We all love a good bargain. There is something that gives us a bit of a high from knowing that we got something for a little bit cheaper than the usual asking price. This is true for many dive destinations as countries like Thailand and the Philippines are known for haggling about prices. Diving is an expensive sport, there is course fees that need to be paid, equipment that need to be purchased, flights and accommodation that need to be covered, not to mention insurance for any ‘unlikely event’. Add to this the wide discrepancy in prices between different dive centres- and different locations and it is easy to feel like higher priced establishments are there to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists.
Any dive professional forum search will bring up a number of heated discussions about pricing in the dive industry. Ask any dive professional and they will tell you how the constant battle for lower prices is de-valuing the dive industry. Here is how:
Dive centres that offer courses at drastically discounted prices still have the same operating costs (if not higher) than their higher priced counterparts. In order for them to make up the money that they are losing by offering lower prices needs to be made up somehow.
For some centres this mean that they need to certify more students per month in order to gain the same income. This results in a kind of diving factory that churns out new students like they are something made on an assembly line. Students are pushed through, and as long as they meet the qualifying requirements they get certified. With these centres there is little room for deviation from schedules and extra time in the water for those who need it is not always possible- if it is it is usually rushed. There is little focus on mastery and certifying students comfortable enough to go diving alone with a buddy- independent of an instructor or dive master. Not all lower end dive centres are like this but when time is money you get what you paid for. Often these centres have large groups of students with one instructor this results in a large portion of the dive spent watching and waiting for other students to perform their skills. With smaller groups it enables you to either spend more time mastering your skills or, for those who take to diving like a fish to water, to spend more time exploring the underwater world.
Lower priced dive centres also tend to take larger groups of fun divers- again to make up for the lost revenue. While certified divers do not require a dive guide, diving in larger groups tend to become messy as the group splits up or everyone crowds around the dive guide to see the little nudibranch that s/he is pointing out. And then there is always that one guy that churns the water and sends the poor nudi flying! Shops who charge higher prices are able to employ more staff and thus you get to dive in smaller groups which means you will be able to see everything the dive guide points out without worrying that your mask will be knocked off as someone elbows you out of the way.
If you are lucky enough to find a less expensive dive centre that only takes small groups of divers consider this: they still have the same expenses as more expensive centres (think agency fees, equipment maintenance, electricity for filling tanks, fuel for the boat, staff salaries). For them to make a profit, or just break even, they need to cut expenses somewhere. This could be in the quality of their equipment or, often, their staff’s salaries.
The dive industry is extremely competitive with thousands of new professionals entering the industry every year- all ready to ‘live the dream’. And it is a wonderful dream- but it also means that dive professionals (especially newly certified professionals) take what they can get. This, unfortunately, means that in some cases they work on a commission only basis and that they are under a lot of pressure to get clients in and to certify them as quickly as possible. It also means that they might be forced to cut some corners. While they might meet standard requirements they could do things against their better judgement in order to keep their jobs.
Why is diving so expensive in countries where everything else is cheap? Let’s consider this: You live in Europe or the States and need a piece of equipment for your next dive trip. No problem, you get in your car, drive 20 minutes to your local dive centre and walk out with whatever you needed (or wanted, or just had to have) a short while later. Some of the world’s best diving is in remote places, on tropical islands that are difficult to get to. These places often (usually) do not have equipment suppliers nearby (unless they are more touristy and established for diving). Gear needs to come from either the mainland or a larger island or even a different country! While working in Mozambique I had to drive 12 hours to South Africa to get to a place that would inspect our dive tanks as the one person who usually travelled to Mozambique to do the inspections was only going there the next year. If you factor in the time it takes to get equipment and the additional transporting costs to get it to your paradise location it all adds up.
Besides the gear there is the issue of staff salaries as mentioned above. Good instructors add value to a dive centre and will offer you the best training and service. These instructors know their worth and ask for it. ‘Living the dream’ is wonderful until you realise that you are only earning enough to have one decent meal a day after paying rent, replacing equipment (because you need to look professional), paying for visas and work permits and of course the flights to get to your dream destination. Dive centres who pay their staff well see them as an investment and have their pick of the ‘cream of the crop’.
This brings us to tipping. What is an appropriate amount to tip? Some people are of the opinion that $10 per tank or 10% of a liveaboard tip is the norm. From personal experience working in the dive industry mostly in South East Asia and Africa, tipping is not the norm but it is very much appreciated. If your dive instructor or guide has offered excellent service and gone above and beyond to show you some really cool things, consider giving them a tip- it really does go a long way to brighten up their day- or even month!
When looking for a dive centre it is recommended to not only look for the cheapest price but to ask about the ratios of dive guide to customers and before you take a course speak to the instructor if possible to see if it is a good fit for you. Remember that while dive professionals might be ‘living the dream’ they also very much need to be adulating and your contribution to the dive industry helps them to offer better service, set higher standards and create a safer experience for everyone.
*A version of this article first appeared at www.scubadiverlife.com