The Scuba Diving Industry in October 2020: A ‘Sentiment’ Study

An assessment of the current dive industry and its post-coronavirus future, by surveyed dive professionals

Darcy Kieran
Oct 17 · 14 min read
An assessment of the current dive industry and its post-coronavirus future, by surveyed dive professionals
An assessment of the current dive industry and its post-coronavirus future, by surveyed dive professionals
Photo by Lukas from Pexels

In August and September 2020, William Cline conducted a qualitative survey of scuba diving professionals worldwide to evaluate shifts happening in scuba diving training, dive travel, and scuba equipment purchases. Cline published the results in October 2020. Thanks, William!

What can we learn from the survey results? How can we benefit from “seismic shifts in our dive consumer base,” as William says? What are the opportunities?

We’ll summarize the highlights from this survey and further focus on what it means for your dive business.

Key Results From This October 2020 Dive Industry Survey

As the survey was composed of four open-ended questions, results can only be taken as an indication of current topics of interest to scuba diving industry professionals. These ‘topics’ are a melting pot of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (the four parts of a SWOT Analysis). We’ll try to make sense out of them.

First, here is a list of the 12 most frequently mentioned ‘topics’ among respondents. We will then discuss and analyze each of these dive industry topics to identify what best you can do for your own dive business.

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” ~Will Rogers.

  1. More publicity / visibility / advertising
  2. Lack of quality dive instructors / Need for better scuba diving training
  3. Economy & Coronavirus-related issues
  4. Internet, online & Amazon sales
  5. Make scuba diving cool / fun / easier / exciting
  6. Engage kids / Market scuba diving to next generation
  7. More affordable / lower prices for participation
  8. Push or promote local diving
  9. Sell sport as ocean advocates
  10. Need better dive industry cooperation
  11. Promote scuba diving as an adventure activity
  12. Stop discounting to improve profits

The top topics varied per geographical region, as we can see in the following summary.

The Scuba Diving Industry in October 2020: A ‘Sentiment’ Study
The Scuba Diving Industry in October 2020: A ‘Sentiment’ Study
Source: William Cline

Worldwide, advertising is the number one issue. Meanwhile, in the USA, the economic situation related to COVID-19 is top of the mind. Overall, though, the same topics are of concern to dive professionals around the world even if the priority may slightly change from one region to another, or from one dive industry stakeholder group to another.

The main areas of concern to scuba diving professionals: What do they mean? What should we do? What are the opportunities?

Although this 2020 ‘sentiment’ study was performed during the COVID-19 pandemic, many issues brought forward by surveyed dive industry professionals are not new. In some cases, these issues have simply been amplified by the coronavirus pandemic's current economic issues.

1. More publicity, visibility, and advertising

Of all topics of concern raised by surveyed dive professionals, the hope of seeing “more publicity, visibility, and advertising for scuba diving” is the most tricky to address.

  • If we want more non-divers to become scuba divers, who should advertise what to whom?
  • If we want current scuba divers to dive more, is ‘advertising’ the real issue for the lack of participation?

Current scuba divers are your current clients. You should be able to reach them, one-on-one, by different means of communication.

In the case of current scuba divers, the main issue to resolve in order to grow our business is fixing our huge drop-out rate. The first step in this direction would be redefining the role of a local dive center as a destination for the activity of scuba diving instead of being an understocked retail store. As we started discussing with Alex Brylske at the DEMA Show 2019 in Orlando, the dive industry needs a new paradigm centered on the activity of scuba diving.

In other words, we have a lot of work to do, internally, to grow the dive industry by getting more repeat customers. As for recruiting new clients, that is where publicity, visibility, and advertising come in.

That part becomes a question of marketing to non-divers, as we’ve discussed on Scubanomics.

For years, DEMA has spent a lot of money on the ‘Go Dive Now’ pool tour (originally called the ‘Be A Diver’ tour). For years, our industry has been going downhill in the USA. The whole concept of using ‘discover scuba diving experiences’ as a means to recruit new scuba divers is highly questionable and should be revised. Too often, it produces a negative experience driving would-be divers away — the opposite of what our goal is.

