Scuba diving tourism
Scuba diving tourism is the industry based on servicing the requirements of recreational divers at destinations other than where they live. It includes aspects of training, equipment sales, rental and service, guided experiences and environmental tourism.
The scuba diving tourism industry provides both tangible and intangible goods and services. The tangible component includes provision of equipment for rental and for sale, while intangibles include education and skill development, dive charter services and guide services on dives.
Retail dive centres provide dive charters, dive guides and information on the local environment and ecology, and transportation to and from the dive sites, and may also provide accommodation and hospitality services to tourists, or act as their agents for these services.
Historically, scuba diving was considered a relatively high risk activity, but this perception has been modified by the developments in equipment, training and service provision. Medical support services and local availability of decompression chambers has increased, improving the management of diving accidents and reducing the risk of permanent injury.
The dive tourism industry tends to provide rental equipment to travelling divers more than equipment sales and service, but those aspects are considered valuable adjuncts. Scuba equipment is relatively heavy, and some components (scuba cylinders and diving weights) are not economically transportable by air, and may be included in the cost of a dive. Regulators, wet-suits, masks and fins are more personal equipment, and may be brought by the diver or rented, so a fairly large stock and where applicable, range of sizes in necessary to be able to rent equipment to all customers at a given time. Cameras and dive computers are usually owned by the diver, though entry-level examples may be available for hire at some dive centres. Some equipment manufacturers and distributors encourage exclusive provision of their products through financial incentives, and the range of spares and tools for servicing is affected by the range of equipment stocked, so the range of equipment available may be limited.
There is a large market for diver training while on vacation. Most parts of the world do not have desirable local recreational dive sites, and many divers choose to combine training with a vacation to an area of popular dive sites.
During the 20th century recreational scuba diving was considered to have generally low environmental impact, and was consequently one of the activities permitted in most marine protected areas. Since the 1970s diving has changed from an elite activity to a more accessible recreation, marketed to a very wide demographic. To some extent better equipment has been substituted for more rigorous training, and the reduction in perceived risk has shortened minimum training requirements by several training agencies. Training has concentrated on an acceptable risk to the diver, and paid less attention to the environment. The increase in the popularity of diving and in tourist access to sensitive ecological systems has led to the recognition that the activity can have significant environmental consequences.
Scuba diving has grown in popularity during the 21st century, as is shown by the number of certifications issued worldwide, which has increased to about 23 million by 2016 at about one million per year. Scuba diving tourism is a growth industry, and it is necessary to consider environmental sustainability, as the expanding impact of divers can adversely affect the marine environment in several ways, and the impact also depends on the specific environment. Tropical coral reefs are more easily damaged by poor diving skills than some temperate reefs, where the environment is more robust due to rougher sea conditions and fewer fragile, slow-growing organisms. The same pleasant sea conditions that allow development of relatively delicate and highly diverse ecologies also attract the greatest number of tourists, including divers who dive infrequently, exclusively on vacation and never fully develop the skills to dive in an environmentally friendly way. Several studies have found the main reason for contact by inexperienced divers to be poor buoyancy control, and that damage to reefs by divers can be minimized by modifying the behavior of those divers.
Diver impact on subtropical, and particularly temperate reefs is less researched than tropical reefs. The perception is that these reefs are less vulnerable than tropical reefs and the sessile species are less vulnerable to diver impact. Diver contact with the bottom is also prevalent on temperate reefs – one of the main forms mentioned is fin contact with the bottom sediment, raising particulate material into the water column and degrading visibility.
Strategies for sustainable use management
Several methodologies have been developed with the intention of minimising the environmental impact of divers on coral reefs
- Carrying capacity approach. where the number of divers is restricted. This also limits tourism income from the region. Sustainable diver carrying capacity is influenced by factors which vary between sites.
- Limits of acceptable change. This model uses quantitative limits on change defined in specific management objectives for a site using an established baseline.
- Percentile approach, where capacity is limited by comparison with damage at non-dived control sites
- Restricting recreational divers to delimited locations, which usually concentrates divers and damage along diving trails. This creates paths of degraded reef through the more pristine areas, and will cause dissatisfaction as the trail degrades further.
