The Lack of Scuba Diving Industry Statistics & Market Data

DEMA, SFIA, OIA, Training Agencies, Dive Gear Manufacturers, William Cline, Dive Center Business

Darcy Kieran
Jul 17, 2019 · 15 min read
The Lack of Scuba Diving Industry Statistics & Market Data
The Lack of Scuba Diving Industry Statistics & Market Data

There are several reasons why you may want scuba diving industry statistics and market data. You may be preparing a business plan for a dive company. Or you may want to grow your current dive business. And many other reasons.

Dive industry market data is vital to managing your scuba diving business properly, decide if you want to buy or sell a business in this industry, which target market you want to go after, the type of marketing message you want to use… Scuba diving industry statistics are valuable for every decision you have to make.

Unfortunately, when you try to analyze the dive industry, the first thing you notice is a severe lack of dive industry market data — and low reliability on the statistics you actually find. Let’s imagine that running a business is like sailing. It’s hard to bring the yacht to port in a storm, while being blindfolded, with no GPS. You get the picture. And that is precisely what it is like to manage a business with no data.

In all other industries I’ve worked in, we had readily-available market and financial data on the industry, including market trends.

We’ll dig into the statistics & data available in the dive industry and discuss what scuba diving industry statistics & data is missing the most — what data would actually help us grow the industry and our business. But first, let’s look at two other industries to place “industry data” in its context.

1. Comparing The Scuba Diving Industry To Other Industries

Our goal, here, is to promote the idea that having a reliable mechanism in place to collect and share dive industry market data would help everybody in the dive industry.

In the following two industries we’re using as reference points, we will not review all the data available — the list would be too long for this post. Instead, we will look at some specific sets of data and imagine what it would mean to have something equivalent in the scuba diving world.

1.1 Market Data in The Radio Broadcasting Industry

A precious set of data we had when I was in the radio broadcasting industry was audience ratings — surveys done directly with the public to determine how many people listen to your shows and on-air personalities.

On top of knowing the number of people listening to your morning show compared to the other morning shows in your market, we had a complete socio-demographic profile of these people — which is even more critical. For instance, my radio station may be targeting younger at-work women while another radio station is targeting male baby boomers. The type of music and the way radio announcers speak on these two stations is different. Having a determined socio-demographic profile helps when selling advertising to companies who are looking for specific audiences for their products and services.

  • This is an example of the type of financial data broadcasters in Canada have access to: CRTC 2018.
  • And this is accurate information on the number of broadcast radio stations in the USA: FCC Totals.

Everybody in the radio broadcasting industry has access to extensive and accurate statistics. It makes everybody’s job easier. Instead of chasing windmills because somebody said it was the right thing to do this year, we have data showing us if there were even windmills.

What would this look like in the dive industry?

First, if we had this kind of market data for the dive industry, we wouldn’t have to guesstimate everything, like the number of local dive shops in the USA.

We have quite a few studies on the profile of current scuba divers. And for your dive store, you can get the profile of your past clients by looking in your customer database and running it through AnySite offered by DEMA (USA only).

What we don’t have available is the socio-demographic profile of your clients compared to the rest of the market in which you operate. Maybe you are targeting wealthy male baby boomers while your main “competitor” is targeting college students. If so, you are not competitors, and there are many areas in which you could cooperate. It’s more profitable for everybody if we do not all target the same audience — just like radio stations target different audiences.

The same would apply to any other dive industry stakeholder. For instance, it would be reasonable to have dive gear brands targeting different clienteles instead of everybody trying to sell everything to everybody, with no real differentiation.

And, of course, we don’t have accurate information on total sales in local dive shops in the USA nor total sales of dive gear around the world. And the list goes on. We have pretty much nothing to work with.

1.2 Data in The Railroad Industry

The rail industry is another industry with lots of data — and stiff competition.

From various sources, we could know how much of which commodity was moving between 2 states and by which mode of transportation it was moving. We could even figure out the RTM (revenues tons miles) for our competitors. RTM represents the revenues you get by moving one ton of products over one mile.

But what is the real competition? In some cases, it’s another railroad. But in most cases, it’s a long-distance trucking company. And we had market data of what was moving by trucks, boats, rail. Having these statistics help every North American railroad be more competitive with long-distance trucking companies — our real competitors who should be partners.

Trucking companies have difficulties recruiting drivers for long-distance routes. Meanwhile, railroads are more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly than trucks, over long distances. As partners, the industry worked toward trucks taking care of local deliveries while railroads took care of connecting different geographical markets over long distances.