It’s time we reallocate DEMA promotional funds to newer, more effective initiatives.

Based on William Cline’s summary notes, some survey respondents mentioned partnering with the “Outdoor Retailer Association” (it’s really called the Outdoor Industry Association, OIA) to expand our market reach. This is an extremely valid idea, and it is related to redefining the DEMA organization's role. It is such an important topic that we will discuss in a forthcoming article. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of this article to be kept in the loop.

Otherwise, the first step to selling anything to anybody is getting people ‘aware’ of its existence. That is not a problem for us. Ask anybody in the street… People know about scuba diving.

We keep hearing dive industry professionals complaining that scuba diving is not as visible as it was in the years of Lloyd Bridges and Jacques Cousteau — but it is. I see scuba diving portrayed as beautiful and exciting, everywhere. Travel agencies regularly use beautiful scuba diving images. I see scuba diving on numerous ads in airports. Honeymoon ads often include a sexy couple holding hands underwater. Scuba diving is visible and beautiful.

What we need is to move people from seeing it to doing it.

This is a particular type of advertising that must include a convincing call to action. Such a call-to-action must be linked to the immediate possibility of doing the action.

Therefore, dive resorts and local dive centers are best positioned to do this type of advertising. And nowadays, tools to do it are more accessible than ever before.

You can define the socio-demographic profile and geographic location of target customers (for instance, by using DEMA’s tools to help you define target audiences) and serve them ads on Facebook and Google.

There are numerous things that the ‘big guys’ like PADI, SSI, Aqualung, Mares, and Huish should do to help grow the dive industry, but advertising with a call-to-action is something each dive resort and local dive center need to learn, master, and use.

I know of a local dive center in an urban area, systematically using Facebook ads to fill up scuba classes. It’s not free. But once you’re up and running, you know what target profile works best, and you know how much it costs you per new student you get in the pool with an instructor.

The beauty of that type of advertising is that it talks to people who know about scuba diving but did not necessarily think about taking a scuba diving class locally. Your ads are the link between their knowing and their doing.

2. Lack of quality dive instructors / Need for better scuba diving training

Scuba diving is all about the ‘experience’. Nobody leaves the comfort of their couch at home because they dreamed of owning a scuba diving regulator. They come to you to experience something unique.

Quality is crucial in such a case. If you buy a bad toaster, you will probably replace it. But if you have a bad scuba diving experience, you will probably move on to another activity.

Therefore, quality is, indeed, crucial. And the lack of consistency in the quality of the scuba diving experience is a huge contributor to our excessive dropout rate.

The way we promote and teach scuba diving should be redefined to produce scuba divers instead of producing c-cards.

One day, we can dream that every scuba diving instructor, dive boat captain, divemaster, dive shop owner, and dive industry professional will start offering quality scuba diving experiences. We can. Forever. Because it will remain a dream unless concrete actions are taken to make it happen.

I believe the issue of a lack of quality will only be fixed once an investor will decide to build a business around a quality brand with real quality assurance control. It will take time but the rewards will be huge for whoever does it first.

3. Economy & Coronavirus-related issues

Yes. The dive industry has been hit hard by COVID-19. And we’re not out of the woods.

We estimate that about 20% of local dive shops in the USA will have closed by the time this pandemic is over. That’s one in five! And considering the fact that owning a local dive shop is very much a baby boomer dream, there are few openings of new local dive centers.

On the travel side, dive resorts in numerous locations still face travel restrictions preventing clients from even reaching them.

It’s bad. But it’s also our chance to redefine the local dive center to make it more interesting to the younger crowd of scuba diving professionals and scuba divers.

4. Internet, online & Amazon sales

Although this topic is #4 globally, it is the Number One issue reported by surveyed dive retailers.

The big evil! It’s convenient to have somebody to blame for our problems.

Online retailers did not create the problem. The problem comes from the fact that local dive shops, in their current form, do not properly satisfy today’s consumers' expectations.