- Regulating the type of diving equipment allowed, generally accessories which are thought to increase reef contacts, such as gloves and cameras. These restrictions are understandably unpopular with photographers, and may be applied to both divers who manage to avoid contact and those who do not.
- Changing the methods by which the industry provides services. Closer supervision and intervention by dive guides can reduce diver contact rates where the divers are sufficiently skilled to modify their behaviour during the dive. A pre-dive briefing on responsible behaviour, regulations and environmental values can reduce the rate of diver impacts where the divers are sufficiently competent to avoid contact. More effective interventions occur when the number of divers per guide is low.
- Encouraging or enforcing competence of divers in low impact diving as a precondition for diving in sensitive areas. This has been identified as an effective way of reducing diver contavt.
Scuba diving is an equipment intensive activity. Significant capital outlay is required to establish a retail outlet with the expected range of equipment and filling facilities. Dive boats are a large to very large capital expense, and running costs and crew salaries can be considerable. There are also health and safety aspects to be considered, both for the operator and the customer, as high pressure filling equipment is used to provide breathing air which will be used in a hostile environment. Adequate quality control is necessary to avoid providing a harmful product. The cost of qualifying as a diving instructor is significant in time and money, and annual registration fees are a required.
- Environmental awareness and conservation
- Service delivery and customer satisfaction
- Sustainable business management
International risks to the diving tourism industry include terrorism, economic recessions and global disease epidemics. Domestic risks within the borders of specific countries may include increased crime rates, and political instability.
Environmental degradation, partly due to the impact of recreational diving on the environment, where pollution and direct damage by divers have been recorded, and the effects of natural disasters and climate change such as increased water temperature causing coral bleaching are threatening the industry, as divers are less inclined to visit areas where these problems have been reported. Overexploitation by fishing and illegal extraction have led to some sites being closed and permit systems introduced, sometimes limiting the numbers of divers that may visit an area in a given time interval.
The global economic downturn has reduced spending on expensive leisure activities, reducing the income of tourism destinations, including scuba diving charters and diving schools, and political instability deters visitors to a region
Liability issues can be managed by the use of waivers, adherence to industry best standards, and public liability insurance.
A large proportion of divers visiting tropical coral reef destinations are international travellers – circumstances that may induce them not to travel, or not to visit a particular region can have a strong influence on the viability of a diving operation. A study on diving tourism in East Africa showed that the major environmental risks for that region are overfishing and marine pollution. The economic risks are mainly price inflation and recessions, the social risk include global disease epidemics and international crime, and political instability and onerous visa regulations are the major political risks.
Legal risk amd liability
Participation in recreational diving implies acceptance of the inherent risks of the activity Diver training includes training in procedures known to reduce these risks to a level considered acceptable by the certification agency, and issue of certification implies that the agency accepts that the instructor has assessed the diver to be sufficiently competent in these skills at the time of assessment and to be competent to accept the associated risks. Certification relates to a set of skills and knowledge defined by the associated training standard, which also specifies the limitations on the scope of diving activities for which the diver is deemed competent. These limitations involve depth, environment and equipment that the diver has been trained to use.
- Waivers and release
- The waiver is intended as a legal defense against lawsuits claiming ordinary negligence by the operator. The diver acknowledges understanding and acceptance of the risks inherent to scuba diving. The waiver may also require the diver to follow recognised safe diving practices. By signing the waiver the diver agrees not to sue the operator for injuries and damage due to ordinary negligence relating to the diving activity. It will generally not be enforceable for gross negligence and events beyond the normal scope of diving.
- Medical statement
- The medical statement is intended to draw the diver's attention to the range of medical conditions that may increase the risk of injury during a dive. Failure to disclose a known medical condition which is then the cause of an injury will usually disqualify the diver from legal compensation, and may also void an insurance claim. It also transfers responsibility for establishing fitness to dive from the operator to the diver.
Marketing of scuba diving tourism is generally by advertising in specialist and general tourism magazines, both print and web based, at trade shows, on websites, and by personal communications from satisfied customers to their acquaintances with similar interests. Surveys have shown that personal communications are the most effective advertising, and depend on customer satisfaction.
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