If you’ve been operating a dive center for a few years, I’m sure you already have some pre-defined scuba diver profiles in your head. You probably can spot somebody who will buy all the courses and the one who will buy a full set of scuba diving gear. “Profiling” can be a dirty word in some context, but it’s quite valuable in sales & marketing. When I was operating dive centers, I defined two very different scuba diver profiles:

  • “The Sharks“: Scuba divers interested in thrills and risky adventures.
  • “The Bird Watchers“: Scuba divers interested in peace and quiet while observing tropical fish.

In the store, one-on-one, I could quickly adapt my message to their interest. However, in a classroom, pool, and open water dive site, I would be serving both groups in the same class. It becomes challenging to adapt teaching style and examples to the interest of some of your students, without scaring or boring the rest of the class.

Ideally, you would pick one group and target them in your advertising and promotions. You would then have a more homogeneous class. However, since teaching scuba diving is already a small niche activity, and dive stores are not the most sophisticated companies, dive centers typically try to recruit ‘at large.’

There are so many other ways you can segment your market. One obvious one is younger vs. older. As we discussed when reviewing the participation rate, older divers (baby boomers) often had scuba diving as a lifelong dream. They want to “be” a diver. Meanwhile, the younger crowd typically wants to “do” scuba diving, casually, among many other activities.

One thing is sure: The recreational scuba diving market is not homogeneous. And the best scuba diver socio-demographic profiles are defined by analyzing data, not by guessing.

A 2016 study at the University of Massachusetts Amherst defined 4 ‘species’ based on a survey of scuba diver values in Key West, Florida. The title is “Introductory Guide to Scuba Diver Species,” and the species are:

  • Fun-seeking Belongers.
  • Actualizers.
  • Inner-circles.
  • Moderates.

Regardless of how they arrived at these four sub-categories of current scuba divers, their conclusion is an excellent introduction to this post.

“A heterogeneous diver market that has been segmented would benefit both private and public sector stakeholders. Scuba equipment and service providers could refine their product and service mix to cost effectively satisfy the needs of niche markets.”

I would add “by providing more value,” on top of being more “cost-effective.”

Working on defining scuba diver socio-demographic profiles must be done on two fronts:

  • Our initial goal is to identify various scuba diver socio-demographic profiles among the current population of divers to better deliver value to them, with the right marketing messages.
  • Our 2nd goal is to do the same with non-divers. The current scuba diver socio-demographic profiles may be far from the profile of the people we should be targeting if we want to grow the dive industry, possibly with new products and services.

We’ll look at market segmentation and the different socio-demographic profiles as provided by DEMA. And then, we’ll review what the other activities scuba divers tend to do are. All of which, to better understand who you should be targeting in your marketing campaigns.

1. Market Segmentation With our Current ScuBa Diver Profiles

There are many different angles you can use to segment your clients and your target markets. Let’s look at some of them.

Geographical Segments

One obvious way is geographical. If you notice that most of your clients come from within a 30-minute drive radius around your store, then you can focus your marketing energy and money within that circle – which is easy to do with online advertising. When looking at the services offered by DEMA, we reviewed a way to help you analyze the market around your store.

The way DEMA has segmented the profiles in its most recent scuba diver surveys is based on what they purchased from you:

  • Entry-level Certification: e.g., PADI or SSI Open Water Diver course.
  • Continuing Education commonly referred to as con’ed: Any other scuba diving training courses after entry-level.
  • Scuba Diving Gear.
  • Dive Travel: DEMA further split the scuba diver profiles of those purchasing travel in two, based on whether they purchased live-aboard vacations or a stay in a land-based resort.

We will review these DEMA scuba diver profiles in the next section.

Behavioral Segmentation

Another way to segment the market is by behavioral profiles. In the DEMA segmentation, “best clusters” were identified based on life stage – and we briefly reviewed them when discussing DEMA Services.

The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) is a good role-model on that front. In their ConsumerVue report, they identify seven segments of outdoor consumers. These segments are quite diverse – just like in scuba diving. They have different ambitions, aspirations, interests. They shop differently.

  • The Achiever
  • The Outdoor Native
  • The Urban Athlete
  • The Aspirational Core
  • The Athleisurist
  • The Sideliner
  • The Complacent

The Aspirational Core represents only 14% of the population but 33% of the money spent in the outdoor industry. We see the same in the scuba diving industry. Core divers’ participation rate is falling a lot faster than the casual divers’ rate. This leads to significant downward pressure on dive gear sales.

We can segment any industry in a million different ways and end up with so much data that we can’t take any decision! The goal is to find the segmentation that helps us manage our business.

2. DEMA’s Scuba Diver Socio-Demographic Profiles

DEMA produced the following profiles by surveying lists of scuba diving clients provided by training agencies and scuba diving equipment manufacturers.

Entry-level Scuba Diver Profile

Of the five scuba diver socio-demographic profiles produced by DEMA, this is the most discussed one. As we know from our look at the size of the dive industry, we are financially very dependent on new divers, for now. So everybody is interested in THAT profile!

Unfortunately, there’s been (and there’s still) confusion on this entry-level scuba diver profile because of changing figures.

When the report first came out, the average age was 33 years old with a median at 30. In the supporting data attached to the profile, the average age was 34 with a median at 31. Then, a new version came out with an average age of 29 years old and a median at 26 – with no supporting data.

In any case, let’s try to grab a few interesting numbers by mixing both summaries, the original one and the revised one.

