Challenges & Limitations in Measuring the Market Size of the Scuba Diving Industry

Challenges in Measuring the market size of the scuba diving industry

Challenges & Limitations in Measuring the Size of the Dive Industry

Measuring the size of each one of the six sectors part of the overall dive industry comes with its own set of unique challenges:

  • Scuba Diving Equipment
  • Dive Training & Certification
  • Dive Travel
  • Rental Dive Gear
  • Repair & Maintenance of Dive Equipment
  • Fill Station Services

Measuring The Size of the Scuba Diving Equipment Market

If you are preparing a business plan for a dive store, you are interested in how much dive gear is sold through dive stores. Typically, it means recreational scuba and snorkeling equipment. But if you are a dive gear manufacturer, the “size of the market” includes military sales, which for some manufacturers can be half their sales.

In our recently published market analysis of the size of the dive industry, we looked at the recreational scuba diving industry because military and commercial diving are totally different beasts. In the rest of this post, “the dive industry” means the recreational scuba diving industry.

To be clear, though, “recreational diving” includes tech diving, which is an advanced form of recreational diving – something divers do for fun and challenges.

Otherwise, when discussing the dive gear market, we talk about “dive gear manufacturers” because that is how they are referred to in the jargon of the diving industry. But to understand the sector, you have to realize that many of these so-called manufacturers are really just marketing brands. Most wetsuits, for instance, come from a handful of Asian suppliers. None of the “dive gear manufacturers” selling scuba diving wetsuits actually manufacture wetsuits. The same applies to low-end masks, snorkels, and many other dive gear items.

So, what gear should we include when evaluating the size of the dive industry? 

Selling snorkeling gear is usually a big part of dive store sales and is definitively a significant component of the sales of dive gear brands. After all, there are about three times more active snorkelers than scuba divers in the world.

But even if we typically assume that snorkeling gear is included in dive gear sales numbers, how could we capture all snorkeling gear sales when evaluating the size of the market? 

First of all, should low-end snorkeling gear sold by dive gear brands to large retailers like Costco and Walmart be included in our numbers? Some of that equipment can barely be used for more than fooling around in the backyard pool for half a summer! On the other hand, snorkeling gear sold in dive shops tends to be more high-end equipment. Should all of it still be part of our evaluation of the size of the dive industry? If we survey dive gear manufacturers’ sales of fins, masks, and snorkels, these sales numbers are included. 

Besides, how could you know for sure if the end-user buying a set of fins is a snorkeler or scuba diver?

In parallel to that, big retailers often source gear independently for their in-house brands, as Decathlon does in Europe. Their dive and snorkeling gear sales numbers are usually not part of a survey of dive gear sales conducted with dive gear manufacturers. And we shouldn’t underestimate the snorkeling and diving revenues from these in-house brands. Let’s not forget that Decathlon brought the highly successful full-face snorkeling mask to market.

A retailer may order its in-house brand BCDs from a known dive gear manufacturer. In that case, if we evaluate the size of the industry by looking at dive gear manufacturers’ revenues, these BCDs are included. However, if the same retailer orders masks directly from a Chinese supplier, these numbers bypass a survey of traditional dive gear manufacturers.

This leads us to another problem – a structural challenge with the way we collect data. Because it is hard to survey manufacturers, dive gear sales are often evaluated by multiplying the number of dive stores in a market by the average sales of a dive shop. But that leaves a big part of the market out, namely sales of dive gear in other retailers like West Marine in the USA and online dive gear retailers that do not operate a traditional dive shop like DiveInn in Europe.

And even within dive store sales, what should we include or exclude? Spearfishing and freediving gear? Probably yes. A lot of it is sold by dive gear manufacturers and dive stores. But dive stores sell all kinds of other stuff!

For instance, the Business of Diving Institute conducted a study on dive store average revenues. But how much of that top-line is actually from dive gear? And how much is from T-shirts and apparel sales? There is no limit to what dive store owners may decide to sell in their stores. Some dive stores sell surfboards! So, we must dig further to sort out what part of it is from dive gear.

And, wait! That’s not all! What about Apple watches? The Apple Watch Ultra can be used as a scuba diving computer, so if somebody buys one instead of a traditional dive computer, the amount spent on that Apple watch is squarely in the dive industry. However, most people use an Apple watch for more than one purpose. Even if we know how many Ultra were sold by Apple, it doesn’t tell us how many were sold to people who intend on using it as a dive computer.

So, measuring the size of the scuba diving industry is a gigantic 3D puzzle – maybe 6D!

Measuring the Size of The Scuba Diving Training & Certification Market

A metric often used to evaluate trends in the dive industry is the number of entry-level open-water certifications. 

It used to be reasonably easy to find that kind of information, especially when the dive training agency with the largest market share, PADI, reported its annual number of certifications. However, once PADI no longer had a high rate of growth, they stopped reporting. And since then, their market shares appear to have shrunk, so the information wouldn’t be as representative as it used to be.

