Scuba-diving participation in the USA, the world’s biggest diving market, had almost recovered to pre-Covid levels in 2022 – but statisticians have noted a shift among those doing the diving.
The number of people who went diving last year was similar to that in 2019 before the pandemic, the key difference being that those involved were increasingly “casual” as opposed to “core” divers, whose participation continued to drop sharply.
The data comes from the 2023 Sports & Industry Association’s Topline Participation Report, as interpreted by the Business of Diving Institute (BODI), which focuses on market research and publishes Scubanomics to share dive-industry analysis. Casual divers are defined as those doing fewer than eight dives a year, core divers as those doing more.
Some 2.7 million Americans, less than 1% of the US population, scuba dived at least once in 2022, representing a 7.3% increase on the previous year. Breaking down this figure, casual divers’ participation rate rose by 12.1%, while that of core divers sank by -5.1%.
The pandemic appears to have accelerated a pre-existing trend. “Scuba diving is increasingly a casual activity done during a vacation that includes many other activities,” says BODI founder Darcy Kieran.
“Baby boomers were ‘all in’ and went to dive-resorts offering nothing but scuba diving, but the younger generations are not that committed. Scuba diving is just one thing they do in-between other activities.” This trend, he says, was adversely affecting diving-equipment sales, especially less travel-friendly items such as BCs and regulators.
However, Kieran insists that younger divers should not be blamed for the decline in “committed” diving, and says that the dive industry’s business model had been designed for the now-dwindling generation of “baby-boomers” (divers aged 58-77 in 2022) and had failed to adapt sufficiently to market developments.
While boomers still made up 8.8% of the market in 2022, the biggest sector was millennials (23-42-year-olds) at 18.8%, closely followed by Generation Z (aged up to 22) at 17.4% and Generation X (aged 43-57), who accounted for 13.4%.
Overall, scuba diving remained one of the fastest-growing water sports activities in 2022, level with boardsailing/windsurfing and beaten only by jet-skiing – a trend that will bring little joy to divers. About 7.4 million Americans went snorkelling at least once during the year, unchanged from 2021.
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