I was recently privileged to be invited on a press trip to the British Virgin Islands. I was accompanied by numerous writers and photographers from the world’s diving press, and the team from the Tourism Office headed by Abigail O’Neil went out of their way to give everyone a good impression of the diving, dining and accommodation available. Part of the deal was that we stayed at a different hotel and dived with a different operator every day, which, although a little arduous in that we had to constantly pack and repack our gear, gave us an idea as to which operations we would choose for a longer stay.
I am always amazed that some magazines send people on trips that warrant a Discover Scuba course, but there were some of us who had somewhat more experience.
The BVI culture is very British, even among those who were born elsewhere but have taken up residence. Most of the diving operators assessed our various individual skills and adjusted the manner in which they controlled what we did. Those that needed it had their hands held. For me and most of my colleagues, I could say that they were so relaxed they were horizontal. They wanted us to get the best material we could for the articles we were to produce and did nothing to obstruct that.
All the operators, that is, except one.
Newly arrived from Colorado where they had recently completed their PADI instructor courses, a young couple ran the dive center at a rather nice resort in the manner that they believed was right. They ran it by the book. I was a little surprised when I boarded their vessel to have my equipment ridiculed but as I pointed out to them in no uncertain terms, it’s the way I dive and I’ve done it on a daily basis for 17 years. We received the usual boat briefing and our departure was delayed because they had left one of our number still on the dock. Other members of my group made up their own minds at this time that the lady in particular was far too bossy.
We picked up another press member, MH, from another island on the way to the dive site, so he had no advance knowledge of these preliminaries. He was a distinguished underwater photographer who had lived in BVI and written the book on it, so to speak. We were going to dive the wreck of the Rhone, which we had already dived before, and in the case of MH, probably hundreds of times.
Our dive briefing included the information that we would be diving to 60 feet and be underwater for 20 minutes. We would all be going in together and come up together.
MH, always first to be suited up, politely asked if he and I could simply go in together and get on with our jobs, to which the answer was a firm “No.” I said nothing. We were going to be with this outfit for only a few hours and I knew what I was going to do. MH had come to a similar conclusion. So he and I jumped in with our cameras and went diving for an hour or so. We both got some lovely material. The others, maybe a little less confident than us, formed a group as requested, got in each other’s way, achieved very little on the short dive and came back angry.
Dive operators have to keep many of their clients, some of whom have very little or infrequent diving experience, on a short leash. However, the art of dealing with people in what is predominantly a people business is to accurately assess first who you are dealing with. This particular dive-center couple had obviously not covered this in their PADI continuing-education course, and I fear they’re on a steep learning curve. There is more to running a dive-center than has been included in the PADI Standards & Procedure manual. It did not surprise me that they did not turn up for the end-of-the-press-trip party.