We can get bits and pieces of data on the number of certifications here and there. For instance, in the USA, DEMA produces a quarterly report on the number of entry-level certifications. But only three dive training agencies contribute to the report!

Otherwise, knowing how many new divers got an open water certification does not tell us the size of the dive training market in dollars (or any currency) because dive centers and instructors make the sales to consumers. Therefore, the training agency issuing the C-card does not know the price of the course.

And all of this data is about entry-level courses. 

Traditionally, the dive industry’s business model has been highly tied to training new divers—selling them entry-level courses and a complete gear set, and sending them on their first dive trip. But that is a dying business model for many reasons that go beyond the scope of this article. 

However, regardless of the business model, dive instructors and centers earn revenues from scuba diving training beyond the entry level. For instance, in recent years, we noticed that the tech diving training market was healthier than the entry-level market. 

Another way of estimating the scuba diving industry market is to survey dive centers to establish an average level of dive training revenues and multiply it by the number of dive centers in the market. However, that method misses all revenues generated by independent scuba instructors. Furthermore, dive training agencies have now started bypassing their own “members” by selling directly to consumers. And dive training agencies are famous for being secretive.

Even if dive training agencies were to stop being paranoid and contribute to establishing dive industry metrics that would benefit everybody, including themselves, we would still have the issue of double counting. It rarely happens at the entry-level but is often seen at more advanced levels of training. For instance, a diver may take a course and get two certification cards for equivalent levels from two different training agencies. If our goal is only to count the number of active divers, then double-counting becomes even more significant. For instance, in the same year, a diver may get an advanced certification from dive training agency A and a rescue diver certification from dive training agency B.

In the past, some dive training organizations have made efforts to use a third party to review data and eliminate double counting. This was done for the Rebreather Forum, for instance. However, that process requires training agencies to provide databases with a way to identify individuals. And recent laws on privacy make such endeavors almost impossible to accomplish legally.

Otherwise, should scuba tryouts like “Discover Scuba Diving” be included in the size of the dive industry? We think so. It is squarely part of dive business operations, especially in tourist destinations. However, in many cases, dive operators perform scuba tryouts and discover scuba diving experiences without reporting them to a dive training agency. In fact, the number of unreported scuba tryouts is several times bigger than the official number for reported ones. 

Finally, there’s another noteworthy issue with evaluating the size of a regional market because scuba diving is highly tied to travel.

For instance, many Canadian scuba divers have never dove or visited a dive center in Canada. They may have taken their certification course in Bonaire and bought their dive gear in Florida. Tourist destinations like Thailand issue many scuba diving certifications to tourists from around the world—Europeans, North Americans, Chinese, and the list goes on.

The number of active scuba divers in a specific market does not indicate the number of potential clients in that market. 

The SFIA provides a reasonably reliable number of Americans who are active scuba divers in the USA. However, that survey does not tell us how many of them spend dollars in the USA. And vice versa, maybe scuba divers in the Florida Keys come from outside the USA.

As we said earlier, it’s a giant puzzle!

Measuring the Size of the Dive Travel Market

Here comes another set of challenges!

What should we include in the cost of a dive trip?

Let’s say you are going to the Galapagos for an entire week of intense scuba diving and do not intend to participate in any other activity. In that case, the cost of the whole trip, including airfare and lodging, could be considered expenses spent directly in the dive industry.

But what good does it do? Airlines are certainly not something managed by dive industry professionals. Shouldn’t the size of the industry be evaluated on what dive industry professionals manage?

And here is another problem.

There is a trend away from diving-exclusive vacations. The younger generations and casual scuba divers are especially more inclined to do a bit of scuba diving, among many other activities. Therefore, if one goes to Costa Rica and only does one day of scuba diving, the cost of the airfare and lodging should certainly not be counted as part of the dive industry since only 14% of the week was for scuba diving.

Dive Industry Market vs. GDP

This topic is more of a heads-up. 

We regularly see reports floating around with huge numbers about the size of the dive industry. However, when you check the fine print, the authors were actually estimating its total GDP impact.

An evaluation of the full GDP impact includes all direct and indirect spending linked to somebody scuba diving, including what is spent in local restaurants, for instance, and how much the staff of the dive center also spends in the local economy. It’s easy to get to a considerable amount that way!

These over-inflated numbers are often produced by organizations lobbying governmental entities. They need to make the dive industry sound as big as possible to increase their chances of being heard. However, they are misleading figures when trying to assess the size of the dive industry itself.

So, How Could We Accurately Measure the Size of the Scuba Diving Industry?

That said, there would be a way to accurately measure the size of the scuba diving industry, and we discussed it here

We recently published eight scuba diving industry market reports prepared from the results of the State Of The Industry (SOTI) survey of the dive industry.

You can help the dive industry by taking part in ongoing surveys.

Results from our past scuba diving market studies are also available here.

Other Scuba Diving Industry Resources:

Check our dive industry books.