A graduate of the University of New South Wales with an Honours Degree in Economic Geography and a Post Graduate Diploma in Education, Terry Cummins exchanged a promising teaching career for the challenges and uncertainties of the diving industry. Appointed, in 1981, to be the first Director of Training of the fledgling PADI Australia – and later its C.E.O – he played a leading role in the eventual amalgamation and re-structuring of the various regional offices that form PADI Asia-Pacific.
An active member of those leading industry organizations and government committees that have helped to shape recreational diving throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and a passionate advocate of marine conservation and environmentalism, Terry Cummins is an accomplished diver whose views on the need for educationally valid diver training programmes transcends agency affiliations.
Now (at the time of the interview in 2002 – edit. ) a member of the PADI Board, and Vice President of International Marketing Initiatives PADI Worldwide, Terry Cummins’ global role gives him a unique perspective on diving – and the business of diving.
Q. How did you become involved with diving?
Like many of my friends and peers who later took up diving, I was a keen spear-fisherman. But my first experience with SCUBA came in the mid-sixties when I was still at school. Reading all of the books and literature on diving that were then available, I made a regulator as a major school assignment in metalwork class. Attaching it to a set of what were previously oxygen cylinders taken from an old WWII bomber and purchased at auction, I tested it out in the waters of Gordon’s Bay, in Sydney.
In those days wetsuits weren’t so readily available and in order to keep warm we coated ourselves in Vaseline. (To this day, I’m still not sure that it ever really worked..)
Q. How did you become attracted to the business side of diving?
Bitten by the diving bug and already a diver when I began attending the University of NSW, I gravitated to the newly formed dive club. Within six months, I’d become its President; a position that I held for the next four-and-a-half years. One of my tasks was to train new club members. Developing my formal knowledge of education while studying for a Post Graduate Diploma in Education, I began looking overseas for a good diver training system. In 1971/1972, I discovered PADI and became an instructor with them by completing an instructor course with Godfrey Bathurst, the only PADI Instructor I could then find in the country.
That was it. I taught school for a while before leaving to become a co-owner of one of Sydney’s leading dive stores together with, Russel de Groot, Kevin Deacon and Rick Poole, all of whom have remained life-long friends. Through daily working contact with these pioneers, I gained a good grounding in dive shop management and retail sales to supplement my existing diving experience and formal training in education.
Q.When did you become involved with PADI?
Following a visit to the USA in 1981, I decided to leave the dive store and became a Director of the new PADI Australia with administrative responsibility for Australia, Fiji, Vanuatu, The Solomon’s, and P.N.G.
Q. What do you regard as the role of a Diver training organisation?
To be successful any international training organisation needs to set itself goals and develop programs that encourage and fulfill the public interest in recreational diving. Furthermore, they need to have some if not the majority of the following features:
Their programs and products must be educationally valid and be of an extremely high quality: Customer service and retention must be high on their list of priorities: Their staff must be well trained and experienced within the industry in order to offer the business support needed in the modern world: And they must make a real contribution to environmental education with respect to their immediate customers (dive centers, resorts, instructors, etc); their ultimate customers, (the divers); and to the general community.
Above all, however, they must show integrity and leadership if they’re to gain the respect that goes with the territory.
Q. What impact have training organisations had on Recreational Diving?
It’s immeasurable. Firstly, without training and experience the entire industry stops. There’s no doubt that the collective marketing efforts of the training organisations have brought a lot of people into diving. They are often the first stop for people considering diving, especially with the advent of the worldwide web. For example, we get 14,000 individual visitors a day to our site.
Secondly, the training organisations play a critical role in the four essential E’s of the dive industry. The first “E” is for Education, (e.g. training programs, dive classes, business support, etc). The other E’s are, Equipment, Experience, (e.g. travel), and Environment.
Q. How do you respond to the fact that many divers question the profit motive in diving?
I’ve never regarded profit as a dirty word. Business drives many of the initiatives that eventually wind up as benefits for the diving consumer – our ultimate customers. Within the dive industry itself our collective business enterprises allow us to devote capital and other resources to environmental causes. In turn, we maintain, and in some cases improve the aquatic environment.
And successful performance in the business of diving, (no matter whether it’s a training organisation; an equipment supplier; a dive store; charter operator; or a resort) allows the company to undertake the necessary research, development and investment to improve diver services, equipment and educational systems.
Q. Does diving differ from other businesses?
I’m reluctant to say that diving is a unique business, but the fact remains – it is..
Sure, the same principles of business apply to diving as they do to most endeavors. And it’s important – in order to secure the future viability of diving as a recreational activity – that that the industry adopts the tools and techniques of a business-oriented approach.
However – and nowhere else in my experience – do you find an industry that is typified by so many dedicated people with such deep passion for what they do. Most get up in the morning eager to go to work; they often continue into the night teaching classes; and they retain that same enthusiasm for year after year. It’s a common trait shared by numerous industry members from amongst our business ranks; something that is, indeed, unique in my opinion.
Q. How should diving market itself?
We first need to realize that all of us within the dive industry are involved in marketing diving. For example, the instructor markets diving by how professionally they perform and present the services and products provided to customers. Similarly, the skipper of the dive boat; the dive retail assistant; the resort manager; the dive travel agent; all are involved directly or indirectly in marketing our industry.
More and more industry participants are recognizing this fact and have lifted their game accordingly. I think that it’s now time to begin looking outside of the traditional marketing regimes and begin promoting diving to a wider audience.
Q. How would you compare the Asia/Pacific region with other parts of the world in terms of diving?
I’ve always had a keen interest in the growth of diving within the Asia/Pacific region. Now that my responsibilities within PADI allow me the opportunity to look globally, I have no doubt that Asia is, and will remain so for some time, the world’s leading growth area in respect to diving.
There are two major reasons for this: First, the Asia Pacific region is the most populated place on earth and will always have the most potential customers for diving services. Second, of the top ten dive sites in the world, at least seven or eight of them are in the Asia Pacific region. This means that local diving populations are always going to be supplemented by tourists.
Q. What would you like to see for recreational diving as regards the Asia/Pacific region?
I’d like to see diving maintain its phenomenal growth and become more widely accepted as a genuine recreational activity. To some extent the general public still regard us as “men in black”, and that’s not the image we have of ourselves. But more importantly, I’d like to see a continuance of the environmental movement that’s developed over the last few years. There’s a lot of work to be done; and in that regard divers are some of the best ambassadors on the planet when it comes to educating the non-diving public on issues like water pollution, fish bombing and aquatic resource management.
Q. And your most memorable diving experiences?
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to do some great diving in extraordinary areas. For example, cave diving in Mount Gambier has fond memories for me, but so too has the diving I have experienced in Vanuatu, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Great Barrier Reef, Coral Sea, Palau, Tahiti, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Japan, Canada, Bahamas, USA and Mexico.
I love wreck diving, (it’s what most divers dream of – even if the treasure is missing.) and I love diving the coastline near my home. But the first time I jumped into the water off Western Australia to see a whale shark is hard to beat. The monster was coming straight towards us, flanked on each side by two manta rays and a host of pelagic fish. It was a real blast.
But at the end of the day that’s just one of many wonderful memories; and as long as I continue to look forward to tomorrow’s dive, I can’t help but remain enthusiastic about an activity that’s dominated my life.
The above interview by Strike, was first published in Asian Diver Magazine in 2002