People are turning to online purchases because it’s more convenient for them. Do not think it is only a matter of price. We cannot ask people to jump through hula-hoops to buy from us — and wait weeks for delivery — when we barely have anything in stock, simply because we think it’s important to keep local dive shops alive.

It’s time to wake up, or we’ll be like Blockbuster who didn’t think Netflix was a good business idea. No matter how much Blockbuster complained about Netflix, I bet you are using Netflix and haven’t even thought for a while about going out to rent a DVD in a brick and mortar video store.

Blockbuster wanted to maintain local video rental stores open. They went bankrupt because what they wanted didn’t matter. What consumers want matters.

When providing scuba lessons and dive outings to local consumers, your local dive center brings value to them. The activity of scuba diving should be the core of your business. When you are trying to sell scuba diving equipment, you need to satisfy today’s consumer expectations and… You don’t.

When shopping for physical goods like scuba diving equipment, consumers expect to access every brand, every model, every size, and every color. And they expect to get it today or, at the latest, tomorrow. Local dive shops do not — and cannot — satisfy these expectations.

Alongside this issue, numerous survey participants mentioned direct-to-consumer sales by dive gear manufacturers as an issue.

This is really 2 sides of the same coin. Do you carry every Aqualung model in your local Aqualung dive store in every size and every color? You don’t. Well… The manufacturer needs to sell its stuff, and if you are not making it available to clients, they will find a way to do it. On top of that, this online approach also satisfies what consumers expect. It’s a win-win for the consumer and the dive manufacturer. So… It ain’t gonna go away!

There is no point in banging our heads against the wall. We must redefine the role and raison-d’être of local dive centers to suit today’s consumers. Operating 6 businesses in one is no longer viable as a business model for a local dive center.

Local (and inland) diving has been doing quite well since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a great opportunity to perform the shift we’ve been proposing for quite some time.

A local dive center should be focused on providing a quality experience, with rental gear and a fill station located at a dive site, not in a ‘store’. Selling dive gear is something best done by a centralized warehouse operation with everything in stock.

In the end, consumers always get what they want. Either we work on providing it to them, or we are left behind as dinosaurs.

5. Make scuba diving cool / fun / easier / exciting

For somebody to decide to do scuba diving, it obviously has to ‘look good’ to him/her. The problem is that ‘what looks good’ to you may not look good to your neighbor!

I can assure you that what an aging baby boomer sees as cool is significantly different than what a millennium thinks is cool.

We will never be able to create one single marketing campaign that performs well with every market segment. That’s why they are called segments.

However, we can produce marketing campaigns defined for specific socio-demographic profiles and serve ads to a specific segment on Facebook and Google.

As a side note, I believe that making scuba diving ‘easier’ is also required but in the sense of making it more convenient. Some market segments welcome a challenge. They just don’t want to go through all the hassles we’ve put in place to make our lives easier.

6. Engage kids / Market to next generation

In Cline’s survey results, we can read that numerous dive professionals believe we are not doing enough to market to the new generations. Yet, at the same time, some other dive professionals believe we should concentrate our efforts on further recruiting baby boomers because they are more easily convinced, and they have money.

Well… Both of these points of view are right!

As we have just discussed above, we can define different marketing campaigns for these 2 very different groups of potential customers.

We should push it even further. Scuba classes can be set up with a specific market segment in mind. The type of dive instructors you need to please the aging baby boomers may not be the same as what would best suit the newer generations.

Overall, this is still a question of reaching non-divers, as discussed in Point 1 above.

7. More affordable / lower prices for participation

This is the only ‘issue’ with which I disagree.

We should redefine local dive centers to make scuba diving more convenient. But I haven’t seen any indication that prices were a deterrent. In fact, every dive industry study I have seen describe our customers as affluent.

Typically, local dive centers promote cheap products because dive instructors and dive center owners are not affluent. They are more bohemian!

We shouldn’t assume that what we need is what our clients need , especially when a scuba diving client's socio-demographic profile is significantly different from that of a dive professional.

