Tourism companies must offer divers experience of a lifetime, new research reveals
Liz Arnold, who recently completed an MSc in International Tourism and Hospitality at Leeds Beckett, supervised by Dr Elisa Burrai, gathered the experiences of highly-trained divers who had specifically dived in South Africa: a notoriously challenging environment often found on divers’ ‘bucket lists’.
Liz wanted to find out what motivated people to dive, why they chose South Africa, what the experience was like and what diving meant to them. The aim of the research was to get tourism providers who organise diving experiences to improve on their offerings, with her findings proving that what people want are experiences that exceed their expectations. Liz concluded that tourism operators need to focus on allowing divers to bring home memories that will last a lifetime and not just souvenirs. Liz now intends to continue her research through a PhD.
Liz commented: “South Africa is many people’s ‘bucket list’ dive. You have to train and be physically very fit as it is a challenge just to get to the dive sites. It is something you have to work towards. A highlight of diving in South Africa is the infamous ‘sardine run’ which is a natural occurrence that happens every year, involving a clash of predators working together to hunt the billions of sardines working their way up the East coast of South Africa.
“A common response when I asked people about their experience was that their face would immediately become animated. Everyone had something to tell; with many involving encounters with marine life, in particular sharks. These encounters were what made the dive so memorable to them, with several people noting that the sharks were very happy for divers to visit as they were being respectful of the surroundings. When I asked what diving meant to them, lots of people mentioned peace, serenity and ‘it allows me to be me’.”
Responses were often philosophical, including one diver from Egypt reflecting: “There is no religion, no culture, no differences: underwater we’re all just divers.”
Liz added: “People couldn’t wait to tell their stories. They narrated their experiences very vividly as if they were re-living them there and then: some took around 45 minutes to relate.”
The research project saw Liz speak in detail with 15 divers; whilst also gathering short anecdotes from many attendees at the Dive 2014 conference in Birmingham.