With the number of stay over visitors on the rise, dive industry leaders in the Cayman Islands are optimistic about 2016, saying current trends in the healthy dive travel market mean good news for Cayman. Industry reports show an increase in the number of baby boomers 50+ and women divers across the board, both key demographics in Cayman’s clientele. Safe, stable, easily accessible, and with a wide range of comfortable accommodations, Cayman is an ideal and active destination for family vacations.
According to American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) today’s boomers, retired and active, spend $120 billion a year on leisure travel, many of them seeking warmer climates and beaches. Dive Training Magazine surveys support this, reflecting an increase in the percentage of divers in older groups. The Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) reports impressive growth in the number of women divers, which currently make up more than 1/3 of PADI certifications. To celebrate this PADI launched Women’s Dive Day this summer.
This healthy travel market presents clear opportunities for local dive operators, to recruit new divers. Cayman’s warm clear water, vibrant underwater world, professional and friendly dive operators offer the perfect family activity. Family members, as young as ten, can join their parents, or grandparents on the adventure, and there is no better place to learn to dive.
“Diving is a sport that you can participate in with your family, from ages 8, so it’s an adventure you can do together,” says Nancy Easterbrook, owner of Divetech. “Diving is interactive, visual, active, adventurous, skill developing, educational and not the least, fun! 78% of our planet is made of water and can be enjoyed from young to old. The shallow reefs and exceptional safety-oriented dive staff can show your kids the mysteries and colorful coral gardens of the underwater world.”
“In Little Cayman, with wall dives starting at 18 feet, families can explore Bloody Bay Marine Park no matter what the age of the divers,” adds Neil van Niekerk of the Southern Cross Club. “Average depth at the top of the wall is 25 feet which is well within the 40’ limit of a 10 year old Jr. open Water Diver, safely bringing all of the splendour to a new generation.”
Sunset House General Manager Keith Sahm says they are seeing familiar faces returning to Cayman after many years. “We’re seeing guests that were last here in 1989 and, they are back with their kids or grandkids – and they’re happy the Sunset House has retained its charm – they were afraid that we had changed too much in the intervening years, when they were busy raising their kids.”
In an interesting life cycle, these parents and grandparents are now introducing their Millennial kids to diving while on vacation together, a hopeful sign for the next generation of divers.
“We do a lot with families – that’s been a big part of our focus since we are the onsite dive operator for all the big hotels and resorts - and it is good to see parents and grandparents diving with their kids,” says Rod McDowall, operations manager for Red Sail Sports. “We work to recruit new divers through our concierge service, our in-house videos and marketing material. The more newcomers we introduce to diving, the more will return.”
At Ocean Frontiers located on Grand Cayman’s remote East End, co-owner Steve Broadbelt says they are witnessing this too. “We see a lot of families diving together, especially during traditional holiday periods throughout the year - it is not unusual to see three generations of a family diving together,” he says. Even if none of the family members have been diving before, we offer learn to dive vacations for the whole family to get certified together as a group. Learning together at the same time really helps create valuable family memories of adventure of learning to dive.”
PADI officials say response to Women’s Dive Day was overwhelming across the world. Some 335 events were held in 65 countries and 25 states in America. On Grand Cayman Red Sail Sports celebrated by hosting a special “pampered” dive trip for women divers. The ladies were greeted by dive staff in special attire, and then treated to champagne and strawberries after the diving was done - renowned Red Sail Sports customer service with a touch of extra fun that day.
“It was all great fun for staff and customers,” said Operations Manager Rod McDowall. “We appreciate our women divers because they have a sense of adventure and this was a good way to let them know that we are happy they come to Cayman to dive with us.”
With several projects, including a new airport and several new hotels, expected to boost Cayman’s tourism even more in the coming years, operators plan to continue reaching out to new markets in creative ways, while keeping repeat customers happy.
“New divers are as critical to a dive industry as repeat customers,” says Broadbelt. “Everyone talks about repeat business is the key to success, which to a degree is true- but new divers are very important 'seeds' for the future of the business of diving.”