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Is the Dive Industry missing something?
Airworks - 7/30/2019 5:27 PM
Category: General
Replies: 10

I recently came across a ScubaBoard conversation between two divers discussing the Dive Industry’s lack of really understanding the average diver and seeking to meet their needs. Interestingly enough, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what they said.

That made me wonder if there are other ordinary divers out there who also wish the Industry would wake up and re-evaluate their approach.

I’ve included the conversation between "Diver A" and "Diver B". Please read through it and let me know your thoughts.


Diver A:

“The dive industry is constantly trying to generate the kind of customers they wish they had, instead of serving the customers they actually do have. The industry’s idea of a customer is someone who takes a class, buys a new full set of gear upon completion, and then signs up for an exotic trip in order to dive. Sign up for repeated shop trips, sign up for servitude (oops...DM training) so you can continue to go on exotic shop trips.

Actual divers don’t work that way. They dive when life allows, shop around for bargains, think about buying used or beginner level gear, and do things for themselves (be it diving, planning a vacation, or fixing gear). The industry model is hostile to too many of those activities.

I really don’t understand why the powers that be in the dive industry don’t understand the problem. I can’t think of another outdoor activity where people are pushed to spend so much so fast while cheaper alternatives are discouraged or ignored. It just turns people off. They didn’t learn from Leisure Pro when it was a catalog, they didn’t learn when the internet travel and gear options sprang up, and most still don’t get it. They keep trying to generate the customers they wish they had. It’s frustrating because I have a number of friends who would really enjoy diving if they could make it past the gauntlet of gatekeepers who want to babysit them and/or raid their wallet.

It doesn’t take titanium regs, 100 ft vis and manta rays to wow real divers. A basic set of modern reliable gear and just breathing underwater is pretty darn cool.”

Diver B:

“You are absolutely spot on. On any Saturday or Sunday from early May to mid October, I can go to any one of 3 or 4 quarries within 150 miles of where I live and see the place packed. A week ago, I was at Twin Quarries south of Columbus, Ohio.

Two 10 acre quarries, max depth around 35 feet, 15 feet of viz, and the place was still packed. I camped there, and did a dive at 8:00 in the evening and there were still 20 or 30 divers in the water. $12 a day to dive, $7 air fills, $5 for primitive camping. Was it like Coz or Marathon or Islamorada, or any one of several hundred other "exotic" sites? Hell no. But I spent less than $100 for the weekend, had a ball, did 8 dives, went through 4 tanks of air, and am going to do it again in two weeks.

You see, I can afford to dive almost every weekend because I’m not scrimping and saving just to do a week trip where I can only dive 5 of the 7 days, and only two tanks a day unless I want to spend an extra $60 or so on the extra boat dives. Once in a while, a dive vacation is nice, but I’d rather be underwater breathing compressed air as often as possible. But the industry doesn’t see that. They look at it as an impulse buy rather than a long-term investment. So, the industry guru’s can speculate all they want, generate all the glossy mags they want and tell me I can’t possibly have lived without visiting Truk or Fiji or anyplace else. They’ll have to hurry though, because I’ll probably be diving one of my local places and won’t have time to read the hype. I’ll be too busy at a nice local site breathing compressed air in water over my head.”
Airworks - 7/30/2019 7:14 PM
Good point, Bill. So I guess a good question to ask - regarding the non-profitability of inland diving - would be: what needs to happen at inland dive sites that would make them so attractive and irresistible that massive customer and revenue flows would force the Dive Industry to sit up and take notice?
JoeWR - 7/30/2019 9:00 PM
I’d like to raise several points to continue the discussion:
-The dive industry is just that: an industry. The goal is to make a profit. In reference to the "glossy mags" referenced above, the dive magazines sell ads to manufacturers and resorts, and so they’re going to run articles about top-of-the-line gear and exotic destinations to pull in advertisers and revenue. There’s no getting around it. In fairness, there are also articles about local dives in all 50 states, best low price gear options, and, most importantly, ways to be safe and have fun in many conditions.
So, I think we need to clarify some terms in this debate:
-Who is your idea of the average diver? How exactly are they not being served by the industry?
-What do we mean by the dive industry? Your local dive shop is also part of the industry. Are we talking about the certification agencies, the manufacturers, the trade publications, what?
-If the quarries Diver B mentioned are packed, then it seems like plenty of us know the value of inland diving. What more do you think needs to be done to promote this part of the sport?
-What gives us the idea that "the industry" is appealing just to someone who dives on vacation? (And you know what? They might be right. Most student divers I meet get certified because they have a trip coming up. They never want to return to the quarry where they got certified because it’s too cold and murky, no matter how many fun stories I tell or how often I invite them to go diving.)
-What are you doing to promote diving in your area?
I look forward to your replies.
Full disclosure: I am a dive professional. I dive Dutch Springs every weekend and take trips a few times a year.
Airworks - 7/31/2019 6:25 AM
It appears to me that the primary reason the dive industry doesn’t energetically push inland diving is because to do so would detract from the more lucrative coastal/tropical dive industry.

Allow me to illustrate with a personal example.

Due to my work schedule and family responsibilities, I much prefer diving locally as opposed to taking time and money to travel and dive. If I happen to visit a coastal area, then I’ll plan ahead of time to check out a charter. Otherwise, my goal is to get wet as often as possible, which means diving locally. I’m not content diving once or twice a year; once or twice a WEEK is more like it!

So every time I dive locally, I DON’T dive abroad. That means the North Carolina charter I’ve used on several occasions DOESN’T get my business.

Granted, I would LOVE to dive abroad more if I had the time and could afford it. But in this season of my life, diving locally is my focus.

