At a recent event organised to highlight the changing face of scuba diving in India, the main topic of discussion was that there is not enough knowledge about diving as an adventure sport in the country, and what can be done to change the situation.
Robert Scammell, a Regional Training Consultant for the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), who works with divers, dive companies and government agencies, said there is a lot of potential in India to attract tourists to diving. “I’ve been diving for 32 years, and when I first went to the Andamans 10 years ago, 90-95 % of the people diving were foreigners. Now, the situation has reversed. So, even though the market is in relative infancy, there is great potential to bring foreign tourists back and attract Indian tourists who go to other countries to try diving.”
Countries like Thailand, which is only slightly larger than a few of India’s South Indian states put together, are recording staggering numbers of Indian tourists, says Madhav Reddy of Bengaluru-based Planet Scuba India, who sell diving equipment and also conduct certification courses recognised by PADI. “There is growth in India however,” says Reddy, “When we started around 10 years ago, we were the seventh dive company in India. Today, there are around 70.”
It is not so much the lack of an ecosystem, but a lack of awareness that has led to diving still not occupying a higher standing among adventure sports in India, feels Samit Sawhny, managing director of Barefoot Resorts, who organised the event. “Adventure sports in India are still mostly seen as treks in the Himalayas or river rafting on the Ganges. Even people coming to the Andamans are only touching the fringes of scuba. For that to change, people’s awareness of India’s island destinations and scuba diving has to grow,” he states, a point to which Scammell concurs. “There are many unlicensed operations and divers, who advertise putting people in the water and clicking a picture. This does not promote good diving, it just gets you a picture for Facebook.”
PADI seeks to counter such operations by offering diving certifications through affiliated dive centres. “In all my years of diving, I have realised that it is not about the diving destination, but it is about the family that is built around the activity. That is what keeps people coming back, and that is why it is important to promote the right kind of diving experience,” Scammell says.
Diving certification courses can take up to four days, and companies like Planet Scuba India and Aquanaut India are helping people take the literal plunge by offering training courses in Bengaluru, where two out of the four days can be completed in the city, and the remaining days in coastal areas nearby, thereby saving time for people with impending holidays that involve diving. Both these companies also sell diving equipment, which, according to Aquanaut’s Abhishek S, is a logical next step in the process.
“I like to draw an analogy to golf. This is a luxury sport, but it is all about exposure. If done right, people love it, and that is where indulgence begins,” he says, adding “Companies in this space are not really competing with each other, we are competing with trekking or cycling for that slice of a person’s time and money.”
The diving ecosystem also faces issues with regulation, as there are no firm guidelines the companies working in the space can go by. Reddy, Abhishek and even Scammell have to liaison with fishing communities, and the government’s tourism, fisheries, and environment ministries. “Andaman has set a good example by laying down guidelines that regulate diving. It is still a work in progress and not perfect, but it helps to keep a check on unlicensed operations,” says Reddy.
As the industry rallies together and governments take notice of the sport’s potential, the future for diving-centric adventure tourism in India is beginning to look up. Time to grab a wetsuit.