Snorkeling and scuba diving seem like two members of the same family — a brother and a sister, maybe. In both cases, the activity is practiced by people drawn to the underwater world, who can swim and are not intimidated by jumping into the ocean to discover the rest of the planet.
Numerous dive charter boats supplement their income by organizing snorkeling outings. Meanwhile, local dive shops in urban areas often draw a big chunk of their profitability from their masks, fins, and snorkel displays.
Yet, we allocate very little time to thinking about snorkeling and snorkelers.
Why don’t we have more market data about snorkeling?
Dive training agencies are focused on churning scuba diving training programs. It makes sense for them. As a means to ensure their own profitability, training agencies have developed their business on the need for a “certification” before you can go diving. There is no such requirement for snorkeling, and, therefore, it is of very little interest to organizations built on providing certification courses!
DEMA has produced numerous scuba divers' socio-demographic profiles, differentiating between those buying gear, entry-level courses, advanced training, and dive travel. They do not have any information for us on snorkelers. It’s understandable. DEMA’s market analyses are performed by surveying lists of scuba diving clients provided by dive training agencies and scuba gear manufacturers. They do not have a list of snorkelers to survey!
Meanwhile, scuba gear manufacturers are banking on profits from snorkelers, but it’s mainly done by selling to the Costco, Walmart, and Dick’s Sporting Goods of this world. And since there is no need to fill a warranty card for that kind of product, dive gear manufacturers are left with limited data on who the end clients are.
That explains why snorkeling data is not readily available to dive industry stakeholders.
Yet, logically, we should be quite interested in understanding snorkelers — both as a market to satisfy in itself, and a pool of potential scuba diving clients.
How many snorkelers are there?
When we analyzed the scuba diving participation rate, we compared it to snorkeling, based on survey data reported annually by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA).
In the USA, the number of snorkeling participants is almost triple that of scuba diving. In 2020, 7.7M Americans participated in snorkeling, while 2.6M did so with scuba diving.
Since we estimate there are approximately 9M active scuba divers worldwide, we can similarly count on roughly 27M active snorkelers. This does not include people purchasing fins, masks, and snorkels to fool around in their backyard pool.
Snorkeling Participation Rate: Core & Casual
In the SFIA snorkeling and scuba diving market studies, a casual participant is defined as somebody who’s done it up to 7 times per year, while the core participant is someone who’s done it 8 times or more.
It is unfortunate to see that snorkeling's participation rate is falling, just like it is for scuba diving. We’ll get back to this issue in a minute!
First, let’s look at what happened during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic year.
We know that the outdoor industry was booming (except for scuba diving). People have been looking at activities they could do without having to set foot on an international flight.
Surfing participation boomed at an amazing 28% rate! Stand-up paddling kept growing at its pre-pandemic rate of about 3% per year. Johnson Outdoors had a phenomenal fourth quarter of 2020 in its fishing, camping, and watercraft divisions with sales increase of, respectively, 28%, 62%, and 158%.
What about snorkeling participation during the pandemic?
As we can see in the summary table above, casual participation in snorkeling grew during the pandemic for the first time in years! Core participation, however, dropped.
It could be explained by the fact that casual snorkeling participation was most likely done locally, especially in coastal states, while core participants were more likely to be those people incorporating snorkeling in their annual vacations — and tourism was at a standstill in 2020.
What is the socio-demographic profile of a snorkeler?
The socio-demographic profile of a snorkeler is quite similar to that of a scuba diver, although there are significantly more women involved, based on SFIA’s 2020 Snorkeling Participation Report.
Snorkeling is for the rich and well-educated
In the SFIA 2020 survey, snorkeling is confirmed as an activity for wealthy and well-educated people, even more than it is for scuba diving.
- 53% of active snorkelers earn more than US$100K per year (50% for scuba divers)
- 57% of active snorkelers are at least college graduates (56% for scuba divers)
Snorkeling is a male activity but not as much as it is the case with scuba diving
52% of snorkelers are male in the SFIA market report. This is a much less significant gender segmentation than what we see in scuba diving, where 63% of active divers are men.
The gap is even less in the casual snorkeler category, with 51% male for 49% female.
Snorkeling is for the young and the old
24% of active scuba divers are 45 years old and older, while this age group embodies 35% of active snorkelers.
At the other end of the age spectrum, 17% of active snorkelers are below the age of 18, while 15% of scuba divers are.
This observation would be consistent with our assumption that younger and older people are more reticent in engaging in an overly complicated activity like scuba diving.
Cross Participation by Snorkelers in Other Activities
From the same SFIA snorkeling report reviewed above, we get the following list of the top 15 most popular “other activities” among active snorkelers. In parenthesis is the popularity ranking this activity has with scuba divers.
- Walking for Fitness (2)
- Day Hiking (6)
- Treadmill (1)
- Free Weights: Dumbbells/Hand Weights (15)
- Bowling (3)
- Running/Jogging (5)
- Elliptical Motion/Cross-Trainer (8)
- Stationary Cycling: Recumbent/Upright (14)
- Swimming for Fitness (9)
- Bicycling: Road/Paved Surface (18)
- Weight/Resistance Machines (10)
- Camping: Within 1/4 Mile of Vehicle/Home (12)
- Fishing: Freshwater/Other (17)
- Kayaking: Recreational (20)
- Yoga (16)
This gives us an idea about where we could conduct cross-promotional marketing activities to recruit snorkeling clients. For instance, we could promote a bowling club in our dive shop while the bowling alley promotes our snorkeling activities.
Interestingly enough, only 13.8% of snorkelers also engage in scuba diving. It’s #36 on the list.
Why is snorkeling on the decline?
That’s the million-dollar question.
Let me ask a different question: Who is taking care of snorkelers? What is the “snorkeling industry”? Right! Never heard of it!
Wherever snorkeling is offered as an activity, it’s usually a sideline — an afterthought to maximize the profitability of assets acquired for other purposes. Wherever snorkeling gear is sold, it’s a sideshow — whether in a sporting goods store or a dive shop.
Usually, snorkelers are tagging along with scuba divers and handled by a scuba diving crew on a dive charter boat.
No business on this planet would grow if it remained a sideshow offered by people with little interest in it!
Step One of developing snorkeling as a growing and self-sustainable business is by “thinking snorkeling”. We need to help snorkelers gain access and enjoy their activity without making them feel like second-class citizens inside an overly complicated dive operation.
How can we further develop our business with snorkelers?
To develop snorkeling as a profitable business, we shouldn’t automatically assume that all of these snorkelers will become scuba divers. This could very well be another reason why snorkeling is on the decline — too much pressure to ditch snorkeling for scuba diving!
However, there may be ways by which we can get snorkelers closer to the underwater world, like tankless diving as we discussed last week.
A surface-supplied air system lets people get closer to the reef without adding cumbersome dive equipment to be used after endless classes designed to boost dive training agencies' profitability.
Our focus on the “self-contained” part of our beloved scuba diving activity may be one reason why we are not fully benefitting from a significantly larger market of people drawn to the underwater world but not interested in jumping through all the hula-hoops required to become a scuba diver.
Here’s an idea: Set up a team of staff members dedicated to snorkelers. Give them rope to experiment with new ways of satisfying that market. And let us know how it went.
Food for thought!
To manage a business in a fast-changing and highly competitive landscape, we need market data. We hope that one day, our dive industry association, DEMA, will start working cooperatively with other parties like SFIA and OIA to provide us with more actionable information. DEMA will never have the resources to produce the kind of market reports SFIA prepares every year. However, DEMA could co-sponsor additional survey questions to be collected along with the SFIA studies.