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March 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Chinese Scuba Revolution

and what it means to the dive industry

from the March, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In our January feature on Palau, our reviewer bemoaned the rising tide of new divers coming from mainland China who were altering the diving experience beyond recognition. He said, "For the first time in a generation, rapid change is afoot. You won't see it from a liveaboard, but you will see it if you stay in Koror. That change can be distilled down to three words: Chinese tourism explosion."

Each instructor taught only one skill before the trainee was passed on to the next instructor

It's not just happening in Palau, but what is it that makes Chinese divers different from any others? Mainly, it's the sheer numbers. When a group of Western dive-center operators visited tropical Hainan Island, off China's southern coast, a few years ago, they were astounded to find that one dive center had become a type of mass production operation system, organized so that each instructor taught only one skill before the trainee was passed on to the next instructor. The Westerners observed that few of these divers developed truly proficient skills but that the dive center was certifying as many as one-thousand each day. We asked a variety of dive center operators who receive Chinese divers for their observations.

Tova Harel with her husband, Navot, runs Fish and Fins in Palau. She told us, "We get some divers from mainland China. However, these differ from those in mass groups. They tend to have good English and be well traveled so we do not witness any unusual behavior. However, we do encounter mass snorkelers and divers from China at dive and snorkel sites. They tend to be loud, they touch and break the corals, taking live marine life to eat and demanding seafood that is at times protected. I hope that with more education this will soon stop."

The islands of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean have become popular with divers from the Chinese mainland. Alex Bryant is boss of the Constellation Fleet of luxurious liveaboards, as well as owning a small resort in Ari Atoll called Casa Mia. He grew up in the Far East and understands the Chinese mentality.

"We have seen a massive increase in our Taiwanese and mainland Chinese client base during the last three years, while traditional markets have stagnated. There are major differences between the demands, behavior and diving methods or skills of the Chinese with those people who come from other countries, I'm sorry to say. By and large, they are not very well trained, and are not particularly interested in being taught how to improve. They are very much bucket-list people, and they don't so much appreciate the beauty and majesty of nature, and want to see the things on their list. Once they have seen it, they are not interested in seeing it again, unless it's a much bigger variant; they would much rather move on to the next target on their list. China has a rapidly growing middle-class that, unlike most of us, has not been able to travel while growing up, and now suddenly they have economic and political power to travel.

" China has a rapidly growing middle-class that, unlike most of us, has not been able to travel while growing up."

"In our position as wildlife-experience operators, it is important that we welcome Chinese, but we must learn quickly to develop a way of educating them about the effects that everything we do has on the planet and eco-system. We must relate that to their own home environment, and educate them to appreciate nature, and encourage them to pass this newfound appreciation on to their friends and family at home. We must be slightly flexible in our rules, otherwise we will lose them as clients, but we must not compromise our principles. We must find a way to balance the needs of the environment with their naivety."

Karin Van Beeck has worked in dive centers throughout Indonesia. "We get a lot of Chinese at Nusa Lembongan and we do a lot of DSDs with them at our branch in Tulamben (Bali). Most have very poor diving skills with very little environmental awareness or respect. Neither do they seem to have much sense when it comes to personal safety, as they happily sign up for intro dives despite being unable to swim. This results in it being common to see instructors at two or three meters deep pulling Chinese introductory divers through the water. Naturally, there are always exceptions to the rule, and you get Chinese divers who are good and are trying to help toward conservation awareness. They are becoming a huge part of the diving market in the south of Bali and we may get a Chinesespeaking instructor in Lembongan just to do all the introductory dives. I believe they might grow to be the biggest diving market in Bali."

Frank Van Der Linde, boss of the Siren Fleet, said, "We steadily get more and more Chinese passengers. Personally, I like them a lot more than some other nationalities. We have already had Chinese business for a long time and some are amazing divers. Of course, it's going to be a massive market. They are the fastest growing segment with OW and AOW certifications."

A Chinese diver, Ma Li is a professional based in London but with immediate family living in mainland China. She says, "Many Chinese people are new to disposable income, and travel is a new big thing to the masses. Most have not yet learned how to behave in an internationally acceptable way. They behave in the same way they would at home in China. They need more awareness. The language barrier is also significant. Few outside China speak Chinese languages. This leads to misunderstandings and the inability to follow instructions. They prefer to hang out with their own kind. They enjoy the security of being in big groups and don't feel comfortable on their own. The diving industry needs to do more to make allowances for different cultures."

Whatever one thinks, China is rapidly becoming the world's largest economy, with a potential 1.3 billion people joining the consumer market. We will see a lot more Chinese people in every aspect of tourism and travel, including scuba diving. With the sport diminishing in popularity in other parts of the world, manufacturers of scuba equipment need this growing market. We can only hope the dive operators everywhere will teach conservation and enforce good diving behavior.

- John Bantin

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