If you're at DEMA 2016, you really must attend.
The speaker is of course none other than my irreducible friend Rick, and the topic will undoubtedly be his Sustainable Shark Diving project, hopefully with some first insights about operators, client preferences and public acceptance.
Regarding the latter.
I'm frankly disappointed but upon reflection, I'm really not that surprised. Essentially, my conclusion is that most of our clients are mere consumers: they purchase the product, enjoy the experience but don't really want to be bothered with deeper thoughts about ecotourism and sustainability.
Take our case.
We're doing OK, thank you - but that's merely the result of an initial flurry of enthusiasm, and the reviews have since been few and far between.
Yes our research and our conservation achievements are impressive, yes our customers very much enjoy Ben and Manoa's education and awareness presentations, yes everybody is happy to make a contribution to the villages, yes we regularly win awards and are generally considered to be one of the best of class in Shark ecotourism, yes we host and interact with a myriad of committed Shark people, be it professional conservationists, researchers, professional media people, selected activists, scholars, students or volunteers - but those are not our typical tourist Shark divers.
Due to the nature of the animals we showcase but also, owing to the way we have chosen to conduct matters, our Shark dive is essentially a tightly choreographed show that aims to be a safe and sustainable tourism product rather than some sort of a personal experience. And consequently, we aren't really compatible with either the troglodyte adrenaline junkies or the Shark huggers, let alone the self-promoting media whores; and the dreaded semiprofessional image hunters with their fisheye lenses have learned to frequent more accommodating operators.
Instead, our typical customer is your quintessential traveling Joe diver.
They are first and foremost tourists, will do a Shark dive among many other things, are generally not terribly experienced or committed, generally visit for merely a day or two, want to experience guaranteed Shark encounters, want to be served, want to feel safe, want to take a few snaps and want to purchase a memento of their experience. Generally, they love our product and will love us on TripAdvisor - but that's that, the more as Fiji will offer them plenty more fabulous tourism activities and wonderful people to experience and tell about.
And the others?
Many of the really good operators are probably too successful and too busy to bother promoting SSD; and the bad ones are obviously not interested in undergoing an objective review.
And when it comes to the other diving Shark enthusiasts, they too often have agendas (as in experiencing extreme encounters or taking extreme pictures) that may well conflict with the kind of tourism SSD is trying to promote.
But I'm obviously speculating as usual.
Rick may know more and it will be really interesting having him share his insights - plus he's a great orator and simply a great guy.
In brief, highly recommended!
See you in Las Vegas!