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.[1][2]

Motivations to travel for scuba diving are complex and may vary considerably during the diver's development and experience. Participation can vary from once off to multiple dedicated trips per year over several decades. The popular destinations fall into several groups, including tropical reefs, shipwrecks and cave systems, each frequented by its own group of enthusiasts, with some overlap.

Customer satisfaction is largely dependent on the quality of services provided, and personal communication has a strong influence on the popularity of specific service providers in a region.[1]




The motivations of scuba divers to travel have been attributed to adventure, learning, escape, social interaction, stature, challenge and excitement, and while these are probably valid for most novice divers and some long term divers, the motivation of long term enthusiasts may be more complex. The development of a recreational diver from novice to experienced diver is usually associated with acquisition and improvement of skills, and is often accompanied by a shift in motivations to dive. Similarly, expectations of the diving experience, satisfaction with the experience available at different dive sites, and attitudes towards the underwater environment will change in divers who continue to dive over the longer term and relatively frequently. The desire to improve and learn for personal growth and the long term satisfaction and fulfilment derived from this learning is common in such divers. This could be an important factor informing the planning and management of diving tourism.[4][5]


Three main classes of recreational diving tourism destinations exist. These are tropical reefs, shipwrecks, and cave systems. Each caters to a different clientele, though there is some overlap. Temperate reefs are less popular as tourist attractions, but can have their own enthusiasts, including short range tourism and incidental dive tourism associated with general tourism in the region. Any exceptional dive site may be visited by expeditionary dive tourists once the attractions are known, though these destinations are generally not serviced by mainstream tourism service providers.

Tropical coral reefs

NASA image showing locations of significant coral reefs, which are often sought out by divers for their abundant, diverse life forms.

Tropical coral reefs are popular recreational diving tourism destinations, as they are generally both pleasant and colorful to dive, relatively low in serious hazards, and the water is at a comfortable temperature, so they attract divers of all levels of competence. They 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.[1] Low impact diving training has been shown to be effective in reducing diver contact.[6]

Regions include:


Diver at the wreck of the Hilma Hooker, Netherlands Antilles.

Wreck diving is recreational diving where the wreckage of ships, aircraft and other artificial structures are explored. Although most wreck dive sites are at shipwrecks, there is an increasing trend to scuttle retired ships to create artificial reef sites. Diving to crashed aircraft can also be considered wreck diving.[7] The recreation of wreck diving makes no distinction as to how the vessel ended up on the bottom. Some wreck diving involves penetration of the wreckage, making a direct ascent to the surface impossible for a part of the dive.

Wreck diving may be divided into three categories of differing hazard and skill and certification requirement:[8]

  • Non-penetration diving (i.e. swimming over the wreck)
  • Limited penetration diving, within the "light zone"
  • Full penetration diving, beyond the "light zone"

The inherent hazards of wreck diving may be aggravated local circumstances like depth, layout and condition of the wreck, and silting hazard, and general sea conditions such as visibility, illumination, surge and currents, and water temperature. Training for wreck diving may be marketed as an associated service.

Flooded cave systems

Cave diving is a specialist aspect of scuba tourism, as the risks are relatively high and the skill requirements are stringent. Cave diving tourism is generally serviced by specialist dive guides and instructors.

Regions include:

Services provided

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.[1]


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.[1]


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 and on-board medical oxygen for first aid has increased, improving the management of diving accidents and reducing the risk of permanent injury.[1]


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.

Diver training

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. Specialist wreck diving, cave diving and low environmental impact diving courses are usually available where the local sites are associated with requirements for these certifications.

Environmental impact

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.[6]

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.[9] 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.[1] Several studies have found the main reason for contact by inexperienced divers to be poor buoyancy control,[6] and that damage to reefs by divers can be minimized by modifying the behavior of those divers.[10]

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.[6] 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.[11]

The impact of recreational scuba diving on recreational dive values and the cultural heritage of shipwrecks has been found to comprise four basic types:[12]

  • The removal of artifacts and associated disturbance to wreck sites,
  • Direct contact with wrecks and the benthic biota living on them by divers and their equipment,
  • Exhaled air bubbles trapped inside the wreckage,
  • Impact damage by anchors of dive boats, considered by some researchers to be the most damaging form of impact associated with recreational wreck diving.

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.[6] where the number of divers is restricted.[13] 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.[6]
  • Percentile approach, where capacity is limited by comparison with damage at non-dived control sites[6]
  • Restricting recreational divers to delimited locations, which usually concentrates divers and damage along diving trails.[13] 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.[13]
  • 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. [13]
  • 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.[6]


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.[1]


Three factors have been identified as important in economic sustainability:[1]

  • Environmental awareness and conservation
  • Service delivery and customer satisfaction
  • Sustainable business management

Economic risks

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.[14]

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.[9] 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.[9]

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[9]

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.[14]


Recreational diving tourists appear to be male-dominated, with an average age in the mid thirties, a college education, and higher than average income, which is in keeping with the relatively high costs of equipment, training and travel[4][15]

The general population of American scuba diving participants are on average wealthier and better educated than the general population,an have a higher participation than average in individual and team sports, and extreme sports. Nearly 46% participate in running or jogging, and 36% swim for fitness. The DAN medical emergency line and fatality and injury monitoring program have reported that some divers get injured as a consequence of inadequate physical fitness.[16]

