Curaçao Scuba Diving Industry

In times when the Curaçao Scuba Diving Industry has amazing growth potential and the Curaçao Government is rapidly advancing toward more progressive marine management legislation; Dive operator business licensing and nature fees seems like a unavoidable financial option. However, this is simply not doable without a mature dive industry working together with the Curaçao Government under very high industry standards.

A Vision for Sustainable Dive Tourism

A vision and an opinion by Bryan Horne, Founder of Dive Curaçao

High standards within the Scuba Diving Industry, in my opinion, makes sense from a variety of different perspectives. I would like to start with perhaps the most important aspect, safety.

According to various authors, scuba diving is a sport and recreational activity that has become one of the most important marine recreation enterprises for the tourism sector worldwide, with more than 1 million new divers coming into the sector annually.


Implement High International Standards in Curaçao

During the last 50 years, different scuba diving training agencies like YMCA, SSI, NAUI, SDI, and PADI just to name a few, have worked intensively to develop high international standards for a group of recreational divers who are not necessarily risk seekers, but rather passive observers of the natural environment and marine life. The development of these international standards has allowed for a relatively fast growth of the sport.

Safety is Key

Safety is the key element if we want to ensure that scuba diving can grow into new markets allowing for the development of new diving destinations where scuba diving is a safe and relaxed adventure as the market demands.

In my opinion, the dive industry is not relatively safe, it is very safe, however, accidents still happen and the media coverage can greatly damage the reputation of a destination. In 2017 alone, there were more than 30 international headlines regarding scuba fatalities in the media.

These facts, combined with market growth, aging population and the inclusion of new groups like disabled people and/or children reinforces the need to adhere to the highest possible safety standards in the industry.


“Marine tourism plays an important role in Curaçao’s economy and as the industry grows, it is critical to establish practical approaches to protect the marine environment. By adopting Green Fins, dive operators are taking vital steps in ensuring Curaçao’s dive market is sustainably managed to increase corals and marine life’s resilience to wider global threats and protect the valuable marine ecosystems for future generations.” 

JJ Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation


Economic Value of the Diving Industry in Curaçao

Another important reason to have high standards for the dive industry and other marine recreation providers is income possibilities. There are around 6 million active scuba divers and 20 million active snorkelers worldwide.

According to the Economic Impact study of the Curacao Diving Industry, conducted by the Curacao Hospitality and Tourism Association (CHATA) and the Curaçao Tourist Board, concluded that the diving industry contributes approximately $41,319,914 annually to the local economy.

High Growth Potential for Dive Tourism

A study conducted by DEMA (Diving Equipment and marketing Association) in 2014 revealed that as much as 65% of those practitioners have an annual income of $100.000 to $150.000. Sixty percent complete college or grad school and 53% hold managerial, technical, or professional positions. Furthermore, 92% of them are homeowners and are motivated to travel in family groups.

These characteristics make dive tourists a particularly attractive group. But, this group demands quality, safety, and a level of service that can only be achieved by adhering to high international standards (ISO) as a industry and as a dive vacation destination.


According to CHATA, the contribution of the diving and snorkeling industry to our economy is huge: “We have to take advantage of all the opportunities that this industry has to offer. We propose to promote Curaçao as a diving destination as well. There are still many people who are not aware of the undersea splendor of our island. CHATA wants to emphasize the efforts and contribution of the dive operators to our economy. It is important to protect the dive sites and to ensure a sustainable growth of this industry. The same way the operators take part in certification programs to raise their service level, CHATA urges the government to come up with initiatives and legislation that would change and strengthen the position of the dive operators. As the recent studies have shown, their contribution to the Curaçao economy is of great value.”



Sustainable Dive Tourism in Curaçao

Last by not least, the environmental component. Coral reefs globally, such as the 104 square kilometers of extremely bio-diverse systems that surround the coral island of Curaçao, provide $375 billion USD in goods and services including $130 billion USD in coastal tourism. Yet, the estimated total investment in coral reef management and conservation is approximately $350 million USD worldwide.

That means that for every $100 US dollars that the tourism industry generates in coastal areas, only about $0.27 US dollars goes toward marine protected areas management and conservation.

Establish Curaçao Dive Tourism Business Licenses

To offer activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving as part of Curaçao tourism product, there should be a need to comply with a mandatory audit and an annual dive tourism business license. The reason for a mandatory annual dive tourism business license, aside from the collection of an annual governmental fee, is to create a level playing field and to ensure compliance with the tax authorities, environmental legislation plus the general health, safety and quality for the dive tourism industry as a whole.

Some compliance examples could include: a Scuba diving and Snorkeling Code of Conduct (example provided by Queensland, Australia) and/or Sustainable Diving and Snorkeling ISO standards; Proof of business liability insurance; Proof of asset liability insurance for boats and vehicles; Current list of all registered employees including proof of renewed/certified Dive Masters, Instructors and Commercial Boat Captains; Renewed Chamber of Commerce business registry; and so much more.

Establish Sustainable Nature Fee System

Since early 1990’s, countless studies have shown that coastal tourists and especially scuba divers are willing to financially contribute toward the maintenance of marine protected areas.

In a recent study conducted by Reef Support BV –  “willingness to pay” for marine conservation – 91% of respondents for Curaçao answered that they were very willing or definitively willing to financially contribute.

When asked about the range in which they were more willing to contribute, 98% were willing to pay up to $20, with 28% willing to pay up to $30 and 22% willing to pay up to $40.

Financing Coral Reef Conservation

Users fees have been a long established method to finance coral reef conservation since 1992 when the Bonaire National Marine Park, managed by STINAPA, first introduced the concept. Since then, a good number of protected areas have been duplicating the system with diverse degrees of success.

With no surprise, the single common factor among the areas that were successful in establishing reliable user fee systems was a high standard in the dive industry.

Curaçao Dive Industry must Work Together to achieve Success

In times when the Curaçao Diving Industry has amazing growth potential and the Curacao Government is rapidly advancing toward more progressive marine management legislation; Dive operator business licensing and nature fees seems like a unavoidable financial option. However, this is simply not doable without a mature dive industry working together with the Curaçao Government under very high industry standards.

Related: Unlocking the Potential of Curaçao’s scuba diving industry to affect marine conservation


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Mr. Ramon De Leon at Reef Support BV and to CHATA for assisting with the supporting information.

Additionally, I would like to congratulate the Curacao Tourist Board (CTB), the CTB Certified Dive Operators and the Curaçao Ministry of Economic Development for taking the lead with these very important steps.

This leadership and collaboration will create an even safer and higher quality scuba diving tourism product for Curaçao. Undoubtedly, this will also increase the overall value for the Curaçao Dive Tourism sector too.

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Article written February 6, 2020. Updated: March 26, 2023.