Q: You have seen the evolution of the diving business over the last 13 years. What are your feelings about it now? How do you see the future of the diving industry?
A: First let's go a bit backwards in the development of recreational scuba diving and training for a while. Back in the late 80's, the certifying agencies did a really good job of getting diving out of what I will call a "ghetto". Diving was considered as a military, dangerous, accident prone, difficult, technical, and elitist activity. Diving associations, by developing great training methods, training materials, and in changing steadily the general public believes about diving, got scuba into the mainstream. It became a fashionable, safe, and fun outdoor activity. We went into the "boom" of recreational scuba between 1992 and 1997, when the industry (formed of the educational, equipment, and dive travel sales worldwide) went from stagnant to a steep rise, short peak, and nowadays a definite decline.
Diving pros at the beginning of the "boom" were mainly adventurers who left their own countries for a "better life in paradise", as we could then define tropical and sub-tropical resorts around the world. I was one of them back in 1989. We just hoped for a job, to make a living out of our passion for diving. Most of us had extensive diving experience as recreational, commercial, or military divers, before making a profession out of what we loved doing the most. Personally, I was diving for pleasure for 8 years before I became a divemaster, and I had over 200 dives when I got my advanced diver equivalence to carry on my training. I was just one of many guys doing that. That was the time of "cowboy diving" as we recall it, but luckily training agencies standardized our practices and everything went well. Today, "cowboy diving" is back, but because of the young professionals' lack of experience as divers and a certain leniency in the training system of the main "diving instructor factory producer" worldwide: PADI...
In the mid 90's, after a certain success and great adventure stories spreading out in the Western societies, many more younger people joined the training and the trade. They were less patient by nature, and quickly got fed up with mandatory parts of the job such early wake ups, washing equipment, and long days in shops. Many young instructors with some money saved opened their own dive centres, and boosted what became to be named the "mushrooming" of the diving industry. Encouraged by a certain leader agency to topple competition, dive centres were opening left, right, and centre in the best resort areas, and cities worldwide.
That, in my opinion, was the beginning of the downfall of the industry. From there, stiff competition with other dive centres, a war of the various certifying agencies, and the latest development (or shall I say regression) of the educational system in the late 90's until very recently, all brought the industry and specifically the educational part of it to a stall, which will take years to recover from.
What went wrong? One cause was the diving agencies self-centered way of dealing with evolution. For PADI, specifically there was a loss of contact with the field in addition to constant changes in course standards and curriculum. This made PADI professionals lost and confused about a system whose goal was becoming much clearer - make more money, and forget about supporting and protecting their members on the field. PADI lowered standards of care with the so called "self study" system, and allowed the uncontrolled and unhealthy mushrooming of dive centres worldwide for the sole sake of getting more membership fees, and market shares. Their goal was to sell potentially more educational materials in markets who couldn't sustain it anymore, eventually producing instructors like a factory. Little care was given to whether the new instructors could find a job and if the industry was still viable. Next came the over production of Course Directors, leading to price wars that the dive centres were already used to from their own fierce competition.
The general diving industry has been incompetent in getting the media interested in us, and still in the 21st century, scuba diving on the screen is always seen with sharks, James Bond trapped in a wreck and shooting bad guys with a spear gun!...Appalling!...Conservationism is mainly used as a mercantile tool to get more money into regions or tours, and vague programs for environment, which are just field advertisements for an agency making divers pose in front of a garbage bag. The over development in "dive tourism" led to a environmental disaster, with more marginally mainstream trained divers spoiling underwater wonders such as in the Red Sea, Thailand, Malaysia, Mexico, and many other dive spots worldwide. Dive manufacturers have been solely concerned with selling and merchandising strategies. They made a few bucks at the beginning with the "boom" which was healthy and cashed on the sickening "mushrooming", without offering more solutions for the aftermath of it. Their only concern was sales. Today as the entire industry is stalling, they are still crying for more money to be injected their way or they will not be able to develop more savvy equipment in the future. Same old song as 20 years ago!
Sorry, but except for shapes, colors and weight, nothing has changed in diving equipment since WWII. A regulator, a BC, a mask, and fins don't look the same as they did 30 years ago, but they are still basic equipment, as are tanks and compressors. Mixed gases, rebreathers, and tek diving?. They have all been around for years in commercial and military diving and were merely adapted to cash in on extra opportunities! The only great advancement in technology in the last 20 years has been dive computers, who are used for the increased safety and convenience of recreational divers...as long as they know how to use one!
Scuba diving pros are the only pros in sports or leisure activities who are not largely "sponsored" by brand name scuba equipment companies (a very few exceptions exist)! Why? Because the manufacturers never believed in the impact of instructors on their students and the public. In Europe, even a local tennis teacher is sponsored by a brand because of the great impact at his/her level generates sales. Diving manufacturers always believed they don't need instructors on their side, so no sponsorships. They are biting their fingers now...too late! And they are still expecting us to wear the cheap T-shirts they "generously" give us for free. If you want us to promote your equipment, sponsor us! I stopped wearing any diving brand of t-shirt years ago and refuse to buy any equipment with the maker's name in huge letters. Why should we advertise for the manufacturers? We get no support from them.