Based on the dive industry’s financial focus, industry leaders will probably never passionately promote local diving. For them, as BillParker said, the money is not there.

The Dive Industry appears to understand that there are TWO very different kinds of diving, inland vs tropical, and it has chosen to bet on (thus invest money, time and energy in) tropical diving. Instead of actively encouraging and financially supporting local diving efforts, the industry has decided to “let it die a slow death”. That may explain why local diver participation has been in decline for such a long time.

The fact is that if inland diving were to become SO ATTRACTIVE to divers that they begin to patronize local dive sites more than they visit coastal charters, then tropical diving would take a big financial hit. The two types of diving would then become strong COMPETITORS!

In my humble opinion, that’s not something the current dive industry wants to hear.


BTW, I’ve written several articles that touch on several of the topics raised and posted them in Divebuddy. Most are in the educational section, but I’ve also included a few personal and general ones. Please feel free to read one or more, and let’s engage in a conversation.
vitya - 7/31/2019 1:11 PM
That’s exactly what my 3 friends and I agreed on when we finished diving class. We aimed to get wet as much as possible rather than go on the most exotic trips. Craigslist and local scuba flee markets got us all very good gear sets and spares that we keep on hand for ~$700 each. The first year we did a lot of diving, even managed to squeeze a few charters for wreck dives, but a majority of our dives were from inland. This was the best approach because we got way more comfortable with our gears, adapting to situations, currents, compass usage, and etc. we had a ball every time with lots of funny memories. Unfortunately people got married or moved for work reasons, we share our exotic trips rarely but still get together 2-3 times a year to do a budget dive for fun. I am still using the first gear I originally bought other than the new wetsuits that I have added to my arsenal and a few tanks. As long as it is inspected and works there is no need to spend thousands of dollars for gear either.

Long story short. I agree with diver A and B, just wanted to share our startup.
seanw - 7/31/2019 2:12 PM
I don’t completely agree here. I don’t think the "average diver" is a single set of traits. I think it’s multi-modal — you’ve got people that only dive on vacation, people that can’t/don’t travel so dive locally, people that are cost sensitive, people that want flashy stuff. Some groups are more profitable than others.

Few of the things you mention are zero sum markets (IMHO). There’s a lot of pie to go around and the more interest there is (local or travel) means more opportunity.

With that in mind, I think the agencies like PADI are focusing mostly on the profitable segments and if you find yourself in an unprofitable segment (raises hand) I can see how you’ll feel left out. I’d imagine most quarries are not associated with an agency, and those local dives that are, are probably not bringing in a ton of money for agencies.

I do think that the agencies are hurting themselves somewhat in the relentless focus on buying equipment, training, and travel. I’ve had 4 acquaintances start their training recently and after doing the online training/book work I asked them how it was going. All of them (including youth) said they felt like half of it was marketing. I asked one adult "so what’s the number one rule of scuba diving?" and they jokingly answered "based on the course, it’s to buy your own equipment".

It’s inauthentic. Some people eat it up, some people see it for what it is. All this to say, just because you’re part of the latter group (as am I), doesn’t mean it’s not working or that it’s going to be the death of the industry.
Eric_R - 8/01/2019 7:07 PM
I have a very active local dive shop. They offer exotic locations, local charters, and local dives. I help run the weekly local dives every Wednesday evening during the summer. I built an app to track our divers. It’s interesting to see data now that we’ve been tracking for 3 years.
We currently have 181 divers in our database that have dove at least once. Of those we have had 86 dive with us on a Wednesday night dive at least once this year. We have 50 divers that dove with us at least once last year but haven’t dove with us yet this year. We also have 45 divers that dove with us two years ago but haven’t dove with us this year. Were averaging 21 divers at each dive. We have had as many as 34 divers for a high and 13 for a low. Our Wednesday night dives are all pre-scheduled and there’s always at least one person representing shop at each dive to arrange dive buddies. Cold local lakes with low viz is a tough sell to most. There are several divers that dive every Wednesday and enjoy the not only the diving but the local watering hole after the dive. We have potlucks on a few of the dives and also have small contests to add some other excitement to the evening. A lot of our divers meet up to do other locations during the rest of the week. During the winter the shop has small seminars and gathering to keep divers in the loop. We have a lot of fun diving and getting together. I know the shop certifies several hundred people every year so we have a lot of people that are warm water divers which is fine. If they aren’t comfortable on low viz or low temp they shouldn’t dive it. We are there to help them if they want to try it. We have several local lakes that offer more than just weeds to look at and we push those locations to help get them hooked on local dives. Of course a dive shop is in business to make money but I bet most opened up because of their love of the sport. My dive shop owners are always eager to talk about diving in any location.
Airworks - 8/02/2019 3:05 AM
To Eric_R: You are very fortunate to have such an active dive shop that encourages regular diver participation. However, based on the figures you mentioned, it looks like overall participation, since the time you started monitoring it, has slowed down. Am I reading you right?

To the others who have responded (and others that have yet to opine): If you have been diving for more than 10 years, have you noticed a decline in diver participation, particularly at inland (quarry/lake) sites?
If so, please tell me what you believe are the reasons for that.

Eric_R - 8/02/2019 2:04 PM
Actual participation is up from last year. We had 69 unique divers at this same week last year where we have had 84 this year. We were at 66 unique divers the year before last at this week. My 21 average is about the same as last year for this same week but two years ago we were averaging 17 divers a dive.

The shop is certifying more divers than it ever has. We just need to keep them diving and get them to do local dives.
Airworks - 8/02/2019 2:25 PM
That’s excellent. Keep up the great work.
Would like to hear from others about their dive shops and whether or not general diver participation is up or down.