The UK diving industry has seen a flurry of activity over the last few weeks with the London International Dive Show and the Oceanic UK dealer conference. These kinds of event are always good for catching up with friends and industry colleagues about the old days and really help to keep the industry talking. The conversation inevitably turns to how the previous year has been, and talk of what the future holds for the business of diving in the UK. I was pleased to hear that the overwhelming feeling was very positive and that the doldrums of recent years are starting to recede.
That said there were still real concerns about the long term future of the UK dive industry. Several highly respected dive professionals made a number of observations that kept coming back to the same themes and I think they’re worth sharing for open debate.
Currently it’s left largely to the individual training agencies and big tour operators to attract new divers to the sport. Although I was encouraged to see PADI exhibiting at the Outdoor Show, it’s simply not enough to sustain the industry. Maybe we need to get behind SITA (Scuba Industries Trade Association) more and get some heavyweight industry PR in place. Perhaps we could team up with the UK’s regional tourist boards to feature diving in their television and press campaigns. I suspect SITAs hands are little tied by finances but maybe we need to up the membership fees and give them the tools to do the job.
The recent unrest in Egypt has caused a huge drop in visitors to the region; however areas like Sharm remain free from trouble and open for business. The resort is inseparably linked to the UK dive market as a boiler room for diver’s enthusiasm. Malta has been taking up some of the slack recently and is well worth a visit, but Egypt remains one of the best short haul locations for UK divers with spectacular diving and huge capacity.
Almost all of us got into the industry because we loved diving, but how many of us still go diving regularly when we aren’t teaching? A lot of the industry is geared towards training and not ‘fun’ diving. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we do away with training and continuing education, but not every diver wants to keep paying for courses. In fact many just want to go diving; maybe we should be taking customers on more diving trips, especially now that the profit margin in training is less than it was 10 years ago.
Many of us have managed to combine a hobby we love with our job, which makes us very lucky, but we aren’t the future of diving. How often do established divers buy new kit? Rarely, it doesn’t go out of fashion that quickly and it rarely breaks because unlike a washing machine, you can’t have planned obsolesce in life support gear. We need to work together to recruit new divers if UK diving is going to have a bright future. New divers need training and trips, which supports the schools, clubs and tourism. They purchase equipment which supports the retailers and manufactures, and funds the development of new technology and innovation. New divers are the life blood of our industry; the question is will the industry work together to attract them? Or will it sit back and hope that the efforts of the training agencies and tour operators are enough to sustain us?