8. Push or promote local diving

Growth in local diving has been the only silver lining in this COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve discussed it in a prior article titled “The Revival of Local Diving To Save The Scuba Diving Industry”.

9. Sell scuba diving as ocean advocates

Scuba diving can be of great interest to environmentally-conscious consumers — some of them.

This brings us back to segmenting our target markets, as discussed above in this article.

Ocean advocates ought to be a significant part of a new paradigm focused on the activity of scuba diving. Unfortunately, it may not necessarily be of interest to all of your clients.

Among scuba divers, you have clients who have joined the movement of making climate change a ‘belief’ issue instead of a ‘science’ one — mainly among old male baby boomers, which are still a big part of our customer base.

Of course, scuba diving is closely tied to coral health. Most recreational diving around the world is done on coral reefs. But for some reason, some people have decided that ‘beliefs’ are more important than science — and that anybody’s opinion is worth listening to because it was posted on Twitter. If you want to maximize your revenues, you have to carefully walk that line when you operate a local dive center.

That being said, I believe the following article by Casper Ohm summarizes quite well where we stand on the environmental front: “Coral, COVID, and Climate Change: How Coronavirus is Shaping the Dive Industry”.

10. Need better dive industry cooperation

Better dive industry cooperation would indeed be good. Should we wait for it? I don't think so.

Our best hope at dive industry cooperation was the DEMA organization. It has usually lead to infighting more than cooperation. And DEMA is now in a precarious position. We don’t know if it will survive the pandemic. If it does, its structure should be significantly altered to satisfy this need for greater cooperation within the dive industry. Will it happen? Doubtful! Every time somebody tried to improve DEMA, it was blocked by powerful dive industry stakeholders benefitting from the status quo.

So, for now, cooperation is more of a pipe dream!

Though, what is happening is consolidation, which leads to (forced) cooperation between different sectors of activities under one ownership! We see it with Mares and SSI. We see it with PADI, the former Bonnier publications, and the former Diviac travel agency.

It’s only the beginning. Through this consolidation phase, I hope that a reliable brand will emerge to provide consistency in the quality of the experience. This would be a significant growth factor for the scuba diving industry.

11. Promote scuba diving as an adventure activity

Just like being an “ocean advocate” is something that will be of interest to a segment of your clientele, “adventure” will, too — but it’s not for everybody.

In fact, a 2015 study by Aquis Marketing found that the word “adventure” may not be the right word to use to get more people to come scuba diving with us.

70% of current scuba divers stated that they often crave adventure. Meanwhile, only 36% of the surveyed non-divers said so. The profile of the non-divers we want to recruit is different than that of our current clients.

Our focus on ‘adventure’ may, again, be a case of us assuming that what we like is what our potential clients like too. Wrong.

And this brings us back to what we’ve discussed in this article: Segmentation is key when preparing and delivering marketing messages.

12. Stop discounting to improve profits

That’s a big ‘For Sure’!

Normally, you engage in discounting when you want to steal market shares from a competitor, as SSI does with PADI. But growth for your local dive center will come from attracting non-divers that don’t even know about the existence of the other local dive centers.

As mentioned above, the typical scuba diver is affluent. And ensuring consistency in the quality of the experience is what matters the most to grow your business. To offer such quality, you need money! At one point, cutting prices lead to cutting quality.

As discussed in this article, you can reach potential clients with an immediate call-to-action with well-defined and delivered marketing campaigns. That should be our focus, not what the other dive store charges for its below-par services.

What’s Next?

It is interesting to see that scuba diving professionals seem to agree on the major issues in the dive industry — issues that have been raised repeatedly over the years. What is puzzling is the lack of leadership in this industry.

Who will take the lead to define and create a Dive Industry 2.0? Opportunities are there. And somebody, someday, will benefit from a ‘first-mover advantage’. Let’s hope we don't have to wait too long!

There was a time when Blockbuster could have switched gear. And there was a time when it was too late.

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Continue reading: Scubanomics Table of Content.

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Darcy Kieran

Written by

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

Scubanomics

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

Scubanomics

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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