Going diving is heaps more fun than monitoring the marketing pages of the business press, but if some diving operators hope to keep their heads above water then they may need to catch up on their reading.
Obsessed with teaching diving – probably because it’s the only aspect of the diving business that they actually understand – a number of diving industry stalwarts continue to regard the certification process as an end in itself rather than the first step in building long term customer relationships.
Pitching diving against the instant gratification culture of fast foods and bungy jumping, they make little attempt to sell and promote it as a unique, equipment intensive adventure activity with rewards that more than repay the time spent in learning.
Opting instead for the line of least resistance, they heavily discount the price of courses and place a continuing reliance on slogans like, “Learning to dive has never been easier.” (A strange claim when we all know that it takes at least four days just to master the underwater hand signals for saying, “I’m cold. I have serious doubts about the quality of your rental equipment and this is the sixth time we have swum past this abandoned supermarket trolley. When will I be exposed to the fun, the excitement and the exotic marine life as promised in the glossy promotional brochure that you handed to me when I first enquired about diving?”)
There are lots of reasons for this attitude. But the most common is that a handful of instructors and dive shop owners still regard diving as an alternative lifestyle rather than a business.
Oblivious to the need for profit and customer service, their shop premises usually reflect a poverty of thought and pocket that keeps the business constantly teetering on the brink of financial ruin.
Not that their stores are ever empty. Like ‘R Gang’s Klub-house’, there’s usually at least half-a-dozen ‘dive-shop groupies’ with names like “Buggalugs” and “Zombie”, always hanging around drinking coffee, telling implausible tales about near-death underwater experiences and loudly advising would-be customers that the regulator they were thinking of buying is $17.56 cents cheaper at a shop on the other side of town.
With insufficient turnover to afford professional, service-oriented staff – and a need to maintain cash-flow by teaching courses – some dive operators tolerate the presence of folk like these because of their willingness to, “mind the store for a few days”, without pay. An act of folly that helps prove that although learning to dive might be easy, actually going diving once you’re certified is an altogether different kettle of kippers.
I stumbled across this practice recently when, following the advice given to divers of always seeking an orientation to new diving areas, I telephoned a local dive store:
“Hello. I’m planning a week-end dive trip for a large group and I’d like some preliminary information on your area”
“You’ve come to the right place. We’ve got some of the best diving in the world. You must have heard of Apocalypse Reef. It’s where the offshore sewage outlet empties. Even on a bad day, you can find things floating around out there that you’ll never see anywhere else.”
“What about boat dives?”
“Every day regardless of the sea conditions. Except at the moment. Last week one of our divers fired his spear-gun through the RIB’s inflation tube and the owner, Jack, hasn’t got around to patching it yet – but usually every day.”
“And what about equipment hire?”
“Right at the moment, Jack’s using both sets on a course that he’s teaching. But we’ve got a few bits and pieces of second-hand gear for sale.”
“And what’s the best time of the year to dive in your area?”
“Ah. Now that’s a good question? Jack’s the best person to answer that and he’s out diving at the moment. Why don’t you call him back sometime next week. Make it in the morning, though. He’s not usually sober after lunch.”
It’s almost as if some dive operators are genuinely concerned by the thought that if every certified diver in the world elected to go diving on the same day and at the same time, then the global rise in sea levels might cause devastating coastal flooding and put them out of business.