Diving Vacations: The Conversion

One hallmark of today's leisure travelers is that they are perennially on the lookout for new experiences and adventures. One way agents can satisfy leisure clients' yearnings for the new and begin building a dive travel market base for themselves is by introducing clients to the concept of dive vacations.

In recent years, dive certification organizations, in concert with travel suppliers and popular dive destinations have implemented a number of promotions, programs and changes to existing programs that make it easier than ever to introduce new divers to the beauties of the underwater world.

Many also have begun promoting snorkeling as one of the easiest and nonthreatening ways to create interest in dive travel. They encourage travel agents to recommend to clients bound for warm-water destinations that they try snorkeling, since surveys indicate that most people who sign up for dive certification classes became interested in doing so after snorkeling.

STREAMLINED DIVE TRAINING

Historically, there were two avenues through which neophytes could pursue diving. They could obtain a full open-water dive certification, allowing individuals to dive independently once they had completed classroom, pool and open-water training, or they could sample diving on vacation by taking a one-day resort course -- a one-time guided shallow-water dive following quick and basic predive instruction.

Those are still popular options, but now there are even more pathways into the world of diving. For example, depending on the dive certification organization, divers who complete a resort course (available under different names) receive documentation that allows them to enjoy guided shallow-water dives repeatedly instead of just once.

In addition, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) recently introduced a new certification level, the PADI Scuba Diver program, that requires less training than the full open-water certification, yet allows individuals who have completed it to dive almost anywhere under the supervision of a PADI professional.

In addition, PADI has streamlined its diver education system to allow participants in its introductory programs to apply their experience toward full open-water certification. Also, individuals can now easily complete the academic portion of PADI certifications at home using video or CD-ROM.

INTRODUCTORY EXPERIENCES

Changes in the dive certification process and the availability of several levels of introductory experiences have prompted dive travel suppliers to offer a variety of learn-to-dive or experience diving vacations.

One dive operator that is making an effort to introduce agents and their clients to learn-to-dive vacations is the Underwater Explorers Society (Unexso), a dive operator on Grand Bahama Island. It has created three levels of vacations for what it calls "want-to-be" divers and introduced fully commissionable travel packages as well as collateral materials targeted to agents.

"The fact is people want to go scuba diving, but they don't want to spend four weeks preparing for it," says John Stewart, president of Dive Marketing International in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which represents the Underwater Explorers Society. "There's a perception that to dive you have to go through a long arduous training process. That's no longer so."

Unexso provides a program guide for agents that explains the home study portions of learn-to-dive vacations, a fact sheet detailing the different levels of dive certification and a four-color brochure showcasing its learn-to-dive, snorkeling and dive with dolphins programs.

SAMPLE PACKAGES

Unexso is one of a number of dive travel suppliers that offer learn-to-dive, introductory scuba and snorkel vacation packages. Following is a selection of such packages in several popular dive destinations. Prices are per person, based on double occupancy.

Cozumel. Dive Tours in Houston offers a seven-night CertiVacation package that leads to PADI's full open-water dive certification. The package price covers at-home video or CD-ROM study materials; additional instruction in Cozumel including pool sessions and lectures; an open-water dive experience; open-water skills demonstrations, and a final exam. Priced starting at $592, land, in September and October, the package includes accommodations at the Casa del Mar, necessary dive gear, instruction, hotel transfers, instruction and taxes.

Grand Bahama Island. The Underwater Explorers Society offers a four-night Learn to Dive Vacations open-water package on Grand Bahama Island that also leads to PADI's open-water certification. Priced starting at $599, the package includes accommodations at the Port Lucaya Resort and Yacht Club, all materials for pre-trip at-home study, two days of pool and ocean dives while on Grand Bahama Island and use of dive gear. For clients who simply want to sample diving, Unexso offers a four-night Dive Today package at the same resort that incorporates a half-day dive experience beginning with a pool-side briefing and a pool dive and concluding with a guided reef dive. It is priced at $299.

Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Baskin in the Sun has put together a five-night Experience Diving program that includes oceanview accommodations at the Prospect Reef Resort, a PADI resort course, airport transfers, hotel taxes and service charges. It is priced at $397 through Dec. 14.

Contact Unexso at (800) 992-DIVE (3483) or (945) 351-9889.

NO-COST SAMPLES

Maduro Dive Fanta-Seas in Miami offers a free introduction to scuba experience, normally priced from $75 to $100, to clients who book a minimum five-night stay at the Sunset House on Grand Cayman or at Habitat Curacao.

Contact Maduro Dive Fanta-Seas at (800) 327-6709 or (305) 438-4222.

FREE DIVE CERTIFICATION

Nekton Diving Cruises in Fort Lauderdale, which operates the live-aboard Nekton Pilot in the Bahamas and, starting in November, off the coast of Belize, offers a free open-water dive certification program to consumers and agents.

Under the program, travelers who book a Nekton dive vacation will be connected with a PADI dive shop in their area, where they complete the necessary book and pool work at no cost before departing on their vacation. (If a convenient PADI shop is not available, Nekton will arrange for travelers to complete pretrip book and pool work shoreside in Fort Lauderdale.) Once on board the Nekton Pilot, new divers complete the final checkout dive required for final certification.

John Dixon, marketing manager for Nekton, says that if one member of a couple finds that after completing the checkout dive he or she doesn't enjoy diving, he or she can choose to participate in Nekton's Snorkel First program, which offers guided snorkel outings.

Nekton's weeklong live-aboard dive vacations are priced at $1,395 or $1,495, depending on departure date. Contact Nekton Diving Cruises at (800) 899-6753 or (954) 463-9324.

Bonaire Diving Package

Caradonna Caribbean Tours of Altamonte Springs, Fla., is marketing a Bonaire Adventure package that combines diving with other nature-oriented activities during a stay at the Sand Dollar Condominiums.

The seven-night package begins with a full day of diving that includes an orientation of Bonaire Marine Park, a shore dive on Bari Reef and a boat dive. New divers may choose a resort dive course.

The package also incorporates a guided kayak tour of Bonaire's mangroves; a half-day nature tour of Washington Park; a guided snorkeling excursion that is introduced by an audiovisual presentation of the snorkeling site, and a tour of Bonaire by mountain bike.

On the final day of the trip, participants may choose to repeat either the snorkeling, diving or mountain bike program. The Bonaire Adventure package is priced at $682 per person, land, based on quadruple occupancy in a two-bedroom condo during September and October.

Call Caradonna Caribbean Tours at (800) 328-2288. For carrier information to Bonaire contact ALM at (800) 327-7230 or Air Aruba at (800) 882-7822.

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