What Ever Happened to Scuba Diving As a Sport?

I have been Scuba diving since 1993 and professionally since 1995. In these years I have seen a change in the Scuba diving industry and particularly the learn to dive concept. Once upon a time the adventure sports people enjoyed would be skiing, scuba diving or sailing. They were often considered extreme sports requiring experience and training that would be in some cases vigorous. With ‘Sea Hunt’ on television and Jacques Cousteau exploring the deep blue, many baby boomers grew up with the idea that breathing under water was an adventure with many vowing to do it before they die.

With the introduction of other extreme sports from abseiling to white water rafting there was a bit of competition for the adventure dollar. Introduce the next generation Y or X with the need for instant gratification and the idea of completing a 4 day course learn to dive course just to go under the water suddenly lost its appeal. You could get more bang for your buck doing a tandem skydive in a couple of hours albeit for the same cost of doing a scuba dive course. This had an effect on the number of people learning to scuba dive. When “JAWS” hit the big screen the single biggest drop in dive certifications. Since then we have had tsunamis, global warming, 9/11, and any other number of incidents that have all reduced the uptake of scuba diving or the decline in certifications worldwide.

Let’s look at what happened to the PADI Learn to dive course where the learner diver typically begins.

In the 80s, the learn to dive course in Sydney, Australia was around AUD $495 for 4 days + the cost of the gear you needed to get going. The schedule would have you spend a day in the classroom and sometimes additional nights, a day in the pool, and 2 days in the ocean to complete 4 dives.

After a while dive centres started condensing the course down to a shorter period. In 1996, I had the first 3 day scheduled course theory – Thursday night theory, Saturday in the pool for skills, a bit more theory Saturday afternoon followed by 2 days in the ocean dives. Did this help with certifications? Well yes it did but in an effort to increase value we would take the clients away on a dive trip for the final 2 dives followed by 2 fun dives off a boat. However even though the schedule was now longer then 4 days it gave greater value to the client in the eyes of the dive operator. But certifications on weekends away still dropped as people did not want to spend two weekends diving or spend a weekend in a bunkhouse. In 2001 the option of completing the scuba diving course in Sydney without the weekend away was standard.

Now if you do not offer something different how do you distinguish yourself from your competition? Well advertising and price. So this begins the price decline in learn to dive courses, which led to dive courses selling for $199 & $149 or bring a friend and get 2 for the price of one. This led to the major players such as Pro Dive delivering more certifications but not making any money on the course, and having to use gear sales and dive trips to maintain profits. Followed was a spiralling price war, starving the smaller players. As a result the ability to retain customers was lost due to the focus on Learn to dive course.

In 2006, with the introduction of the PADI DVD, prescriptive teaching gave the option of running a competitively priced course on a schedule that would suit more people. The 2 day learn to dive course was born. This schedule has proved to be a winner for both the client and dive operator. It does require more administration and a stricter booking policy but with the bugs ironed out this schedule has improved certifications from learn to dive courses through to continued education courses. It has a competitive advantage for the dive operator that fulfills all the necessary requirements.

Last year 2007 Pro Dive Drummoyne had significant increases in certifications and has gone against the trend of the dive industry by being one of the only dive centres in Sydney to do so. This has been made possible through fine tuning the tools from PADI and putting a system that leads to a safe fun and timely certification course. As the first dive operator to offer the program I am now convinced that this is the way forward to compete with adventure sports and the changing nature of the customer where time is money.

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