Dive Centers are one group of dive industry stakeholders. They are at the forefront of how the dive industry has been providing products and services to scuba divers since the beginning of times. And we believe they should be at the center of any dive industry restructuring.

There are two types of dive centers. They are very similar and yet, totally different.

  • Local Dive Shops: Origin dive centers.
  • Dive Resorts: Destination dive centers.

Let’s see what is similar and what is different between these two types of dive centers – and what trends and changes they are facing in the near future.

1. Origin Dive Centers

By ‘origin’ we mean that these dive centers are in areas where there’s a large target market but few, if any, dive sites. These local dive shops are typically in urban cities like Little Rock and Atlanta.

Among the 6 businesses they operate under one roof, the main focus of the origin dive center is on selling & teaching courses, then selling dive gear, then sending these divers on a dive trip under tropical skies. Among the newly certified divers, the local dive shop keeps some repeat customer – clients buying more courses and gear, and going with you on a dive trip once a year.

While analyzing the different players in the dive industry, we quickly realize that the local dive shops (origin dive centers) are facing challenges quite different than the destination dive centers.

Are Local Dive Shops Becoming Irrelevant?

Traditionally, the local dive shop was the main entry point for new divers. It made sense. There was no internet. Therefore, people who wanted to get into scuba diving were searching in the yellow pages which were, at the time, the number one advertising medium to recruit new clients.

Once this client was in contact with the staff at the local dive store, there were two consistent messages the wannabe diver would get from that store:

  • “You should do your dive certification course with us before going on a dive trip because you have better things to do during your vacations. Do you really want to read a book by the pool bar?”
  • “You should get your own dive gear, with us. Who knows what kind of defective gear you will find in Cuba?” Fear is a dirty yet effective way to sell.

Today, the local dive shop is facing a perfect storm.

The number of certifications done annually in North America is shrinking, core divers are disappearing, and sales of dive gear per diver is declining. Every dive industry stakeholder has to deal with these facts. But the local dive shop faces a more terrifying future: They are becoming irrelevant.

Wannabe divers can do the entire course on their iPad at work, the week before their vacation. Then, they can book a dive vacation online and fly to their vacation destination, to dive. They may never feel the need to look for a local dive shop. Therefore, the role and value of local dive shop need to be redefined, seriously, and urgently.

I can hear you saying that local dive shops are crucial for local diving. Yes, of course! But that is a minimal subset of the divers in your market. Most diving is done around the equator, not in your local dive quarry. And with more new divers going directly to sunnier skies, local diving will also suffer.

2. Destination Dive Centers

We prefer the term “destination dive centers” to “dive resorts” because the dive destination doesn’t have to be a resort.

For instance, a dive center in Key Largo, Florida, with a fleet of dive boats is a dive destination. It’s a dive center with all of the six businesses under one roof. However, it is not a resort per se because it is not part of a hotel complex. There are plenty of hotels around Key Largo, though.

Another example is a liveaboard. It’s not a resort, but it’s still a dive destination.

As for destination dive centers on land-based full-size resorts (like what you find in Cozumel), most of them are operated as a small business inside that resort.

In all of these cases, the focus of the destination dive center is offering diving, diving, diving. Typically, these dive centers sell very little dive gear. But they sell lots of t-shirts, hats, and other apparel and accessories.

Different Marketing Targets

Another big difference between the origin and the destination dive center is the target market.

An origin dive center in Omaha can focus on showing their ad up for “scuba diving” in Google searches, in and around Omaha. Meanwhile, the destination dive center can recruit all over the planet. And it’s not easy to create repeat customers as many divers want to explore new places during their hard-earned annual vacations. The marketing of a destination dive center is therefore much more difficult as you are competing with all other dive resorts, charter boats, and liveaboards around the world.

Either way, the destination dive center is hit by the drop in new divers and the shrinking of the core diver group – those scuba divers going on numerous dive trips every year and buying everything with a dive flag in your apparel shop

Generational Trend

An observed generational trend we’ve noticed is also creating a problem for dive destinations offering only scuba diving.

Older baby boomers, who dreamed of “being” a scuba diver and finally got their c-cards, will go to a dive resort in a remote location with nothing else to do but scuba diving (and attending the bar).

The younger generations seem more interested in “doing” a bit of scuba, here and there. They do not necessarily define themselves as “being” a diver. In that regard, they will prefer a vacation destination where they can do a couple of days of scuba diving, a couple of days of hiking, and a couple of days of this and that.

The traditional dive destinations strictly focused on scuba diving are also facing a perfect storm.

New diver certifications are down, the core diver group is shrinking even faster, and the younger generations want a destination with more diversified activities.

Traditional dive resorts and liveaboards have, in part, created that problem by being too single-track minded. The interest in being able to do other activities besides scuba diving has started a while back. I remember a group I brought on a liveaboard in the Caribbean. The service was excellent except that, no matter how many times we asked the crew to give us access to the kayaks sitting on the roof, we never got to go kayaking. The crew was annoyed by our request.

3. What’s Next?

The most significant discussion we need to have about dive centers is on providing value to today’s customer.

For instance, for dive gear, people expect to be able to buy everything and get it, at the latest, tomorrow. They do not understand, nor do they care, that you have to order the missing size BCD from your supplier who will send it to you three months later because it was out of stock. Either you satisfy the customer now, or he is out.

The second part of this discussion is on the experience. The lack of consistency in the quality of the experience at different dive centers is hurting everybody in the dive industry.