week, it launched a fundraising campaign with a 1.5M$ goal.
“In 2020, the Burning Man Project lost more than 90% of its annual budget as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are now faced with the daunting reality of running a global nonprofit without the necessary means to continue our operations. While we’ve cut our costs dramatically, we are at risk of running out of money in December.” ~Burning Man
It’s hard for everybody.
Numerous dive businesses had to shut down or significantly downsize over the last few months.
We expect the DEMA Board members will have to make tough decisions — soon!
And if we are smart about it, we will jump on this opportunity to redefine how DEMA, the organization, can best support and develop the scuba diving industry.
“Crises present us with unique conditions that allow innovators to think and move more freely to create rapid, impactful change.” ~Harvard Business Publishing
This current COVID-19 pandemic is hurting the scuba diving industry. Badly. It’s hurting us all. But it’s also an opportunity to identify and proceed with changes.
There’s even a website tracking innovations coming out of the coronavirus pandemic crisis. Let’s add the dive industry to that website!
“The intense innovation activity ignited by the global pandemic shows that some elephants can dance when they must.” ~World Economic Forum
You may be interested in more information about the coronavirus pandemic and the dive industry.