From the travel experience diving point of view, stiff competition, also proliferation of charter vessels and liveaboard operations dreaming to cash on the new trend of scuba diving also led to a war price, and a very unhealthy situation in a lot of resort places in the world. This problem is more localized in resorts than cities, and also in third world countries where costs of staying in business are far lower than in western countries. But nonetheless, this problem does exist, and is not addressed properly too.
For me, as long as the industry doesn't change its image and the way it deals with the situation, these problems will get even worse and damaged irremediably our profession. The recreational diving industry, as a niche market of the tourism industry has come to a stall first and now a regression, incomes are low, and will soon be beyond sustainability on a commercial point of view. Some areas have to face a heavy crash as there are no other solutions first, then if the industry changes its way of dealing with what they want it to be, rather than what it is, then we can hope for a revival...
My point is: stop thinking that scuba is for every one!...This is a day dream as it will never happen. Staighten your policies, go back into quality training, and improve our businesses with less divers who will continue to dive, and consume more in an activity which really fit them, not a fashion flaw. Better than a quick buck with scared people who will never dive again and will harm us and the environment in the process in the long term...
Scuba Diving is not a mass activity...Period. We must deal with it as such.
Q: Ok, now these problems are pointed out clearly, any suggestions for improvement?...
A: Well, my opinion is: Regain quality training, which will train good and competent divers. These divers will stay more active in the activity, generate more education, equipment and travel sales. To achieve this aim, the industry leader, I mean PADI, should recover the quality, which was their trademark years ago, keep contact with the field, which they lost a while ago for the profit of corporate decisions harming the entire industry. They should start to control the market in reducing the dive centres and instructors factory production, and regain credibility. They will have to accept the loss of money for a while but the stability of our industry is at that cost...the real question is: are they willing to make it?...
Manufacturers should trust the field power more, and tie up more with instructors who are the voice of the industry and opinion leaders. Diving instructors are the one who have the direct contact with the divers and students, they are the one who are leading people to decide what to buy, and when to buy it. Dive consumers don't decide to buy through their stupid technical and elitist advertisement campaigns, which often made laugh the entire profession!
The recreational scuba diving industry should also try to have more decision power in resort areas where the development control is done by promotors and tourism operators, who are often sacrifying the environment for the profit and short term decisions to get the "quick buck in". We should be more a regulation and counseling option than a money maker. The industry have to learn how to stop cashing on the wrong flow, and be more environmentally responsible.
I believe we should come back to the real values of scuba diving, which have been lost along the way for pure business development, by people who often have no clue of what they are really doing.
Producing a certified diver in 2 days, or an instructor in 6 months from scratch are things we should try to get rid off as it is harmful on the long term for the entire industry.
I will always believe and say that scuba diving will never be a mass sport or activity, there are rules, motor skills, equipment and technical investments, whose put the activity on the upper end of the consumption scale: diving is not cheap and should not be, investments are heavy for what will remain small businesses, and solving worldwide economical problems affecting the general tourism economy, the over population and saturation of resort markets with unmotivated dive centres and professionals, by a forced war price on a worldwide scale for them just to barely survive is just "shooting ourselves in the feet to run faster"...
In one small sentence, I believe improvement will come through coming back to the true values of our activity, becoming more responsible educationally, environmentally, and financially, in one word: we must come to Maturity and stop all futile tribal conflicts!...Today, we are just the mirror of the sadness of the world evolution!
Q: You spoke about the environment a few times...Isn't the dive industry supportive of all environmental efforts in resorts and other regions?...
A: Well, technically the intention is there. Of course divers and dive pros want to protect the environment!...But is it really efficient, and is the industry pushing for it in the right direction?...Well, I believe not, and here is why I do think so...
The industry is more focused on cashing in the "eco-dollars" than to really act responsibly and become a real partner in defending local environments, abused by inept and uncontrolled tourism development. How many places in the world, mainly in third world countries resort places, have been spoiled by uncontrolled tourism related constructions, leading to soil erosion, increased sedimentation killing house coral reefs, increased pollution, and mismanagement of natural and human resources?...Is the industry responsible?...Well of course the decision makers are not part of our trade, we are merely following a general consensus to bring more and more tourists in poor corrupted places,eager to cash on tourism dollars for the entertainment of the working class of our modern societies, and somehow luring the public into believing that we are doing good for the environment. I personally don't see where an increased number of marginally trained divers by so called "professional diving instructors", and unable to control their buoyancy and movements under the water will help to the long term survival of the worldwide coral reefs!...Neither do I see the need for a fleet of "zillion dive charter vessels" crowding dive spots with incompetent divers, at prices who can't even make the operators financially sustainable...
