5 Characteristics of The Scuba Diving Industry
Having some experience with the tourism & travel industry as a whole, and being avid traveller myself - I always find myself analyzing the scuba industry in the context of the bigger picture and after some years of this on-going thought process, I feel like I am ready to formalize some of those thoughts.
Below are 5 characteristics of the Scuba Industry that I observed.
#1: Low Wages
The first thing that I hear across the board is low salaries - for everyone. The dive guides, boat captains, instructors and even the course directors (relatively).
There is a chorus of voicing singing:
"If you want to get into the diving industry, only do it for the passion, and don't expect to earn much from it."
A somewhat average monthly salary of a European Dive Guide on a liveaboard in the Maldives for example is between 500$ and 700$, obviously including accomodation and food. Depending on the boat it may go upto $1000. This is very low, considering that the job requires relatively expensive training aswell as being a difficult & risky job.
In Europe and America, a minimum wage worker is likely to make DOUBLE that amount.
Moreover, I find a lot of times when a dive master will work for free, provided he is given free diving.
Frankly, this whole situation really puzzles me. Why should a waiter earn more than a qualified dive guide?
The 'explanation' I hear over and over again is that most people in the industry do it for the love of the sport.
Well, if this is the case, then this love for the sport is actually harming the industry since people cannot afford to make a decent living.
A perfect analogy is of a tour guide. The average tour guide earns 1.5-2 times what the dive guide earns, without risking his life,
causing damage to his health and generally performing a similar job.
#2: Lack of Permanence
Point number 1 leads into this - a lack of stability. The average life-span of a Scuba professional is around 3 years, which in the context of things, is very short. T
his however is not surprising, since its very difficult to support a family with the wages earned nor afford much. At some point, people begin to question the sustainability of such a lifestyle and change career paths.
The other thing that is noticable is the how quickly dive guides & instructors move from dive centre to dive centre, globe trotting. Essentially, they are travelling and financing the travel with their temporary employment.
The thing is, this isn't an exception to the rule, its pretty much the rule.
With the rare exception of some really well established dive shops/liveaboards that hold onto some key staff members for a long time, the dive industry is probably the most non-permanent segment in the travel industry other than waiters perhaps.
# 3: Poor Reservations Protocols
The Scuba Industry has surprisingly bad protocols for booking and is still stuck in the agent model. The airline segment of the industry was the first to evolve into direct bookings killing an entire segment of middle-men. The hotel industry followed suite, with either direct bookings or online travel agents like booking.com or expedia moving in.
The Scuba Industry is by and large still stuck in direct bookings through some primitive manual methods like email + phone + bank transfer.
The other alternative is travel agents that work on a rather old school model, they build relations with certain operators - often ones that give them a high commission rate and market those operators heavily.
There is rarely a standardized booking management system - which auto updates as rooms become unavailable, nor is there a standardized way to set the parameters of each boat to easily compare them.
And finally, most importantly, there is very little user generated content on the websites of these agents. Articles, reviews, photographs etc are all hand picked and place there with the intention of selling it and showing it from the best possible angle.
4. Short Life-Cyle
The lack of permanence in the industry in my opinion stems from the fact that a lot of the professionals simply cannot lead a sustainable and comfortable life style with the wages in the industry. In my opinion one of the main reasons for this relatively low wage rate is caused by the inability to charge higher prices, i.e: the economics of the market.
Usually, prices are lower than 'they should be' in two cases.
Either to gain a competitive edge over competitors, which is usually done in areas where there is a high 'supply' of similar services, OR to have less margin but increasing volume. Often, this is done out of desperation when targetting a 'demand' that is just to low.
The over saturation of Dive Operations in Certain Areas
Some parts of the world are just overfilled with Dive Shops/Centres and the competition is so high that it drives the prices even lower. I remember walking through Phi Phi Leh in Thailand and seeing dozens of dive operations crowded next to each other. It was really weird, since you were literally getting pestered while walking by young dive guides trying to entice you with an amazing opportunity to try Scuba Diving.
Small overall market
Other areas have a generally small market for Scuba Diving and dive shops are simply not able to generate enough sales to keep up their operational costs.
They are either located in very remote areas, or areas where diving isn't popular enough to sustain their business.
Poor Marketing Abilities & Management
Most Dive Shop owners or managers have very little background in managing a business or marketing one.
In most cases, dive shop owners are just passionate scuba divers who became instructors - they are well versed with the diving but not the business of diving.
As a result, you have poor management of inventory, poor cash flow and barely existent marketing. Digital marketing is one of the most obvious channels, but most operators get this wrong.
5. Lack of Unified Standards
This is not to be confused with 'Scuba Diving' standards, i.e: the actual act of Scuba Diving, but rather the process around it, i.e: the hospitality part.
As I mentioned, this distinction doesn't really seem to exist, but it really should.
There needs to be unified standards of assessing the quality offered by a dive centre, PADI has started in the right direction but in my opinion are far from it.
For example, a 5 star dive centre according to PADI isn't necessarily a reflection of the level of service of the operator, but rather the fact that they have atleast one course director at the facility and offer the full spectrum of PADI Courses.
We need a body that will assess dive operators based on the quality of their service. Quality of the boats they use, the ethics of the dive guides.
The Scuba Industry is still very young, and has a long road ahead of it. Eventually, I would like to see higher quality of service, more quality marketing and better wages.
I would personally rather see fewer operator that have their business in order versus more operators that are barely surviving and cutting corners at every turn.
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