“While it might take years for international travel to recover to pre-crisis levels of demand and supply, domestic travel could rise much sooner” ~McKinsey & Company
Currently, both international and domestic travel is down. However, domestic tourism is less impacted. And we’re seeing an increase in outdoor activities due to COVID-19, as per the Outdoor Industry Association.
Scuba Diving, Travel & Local Diving
A ValuePenguin study released in September 2020 found that “72% of Americans did not take a summer vacation this year. Of those who did travel this summer, 71% opted for a road trip rather than flying.”
It makes sense.
There are numerous reasons why people chose not to travel internationally. Even if your dream vacation destination is open to visiting tourists, you may face restrictions when coming back home, including the requirement to self-quarantine.
It doesn’t look encouraging for dive resorts located where there is virtually no local clientèle. In this case, a white-glove approach to target wealthy travelers could be your best option. Another wild idea is inviting scuba divers to ‘work from home’ at your resort!
However, if you are operating a dive center in an area where there are potential clients nearby, you may have an opportunity.
People are running out of places to go!
“The main issue with this trend is that domestic travel offers less choice, so everyone just goes to the same destinations. This situation is currently occurring in the UK in locations such as Cornwall and Snowdonia.” ~Ralph Hollister, Travel & Tourism Analyst at GlobalData.
We see that happening with Florida in the USA, the Chatham Islands in New Zealand, and Gaspésie in the province of Quebec, Canada.
And that is where the opportunity lies. Scuba diving offers an exciting alternative to visiting the same beach as everybody else.
A recently launched marketing campaign for the state of Kentucky is inspiring in that regard. They use ‘Stay Close, Go Far’ as a marketing slogan to remind “residents they don’t have to travel far to experience beauty, history, and adventure.” You could pretty much use the same motto to offer scuba diving adventures, locally.
It’s not just in the USA. Dive industry professionals in the Emirates report a boom in local diving activities.
Scuba Diving & ‘Supporting Local’
Beyond people’s interest in living adventures, while not traveling far, there is also a trend in supporting local businesses.
The idea behind that trend is that small businesses closed during the lockdown to help keep everybody safe, including their staff and members of the community. Now, it’s time for us to return the favor and support them.
A recent article in The Spinoff, in New Zealand, highlights this sentiment, including the example of a local dive shop.
“People aren’t just buying a product. They’re buying things that say something about them and their values.” ~The Spinoff
Supporting our local community is a value that resonates with numerous consumers.
Find out what initiatives there are in your community around encouraging consumers to buy locally, and make sure your local dive shop is listed in there. Examples include a Visa repertoire of small businesses in New Zealand, a Support #SmallBusinessEveryDay promotion in Canada, and USA Today’s Support Local initiative.
The Place of ‘Local Diving’ in The Dive Industry
Local diving has always been the poorest member of the scuba family.
When thinking about scuba diving, most non-diver think of Nemo and mojitos under palm trees. Most scuba diving activities have been happening around the equator.
Typically, local or inland diving attracts a younger crowd — one more interested in challenges than just seeing what is under the surface. Often, there’s nothing to see but green water!
Through the years, we have seen numerous attempts at promoting local diving as a means to retain divers in the face of a devastating dropout rate, and promoting continuing education (aka, selling more courses). Results have been so-so, at best.
This may be about to change.
In a recent email message to PADI members (dive instructors), Drew Richardson, CEO, states that “recovery is being driven by engaged divers diving locally around the planet”.
With all the bad that came with the coronavirus pandemic, a need for adventures closer to home has risen, and that is good news for local dive shops in urban areas far from the usual dive destinations (we call these ‘origin dive centers’).
If we play our cards right, these ‘origin dive centers’ may be less of an ‘origin’ and more of a self-sufficient adventure destination for nearby consumers.
For this resurgence of local diving to happen, we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
First, you need to find ways to promote your scuba diving services to local consumers bored at home, in a way that makes them understand they should be excited about doing it ‘right here, right now’ with you.
In that regard, some training agencies are there to help you. Scuba divers can easily find local dive sites on SSI’s ‘My Dive Guide’. And PADI produced a video local dive shop managers can share with their clients.
Second, you need to plan a dive site that is conducive to success. On that topic, you may find valuable an Al Rios’ article on Cultivating Freshwater Quarries as Aquatic Life Educational Centers for Scuba Divers.
Repositioning the Experience at the Core
In the 3Ts of the scuba diving industry (or PADI’s 3Es), selling courses and dive gear has always been the main focus of local dive shops. That is where the money comes from.
To be more precise, typically, the local dive shop pays its bills by selling dive gear at a high margin to new scuba diving students.
Furthermore, in most cases, these new scuba divers showed up in preparation for an annual vacation under the sun.
For numerous reasons, this outdated dive industry business model must change, and now is a great time to start making it happen.
With international travel at an all-time low, we need people to see scuba diving as an activity valuable to them in of itself — just like their yoga class or visit at the gym. And it’s certainly better than binge-watching another Netflix series!
Step one is adapting your marketing message. Don’t promote your scuba diving classes — and even less your dive gear. Promote scuba diving itself. Once the activity is ‘sold,’ the rest will sell itself.
This is step one of a paradigm shift we started discussing at DEMA Show 2019 in Orlando, Florida.
Some Interesting Inland Dive Sites
As inspiration, here are some local American scuba diving locations that inspire me.
- A World War II-era plane submerged in Lake Mead, near Las Vegas, Nevada
- Bonne Terre Mine in Missouri
- Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Lake Huron, Michigan
- Homestead Crater, Midway, Utah
There are also quite a few aquariums where you can get underwater in the USA.
What is your favorite inland scuba diving site?