I wouldn't like to sound to much politically involved either, but let say that the irresponsible general behavior of numerous government officials in numerous countries, cashing on the over fishing of coast lines, illegal dynamite and cyanide fishing, uncontrolled hotels and resorts development, and sponsoring short minded "mass tourism" policy to cash quickly the dollars to be made before the places get spoiled for ever, and tour operators decide to sent their "sheeps" elsewhere...are not exactly helping Mother Nature to do well in certain places, including so called "developed western countries"...
At the end, environmental issues are political decisions made by supposedly responsible politicians in charge of the high destinies of their countries...Oh, sorry...Am I dreaming here?...If the recreational diving industry would be perceived by governmental associations as a potential global partner to help in the regulation of environmental issues anywhere, they would call on us to help...Is it the case?..Globally no!..Why?...Because we are perceived as part of the problems, not part of the solutions, and what I have seen sometimes in different places around the world made me ashamed to be part of this profession and trade.
As long as we will not change our attitude one more time towards ourselves, the outsiders, and the true challenge of the environmental issues, then we will never deserve to be part of the solution and getting out of our infancy...As long as the diving industry is ruled by a bunch of dictators in all level of activities, people who lost track of the field challenges long ago, and are only motivated by personal interests and ego...We will never get out of our problems. And it is also because of the sclerosis of our system that we can't find the solution for ourselves!...Is scuba diving today the environmentally friendly activity it claims to be?...In my opinion: no! And it will not be until we truly change!...
Q: What advises would you give today to a young professional / instructor starting the career?...
A: Well, as bad as it seems after answering these few questions, is there still a career in scuba diving?..Of course it is! But what is killing us today is the lack of motivation and patience of young pros...Everyone in any activity has to start somewhere. Dive professionals too, no exception. Also like in any other profession, there are people who are natural leaders, other people learn their trade and progress and other just stay where they are...These are facts of life, so people should also know better themselves and their abilities in order to better fit in. Our industry is suffering mainly because people joining us have little patience in achieving results, as they want it all now! You must have reasonable personal and business goals for yourself and establish clearly where do you want to go according to your capacities, within the next 2 year, then 5 years and 10 years. Then be honest with yourself too... Why shall someone become a Course Director if one do not like much teaching?...Money?...Prestige?...Both?...Don't dream and be realistic.
The industry should also leave people a realistic choice. Do we really need all the diving instructors and dive shops around?...Of course not, in the most popular resort places, probably a cut in 50% of them would be great!...I have been teaching instructors since 1992, and honestly how many of these hundreds of trainees did I really see motivated to teach (because yes, teaching is what instructors do!...)?...Not 20% seriously. And why the other 80% became instructors?...After asking a lot of them, answers usually were:
1) Find a job as dive centres don't employ simple divemasters anymore...(why?...)
2) Make more money
3) Open my own dive shops
4) Share my passion of diving (finally!...)
5) Work on a liveaboard cruise vessel (cf answer # 1)
When I asked how many of them wanted their own dive shops?...90% wanted, and why?...The answers were:
1) Get others to carry tanks (common joke in the trade)
2) Make more money
3) Be my own boss, fed up of receiving orders by people they were mainly judging incompetent!
4) Challenge of having my own business in an activity I love
This gave me the final general impression of the young instructor profile...Very seldomly was mentioned the motivation of teaching and transmitting the message of diving and get first hand participation in getting the general public to dive safely and enjoy the underwater world.
Most of these individuals have been forced by the greed of the industry to become instructors as most of them just want to dive first and have fun with divers on a boat, not necessarily teach..But the industry all of a sudden made them "unemployable" as divemasters.
My point is that we must get our trade back on track following its real values, and stopping luring young professionals in the wrong direction. Stop saying to people that they should be instructors if they don't want, stop telling centres owners that they have to be "5 star centres" if they wish to survive among the sharks, stop telling to people to become Course Directors as they still wish to be a dive master on a charter vessel....Short minded greed is what have been leading us to where we are today: in a swamp, which we will all agree is not the greatest place for scuba divers.
I pledge the industry to just let people decide what the wish for themselves. We have been "walking on our hands" for a few years now...It is not too late!
My address to young pros: please be more patient, number one quality nowadays to be successful, make short and long term plans, consider yourself as a professional having a career, not "drifters" only traveling and diving the world, respect your career as it is if you wish to be respected and looked upon as true professionals, keep learning constantly and improve yourselves. Train responsibly, safely, don't shortcut standards, you are harming everyone including yourself. Be open minded, dogmatism kills your brain, beware of corporate "brain washing", use all available tools at your disposal, the internet is today the best tool to promote yourself, get online, tell people around the world who you are, where you are and what you can do for their great passion of scuba diving.
Exist for yourselves and for the future of the recreational diving industry. It is in the hands of the new generation of divemasters and instructors...Act responsibly, bring us back to where we belong!...
Bring back the quality in training and diving services and the pleasure we had not so long ago, before we got lost...Because my generation of dive professional is either "out for lunch" or "in for the bucks"...But I still never saw an activity or trade increasing volume and keeping great quality..Nope, it just doesn't happen in the real world. Please let's skip the "fast food" part of our trade.
Wake up and get quality back!