  • 64% earn more than $100K per year, with 21% making more than $150K. Once and for all, can we stop focusing on dirt-cheap courses and dirt-cheap dive gear? And develop products and services for affluent people?
  • Between 59% and 66% are college graduates.
  • 92% are homeowners.
  • Male scuba divers are still the majority, between 60% and 65%, depending on which summary we look at.

Using AnySite, DEMA identifies five main clusters to target. You can have access to AnySite data for your dive center if you are a DEMA Member. We discussed this when reviewing the services offered to you by DEMA.

  • Summit Estates
  • Established Elite
  • Sitting Pretty
  • Lavish Lifestyles
  • Apple Pie Families

You can obtain the details of these 5 clusters and how you can best use them to grow your business, directly from DEMA.

None of these cluster titles sound “cheap.” We need to upgrade the experience encountered when one entered a dive center, and we need to establish a way to ensure consistency in the quality of the experience while offering products and services that provide more value to the end-user.

Do we have other sources of data confirming these numbers from DEMA?

We have one: SFIA. In its 2018 Scuba Diving report, we get the following profile of a scuba diver:

  • 60% of all scuba diving participants are between the ages of 25 and 54.
  • 64% earn more than $75K per year.
  • 56% have a college degree.
  • 66% are male.

It’s a bit different than the DEMA numbers but similar.

Continuing Education Scuba Diver Profile

This is a big melting pot of any other scuba diving training courses besides the entry-level one.

  • The average age is 38 years old, with a median age at 36.
  • 70% earn above $100K per year with 25% making more than $150K.
  • 59% are college graduates.
  • 92% are homeowners.
  • 77% are male.

So the big difference between the entry-level scuba diver profile and those taking more courses is that he is older. And he is even more likely to be male. Said differently, it could mean that the younger generation will take on an entry-level course to do scuba diving casually, but they are not as committed to scuba as their older counterparts.

Dive Gear Buyer Profile

Presumably, dive gear buyers are even more committed to scuba diving. Let’s see if that holds in their profile.

  • The average age is 54 years old.
  • 62% earn above $100K per year with 20% making above $150K.
  • 59% are college graduates.
  • 92% are homeowners.
  • 78% are male.

In other words, this person is very similar to the one taking courses after entry-level with one exception: He is significantly older.

This seems to confirm that older people want to “be” a diver; it was a lifelong dream. And when these baby boomers start diving, they are more committed to it than the younger generations who want to “do” scuba diving, casually. This casual diver is not willing to buy much dive gear since their travel is rarely a dedicated “dive trip.” They want to do scuba diving, among other activities.

Dive Traveler Profile

DEMA produced two profiles for dive travel: One for those who went on a live-aboard and one for those divers who opted for a land-based resort. Let’s see if there are significant differences.

  • The average age is 41 for dive resorts and 52 for liveaboards.
  • 38% earn above $100K per year for dive resorts and 78% for liveaboards.
  • About 60% are college graduates in both cases.
  • 84% are homeowners for resorts and 94% for live-aboard.
  • About 60% are male in both cases.

So dive resorts divers are younger than the live-aboard crowd. But overall, it still points to the older generation being interested in a dedicated dive trip.

It’s also interesting to notice that the profile of scuba divers going on a live-aboard point to a wealthier crowd.

3. Cross Participation in Other Activities

From the same SFIA Scuba Diving report mentioned above, we get the following list of other activities popular with scuba divers, in order or popularity:

  • Free weights (dumbbells/hand weights)
  • Treadmill & cross-trainer
  • Running, jogging, walking for fitness
  • Bowling
  • Day hiking
  • Golf

This gives you an idea about where you could do cross-promotion. For instance, you could promote a bowling club in your dive shop while the club promotes your scuba diving activities.

That being said, be careful with this list as it may not match your clientele. For instance, if your target market is a younger generation, I would venture into suggesting that day hiking is probably more popular with them than bowling.

DEMA also produced a list of other activities in which scuba divers participate, published in its “Diving Fast Facts” document. In order of popularity, they are:

  • Backpacking/hiking
  • Jogging/running
  • Weight lifting
  • Bicycling
  • Kayaking
  • Yoga
  • Bowling

So, the SFIA and the DEMA lists are different, although there are some identical activities like bowling, hiking, and jogging.

It’s background information to understand better the clients you are trying to attract and how you could target them with cross-promotions.

4. What’s Next?

What can you do with all this info on scuba diver socio-demographic profiles?

In reality, not much! Because they are profiles of the general population of scuba divers in the USA. Your clientele may be very different. For instance, even if the average American scuba diver is rich, perhaps your clientele is composed mainly of college students, and you shouldn’t count on selling a lot of expensive dive gear.

You should look at the USA-wide scuba diver profiles as general background information. Then, you should contact DEMA to get two studies from them: An analysis of your current clients to establish their profile; and a summary of the population around your dive store to identify valuable cluster to target. We reviewed these 2 DEMA studies when presenting the services offered by DEMA.

Understanding the socio-demographic profile of current scuba divers is just a starting point.

Understanding the profile of your current clients is a good starting point. It should help you manage your scuba diving business this month and next month.

But understanding who are the current scuba divers is not that great considering the fact that the dive industry is shrinking. What we need is profiling the ‘likely diver not currently diving‘ and then, redefining the dive center to satisfy this new type of clients. That’s a much more significant challenge. But it’s an exciting one!