What would this look like in the dive industry?

Imagine if we had detailed information on other activities done by potential scuba divers. Instead of advertising scuba diving to current scuba divers (think of all the current dive publications), we could work on cross-promotions with businesses in other industries.

For instance, if the socio-demographic profile of the potential clients you want to reach is similar to the clientele at your local bowling alley, stop focusing on “the other dive shop” in town. Make a cross-promotional deal with the operator of the bowling alley.

We will get back to this topic below when discussing “the missing data” and when we discuss strategies to reach non-divers.

2. What scuba diving industry statistics do we have?

It may seem to you that we have a fair amount of dive industry market data. After all, training agencies regularly release statistics. William Cline publishes quarterly ‘survey results.’ DEMA provides data. Etc. However, look at it carefully.

2.1 Data From Training Agencies

Don’t you find it curious that the dive certification agencies’ results are always “great”?

For instance, it seems to me that PADI switched from releasing North American statistics to Worldwide numbers when the North American results weren’t good enough. When you attend a PADI event as a PADI instructor or dive store owner, you are attending a pep talk. You are listening to a motivational speaker. The main goal of the speaker is convincing you that everything is great when you are in the PADI family — and you should stock more PADI products, now!

Meanwhile, SSI is steadily boosting about how many PADI centers they are signing under the SSI banner. However, this does not produce growth for the industry. It is just two training agencies fighting for market shares within a shrinking pie.

You can get certification numbers from DEMA if you are a member. But not all training agencies report their certs numbers to DEMA, and we don’t know for sure what is being shared by those who send certification numbers. We’ll look at these numbers when discussing the size of the dive industry.

2.2 Data From Dive Gear Manufacturers

There’s… Really… None!

There was the MSI (Manufacturer Sales Index) produced by DEMA with numbers provided by dive gear manufacturers. But it’s now half-dead — more on this below.

You can always discuss with your Aqua-Lung, Mares, or whoever sales rep. But do you think this information will be reliable? I remember a dry suit sales rep who would tell me, at every single visit to my dive shop, that he had just received the biggest purchase order of his career. That’s verbal diarrhea, not market data.

With dive gear manufacturers and training agencies, there’s paranoia and obsession with secrecy — often to their own detriment.

2.3 Data From DEMA

We have to raise our hat to DEMA for trying to provide us with scuba diving industry statistics.

Over the years, DEMA produced two reports that could be quite valuable to manage your dive business in North America:

  • Certification Census for the American market.
  • The MSI: Manufacturer Sales Index.

Let’s briefly look at both.

DEMA’s Certification Census

The Certification Census is done by compiling the US-only entry-level certifications as provided by a handful of training agencies that have accepted to share their cert numbers: PADI, SDI, and NAUI. The latest census we have includes all four quarters of 2018. That’s good. Thanks, DEMA!

But… Wait a minute! Why only these three training agencies? For instance, with SSI stealing market shares from PADI, shouldn’t SSI be part of the certification census?

I have from internal sources at Mares-SSI that they cannot legally comply with what is requested by DEMA. It seems that, nowadays, DEMA will not take your cert numbers unless you also provide a list of your client-divers with their email, addresses, etc. Since SSI is a European company with its servers located within the European Union, they must comply with much more stringent privacy rules — which means they cannot provide information about their clients to another entity like DEMA.

We’ll look at the numbers in that DEMA Certification Census when we discuss the size of the dive industry.

DEMA’s MSI — Manufacturer Sales Index

The MSI Index should be a valuable tool for manufacturers themselves and local dive shops. Not only it helps you understand if the market is up or down, but it tells you which category of products are tanking and which ones are growing. This would be valuable, right? One would expect that the manufacturers would provide this information to their dealers, right? Wrong. They keep it to themselves.

When DEMA started the MSI Index, only A1 members (dive gear manufacturers) had access to the report. Some people in this industry suffer from acute paranoia! They should think about ways to help their dealers and grow the dive industry — and everybody would fair better.

When I was on the DEMA Board of Directors, we finally got the A1 members (manufacturers) to agree to share a “summary” of the MSI Index Report with the other DEMA members. What a victory! It brought the dive industry from the stone age to the feudal era!

But now, things got worse. Some dispute between manufacturers made one manufacturer drop out; another one decided to only report on specific categories; and… Voilà! The MSI Index hasn’t been updated in a while.