A study to identify differences between local scuba divers and visitors in Florida showed that visitors had less certification and experience but spent more on scuba, compared to local resident divers. Cluster analysis identified four groups of scuba divers:[15]

  • Fun-seeking belongers: Divers with a strong affiliation fo group belonging, looking for fun and excitement, enjoy diving in varied locations, enjoyed stimulating encounters and pconsidered bonding with other divers important. They self-identified as belonging to the scuba community and sought to associate with other divers with similar attitudes. They tended to have more diving experience and spent more on scuba activities. Mostly males, and the majority unmarried.
  • Actualizers: Divers focused on challenge, self-recognition, and self-esteem values, likely to consider certification important and consider that overcoming the challenges is important to their self-image. Represented by more females than other groups, and lower income and expenditure on scuba activities.
  • Inner-circles: People who perceived diving as an opportunity to make new friends, and spend time with family and friends. Image as a diver relatively unimportant, and not driven to be part of the scuba diving community. Mostly married, male, well-educated, with less diving experience than average.
  • Moderates:

Legal risk and liability

Participation in recreational diving implies acceptance of the inherent risks of the activity [17] 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 recognized 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. [18]
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.[18]

Marketing strategies

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.[1]

Provision or facilitation of additional services

Scuba tourism services often provide additional services to occupy the clients during the times when they are not diving, either directly or through networking and collaboration with other local tourist services.[1]


  1. Dimmock, Kay; Cummins, Terry; Musa, Ghazali (2013). "Chapter 10: The business of Scuba diving". In Musa, Ghazali; Dimmock, Kay (eds.). Scuba Diving Tourism. Routledge. pp. 161–173.
  2. Dimmock, Kay; Musa, Ghazali, eds. (2015). Scuba diving tourism system: a framework for collaborative management and sustainability. Southern Cross University School of Business and Tourism.
  3. Musa, Ghazali; Dimmock, Kay. "Introduction". In Musa, Ghazali; Dimmock, Kay (eds.). Scuba diving tourism. London and New York: Rutledge.
  4. Kler, Balvinder Kaur; Tribe, John (2012). "Flourishing Through Scuba: Understanding the Pursuit of Dive Experiences". Tourism in Marine Environments. 8 (1/2): 19–32. doi:10.3727/154427312X13262430524027.
  5. Lucrezi, S; Milanese, M; Cerrano, C; Palma, M. (5 July 2019). "The influence of scuba diving experience on divers' perceptions, and its implications for managing diving destinations". PLOS ONE. 14 (7): e0219306. Bibcode:2019PLoSO..1419306L. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0219306. PMC 6611629. PMID 31276482.
  6. Hammerton, Zan (2014). SCUBA-diver impacts and management strategies for subtropical marine protected areas (Thesis). Southern Cross University.
  7. "The Search is in the Planning". Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association Dive Recovery Team. 2008. Archived from the original on 13 June 2015.
  8. Gentile, Gary (July 1988). Advanced Wreck Diving Guide (3rd ed.). Cornell Maritime Press. ISBN 978-0870333804.
  9. Lucrezi, Serena (18 January 2016). "How scuba diving is warding off threats to its future". The Conversation. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  10. Abidin, Siti Zulaiha Zainal; Mohamed, Badaruddin (2014). A Review of SCUBA Diving Impacts and Implication for Coral Reefs Conservation and Tourism Management (PDF). 4th International Conference on Tourism Research (4ICTR). 12. SHS Web of Conferences. p. 01093. doi:10.1051/shsconf/20141201093.
  11. Luna, Beatriz; Pérez, Carlos Valle; Sánchez-Lizaso, Jose Luis (April 2009). "Benthic impacts of recreational divers in a Mediterranean Marine Protected Area". ICES Journal of Marine Science. 66 (3): 517–523. doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsp020.
  12. Edney, Joanne (November 2006). "Impacts of Recreational Scuba Diving on Shipwrecks in Australia and the Pacific - A Review". Micronesian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Albury NSW, Australia: Heritage Futures International. 5 (1/2 Combined). ISSN 1449-7336.
  13. Roche, Ronan C.; Harvey, Chloe V.; Harvey, James J.; Kavanagh, Alan P.; McDonald, Meaghan; Stein-Rostaing, Vivienne R.; Turner, John R. (7 April 2016). "Recreational Diving Impacts on Coral Reefs and the Adoption of Environmentally Responsible Practices within the SCUBA Diving Industry". Environmental Management. Springer. 58 (1): 107–116. Bibcode:2016EnMan..58..107R. doi:10.1007/s00267-016-0696-0. PMC 4887546. PMID 27055531.
  14. Dimopoulos, Dimitri (January 2018). External risks impacting on the scuba diving industry in the East African Marine Ecoregion (PDF) (Thesis). University of South Africa.
  15. King, Carina; Heo, Jinmoo (2010). Introductory Guide to Scuba Diver Species. 2010 Travel and Tourism Research Association International Conference. Purdue University Indianapolis.
  16. "Participation in recreational scuba diving: Sports & Fitness Industry Association Report 2015". January 14, 2016. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  17. "Recreational accidents". Carter Capner Law. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  18. Robbs, Maureen (Fall 2013). "Legal Liability in Diving". Alert Diver. Divers Alert Network. Retrieved 1 March 2018.