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Hawaii: Your Underwater Dream Vacation

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By Selene Muldowney

The mention of Hawaii evokes images of beautiful resorts, pristine waters, sandy white beaches, luau festivities, volcanoes, lava tubes, tropical foods, and lots of sunshine. All the Hawaiian islands are beautiful and unique, home to 1,200 miles of coral reef, lush underwater gardens, legendary volcanoes, and unapparelled adventure. Hawaii is viewed as the dream vacation by almost anyone in the world, a meeting point between the east and west, its appeal sustained through economic upheaval, cultural evolutions, and political changes.

Hawaii is often seen as a resort destination; parents with children frolicking on the beaches, couples enjoying quiet dinners on the lanai, and thrill seekers diving into lava tubes. Hawaii has an appeal for everyone including scuba divers who discover the allure of the underwater world surrounding this paradise; no wonder the Polynesians risked a 2,000 mile journey from the Marquesas islands.

With 96 dive operators, all small business owners,  to choose from across all the islands, there is no shortage of scuba adventures. Divers don their wetsuits as they travel through the ancient lava caverns of Lanai Cathedrals, snorkel in the tide pools near Hulopoe Bay, explore the coral reefs fringing the Hawaiian Islands off the south shore of Molokai, investigate lush underwater gardens teeming with green sea turtles, rays, and spotted fish, and explore Shark’s Cove on the North Shore of Oahu.

While it may seem scuba diving and snorkeling would be at the top of tourism pamphlets; with so much water surrounding the islands, often it goes unnoticed by agencies like the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Visitors Bureaus. To the local dive shops and charters it would seem Hawaii was a sure sell for scuba diving, and while dive shops like Lahaina Divers located in Maui take on average 96 people a day to dive, snorkel, or engage in other water activities, the tourism agencies neglect to include scuba diving in the annual budgets or as part of the marketing draw to the islands.

To mitigate this neglect, Hawaiian Islands Recreational Scuba Association (HIRSA) actively sought to transform themselves into a marketing platform for their members by showing the industry that through collaborative efforts they could become a powerful force in Hawaii.  The small businesses could represent themselves as a group rather than the individual business owners matching up against the other larger sports and activities like surf and fishing vying for the tourism dollars. With the support of William Cline from the Cline Group Inc., who released their findings in the 2017 Hawaiian Islands Scuba Diving Economic Impact Study, HIRSA finally had real valuable statistics and data to present their case to the tourism agencies.

The Cline Group Inc. agreed to take on this challenging task to determine the viability of scuba diving as a tourism draw to the islands. Upon agreeing to a collaborative effort to work on the survey, HIRSA president, Lauren Smith actively sought out the 96 active scuba operations on the islands to glean the information necessary for completing the economic survey. Much like most industries in today’s economic market the challenge was gaining the individual business’s attention since most everyone tends to fend for themselves especially in a competitive market like Hawaii where the competition includes mostly land based activities.

According to Smith, “The goal of the study is to have the Hawaiian Islands as a top contender in the international market of scuba diving destinations. The individual dive operations that are promoting Hawaii are competing with countries and tourism bureaus that spend a lot of their tourism budgets on promoting themselves as a scuba diving destination. Hawaii is underrepresented in this market place. We compete with some highly visible diving destinations in the Pacific such as Thailand, Philippines, and Fiji.”

She continues, ”HTA (Hawaii Tourism Association) and the state could really create an amazing opportunity for the tourism of Hawaii. Supporting Hawaii’s presence at national and international trade shows, advertising focused on the Hawaii as a Scuba Diving Destination, and even including scuba diving in their tourism studies.”

The study conducted by the Cline Group, Inc. took place over four months and included a unique algorithm developed by William Cline of Cline Group to create the total economic impact. The comprehensive study included comparing the dive operator’s feedback to the data presented by the local tourism authority. Ultimately after having to identify and separate the different scuba elements present both on the island and inbound tourism, concluded that in 2017 there were 356,148 divers that participated in scuba activities in Hawaii’s waters. The total estimated economic impact of these scuba divers is a staggering $519,887,657.47 per year, including an estimated 1,079,460 in room nights specifically generated as a result of scuba diving activities.

Smith elaborates on the findings, “We concentrated solely on the Scuba Industry. Future studies can include snorkeling operations, which would make the total estimated impact of scuba diving and snorkeling together staggering. This study concentrated on the State as a whole. We find that. The scuba industry has problem with growth on the islands; however, what could be seen as a hinderance for Hawaiian islands scuba industry competing on an international level, is that the marketing of the industry has relied on about sixteen dive operations in Hawaii united and actively promoting Hawaii as a diving destination both nationally and internationally for years at their own expense.”

Tim Means, general manager of Lahaina Divers a scuba tour agency, agrees with the study results emphasizing the need to gain the HTA’s attention. Means has served in numerous roles with HIRSA over the past 10 years and believes strongly in the work they do and the cooperative success of the local operators working together.

Lahaina Divers, established in 1978, has been providing divers access to some of Hawaii’s best diving destinations like Molokini Crater, the Cathedrals of Lanai, and sites along the shoreline of Maui where divers and snorkelers can see incredible flora and fauna. They know all too well the marketing efforts and dollars it takes to promote scuba diving on the islands. They have seen millions of dollars supporting the surf industry while their calls for support have gone unnoticed.

Means states, “The study made a significant impact on scuba diving as a tourism attraction to the islands. Hawaii is seen more as a resort destination with good diving – we can clearly demonstrate scuba has an economic affect. Due to the study we have the first opportunity in DEMA history of showcasing the Hawaiian Islands as a destination with a Pavilion. The pavilion is subsidized by the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEBT). This subsidy will allow 12 operators, many of whom financially could not attend DEMA in the past, to showcase their operations as well as encourage scuba divers to see the islands as more than a resort destination. In the past we had maybe three or four operators who could attend and unfortunately did not have a cooperative presence but rather scattered around the show floor.“

It is hoped that the local and state governments and agencies realize the potential of scuba to generate room nights and revenues for the local economy.

There’s certainly no denying that Hawaii has a special charm. Top side Hawaii offers amazing weather year round with a stunning landscape, filled with waterfalls, rainforests, volcanoes, and endless beaches. Hawaiian flora is also well-known for its colorful and unique beauty. Visitors can also come close to many animals, including, hundreds of different fish species, spinner & bottlenose dolphins, sharks, whales, dozens of tropical bird species, and sea turtles. Under the waves Hawaii is no less majestic as it offers scuba divers an incredible underwater paradise.

Paradise awaits you!

To learn more:

The Hawaiian Islands Recreational Scuba Association is the official state of Hawaii dive association and represents members across all the islands to local, county, state and federal government. H.I.R.S.A.: www.HawaiianScuba.org.

William Cline is president of Cline Group, a Dallas-Based Advertising, Research and Consulting firm with 30- plus years of Scuba Diving specific marketing experience with clients from around the globe. www.williamcline.com.