We’ll look at the information we can get from the last summary of the MSI Index when we discuss how to sell dive gear nowadays.

Socio-Demographic Profiles

DEMA produced quite a few studies on the profile of the current scuba divers as well as a recent survey of the profile of dive professionals.

2.4 Data From William Cline

If you own or operate a dive center in North America, you’ve most likely received a request to participate in William Cline’s quarterly survey on the dive industry. Presumably, you’ve also received the results in your eMail inbox.

Are William Cline’s survey results reliable? That’s a million-dollar question. I had that discussion with William a couple of times. It seems to me that his results are usually optimistic.

For instance, for the first quarter of 2018, William Cline reports a drop of 3.1% in new certifications while the certification census provided by DEMA, with data from the certification agencies, reports a decline of 12.1% for the same period.

How can William Cline’s numbers be too optimistic? (It’s a sad state of affairs when we call optimistic a drop of 3.1%. But moving right along…)

William sends his survey to dive stores by email. Some of them answer. Most, don’t. Just like in any poll. In this case, I presume the ones who care to respond are the most successful dive centers.

Another reason could be that dive store owners/managers answer from the top of their head, without even really knowing their sales results per category. And they don’t want to look like a loser!

I remember when I started my dive store as a part-time hobby while I was working full time for CN rail, I was answering these surveys because I thought I had to answer to receive the results. It didn’t have time to read the instructions. And I was doing that between 2 meetings at my ‘real job.’ On top of that, the POS system I had in store at the time was an old cash register with no database. I couldn’t know in which category my sales were up or down. I was answering blindly, as I ‘felt’ on that day. Today, more local dive shops use computerized POS systems. However, dive shop owners are not known to be very sophisticated in their IT department.

Either way, it’s up to you to take William Cline’s numbers in your planning and budgeting process, if you wish. The trends may still be valuable even if the numbers are on the optimistic side.

2.5 Data From Dive Center Business Magazine

There’s one source of information about the dive industry that is readily available and free to dive shop owners: Dive Center Business magazine from Mark Young. When he analyzes statistics in the dive industry, he is known to be impartial and reliable. His magazine is available free to dive center owners in the USA and Canada. Get it and read it!

2.6 Data From Leisure Trends Group

A few years ago, Leisure Trends was producing a report on dive industry sales in US dive centers by compiling data provided directly from the POS (point-of-sale system) of participating dive centers. It didn’t do much to determine the full size of the dive industry in the USA, but it helped identify trends. Unfortunately, this report ended around 2005.

2.7 Data From Outside The Scuba Diving Industry

SFIA and OIA are two non-dive industry associations with valuable data for the dive industry.

SFIA — Sports & Fitness Industry Association

One very reliable source of data on the scuba diving participation rate in the USA is the SFIA (Sports & Fitness Industry Association) formerly the SGMA (Sporting Goods Manufacturer Association).

SFIA reports provide valuable information on the participation rate and what other activities scuba divers tend to do. The two reports you want are the following:

Unfortunately, these reports are expensive — but much less than the fake dive industry market reports you find promoted online on various websites.

We suggest you purchase them once every couple of years or so. It will give you a trend. And these reports are quite reliable because of the sample size and the way the surveys are conducted.

OIA — Outdoor Industry Association

You won’t find scuba diving specific data at the Outdoor Industry Association. However, you will develop your knowledge of the outdoor industry, in which the dive industry resides.

For instance, you will see which activities are growing in popularity, and what motivates people in participating in these activities. Start by downloading and reading the free OIA free report on Outdoor Participation (2018).

Then, if you are serious about managing your dive business as a business more than a hobby, we strongly suggest you go at least once to the Outdoor Retailer show (Summer Market). Check what the outdoor industry is doing compared to the dive industry and come back with lots of ideas! If you have a limited budget, it’s worth skipping the DEMA Show for it, at least once.

2.8 Some Ridiculous Sources of Dive Industry Statistics and Market Data

A private investor who had recently purchased a dive gear manufacturer told me he used a report produced by a UK-born firm claiming to be a ‘leading technology research and advisory company with a global leverage’ — whatever that means. This firm was forecasting the scuba diving equipment market for 2016 to 2020. So I took a look.

On their website, they were offering a sample of what was in the report. This firm segmented the scuba diving market into 4 categories:

  • Rebreathers
  • Apparel
  • Diving Computers and Gauges
  • Others

That’s already looking strange. They went on to list which products were in these four categories:

  • Rebreathers: Snorkels (I’m not kidding!), Regulators, Octopus
  • Apparel: Wetsuits, Drysuits, BCDs (I’m not kidding!), Masks (No need to repeat ourselves!)
  • Diving Computer & Gauges
  • Others: Weights and Belts, Tanks, Fins (Again… You know!)

And they were selling the report for US$1500. It would be funny if it were a joke! No need to further discuss this case, right? Unfortunately, if you search online for scuba diving industry statistics and dive industry market data, you will find many ‘research companies’ like this one, offering useless reports at ridiculous prices.

Unsurprisingly, this ‘research company’ no longer provides extracts of their reports, on their website. They want you to buy it before finding out it’s useless.

We’re pursuing this discussion, here: Warning: Fake Scuba Diving Industry Statistics and Market Research.

3. What Scuba Diving Industry Statistics Are We Missing The Most?

Most of the dive industry data we have are focused on profiling the “current scuba divers” and determining how to reach more of them. That’s what we’ve been doing for years, and the dive industry has been shrinking for years. Perhaps it’s time we remove our blinders and start looking around. Doing the same thing over and over again will most likely give us the same dismal results.

The three target markets we should study extensively are:

  • The soon-to-be non-customers. In the dive industry, we call those “dropouts.” Why are they dropping out? Would they continue if we changed the way we provide products and services in the dive industry? Would they stay if they could have more consistency in the quality of their experience? We will come back to this topic when discussing the drop-out rate among scuba divers.
  • The refusing non-customers. These are customers who typically fit the profile of our current clients but refuse to take scuba diving. Why? Would they jump in if we were to change the way we provide products and services in the dive industry to make it less focused on c-cards and more on scuba diving? Can we create more “value” for these people?
  • The unexplored non-customers. The way we provide products and services, and the way we market scuba diving doesn’t attract them, but they could be interested if we were to focus on satisfying them instead of insisting on doing everything the way we’ve always done it. We will come back to this topic when discussing how to reach non-divers.

Ultimately, the discussion is about creating a Blue Ocean Strategy for your dive business. It’s about redefining how scuba diving is provided to satisfy today’s consumers.

It’s about doing things differently if we want different results.

3.1 The case of Tryout Scuba, Entry-Level Courses & Drop Out Ratios

We have some extremely vague ideas on the rate of divers dropping out. We also do not have a clear understanding of why they are dropping out. It would help us understand what we are doing wrong to fix it.

Another set of data we are missing: How many “tryout scuba” (e.g. PADI Discover Scuba Diving & SSI Try Scuba) are being done annually around the world. And especially, how many of these people continue on their underwater journey to get their entry-level certification (e.g., PADI & SSI Open Water Diver). I suspect this ratio is quite small. We’ll discuss it under Strategy: Fixing Scuba Tryouts & Entry-Level Scuba Diving Courses.

4. Dive Industry Market Data — In Summary

In conclusion, reliable dive industry market data and financial statistics are hard to find in the scuba diving industry. Sources of statistics are sparse. None of them are complete. It leads to management by blind fate. When your training agency tells you to jump, you jump! It’s a dangerous way to manage a business. Even more so since reliable sources of dive industry news are even more scarce.

There could be a market tsunami heading our way, and we wouldn’t know because those who know, don’t want to share their precious information. They rather see us die (the dive industry is shrinking) than collaborating with anybody else.

However, this is a small industry. Therefore, you can obtain an overview of dive industry market data, from your own experience. Develop good connections in the various major companies selling scuba diving products and services (at the executive level, not your local sales rep). Work on making some sense out of the little scuba diving industry statistics we get from training agencies and dive gear manufacturers. And keep digging!

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Continue reading: Scubanomics Table of Content.

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The Scuba Diving Industry by the Business of Diving Institute (BODI)

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Darcy Kieran

Written by

Entrepreneur | Executive | Author | Radio Announcer | Scuba Diving Instructor — #WritingCommunity — #Miami #Montreal #Marseille


News & editorials for the scuba diving industry. Scuba diving market data & statistics. Business analysis. Innovation-fueled strategies for growth. Dive store management. Your career as a dive professional.

Darcy Kieran

Written by

Entrepreneur | Executive | Author | Radio Announcer | Scuba Diving Instructor — #WritingCommunity — #Miami #Montreal #Marseille


News & editorials for the scuba diving industry. Scuba diving market data & statistics. Business analysis. Innovation-fueled strategies for growth. Dive store management. Your career as a dive professional.

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