Editor’s Note: In the second part of our DEMA coverage, we catch up with dive operators from around the world to see how they have coped with COVID-19, and to discuss the future of dive travel and their business.
A sign of the times: Choose your wristband to indicate how comfortable you are being close to others
As discussed in the first part of our DEMA Show coverage, things were a bit different this year, as many companies were unable to travel and make it to the show. COVID has caused chaos across the globe, and scuba diving was the last thing on people’s minds as travel effectively came to a complete standstill.
Thankfully, borders are slowly reopening to international tourism, and some of our favorite operators managed too make the trip over to Las Vegas to promote their dive resorts and destinations after months of lockdowns and closures. It was encouraging to see exhibitors from the Philippines, Indonesia, Fiji, Mexico and all over the Caribbean in attendance, and we took the chance to catch up with some of our sponsors and friends to find out how they dealt with the pandemic—and more importantly who is open and when we can go diving again.
Master Liveaboards always have a large booth and were busy taking bookings for the entire show
Companies with boats in multiple locations around the world have had to deal with different rules and regulations in each country, and our friends at Master Liveaboards still have a number of their fleet in dry dock waiting to set sail. The good news is that they are now completely back up and running and ready to take bookings on all itineraries for next year and beyond.
While some of their most popular destinations such as the Philippines and Indonesia remain closed, expeditions to the Galápagos have been full for months, and despite the collapse of the world-famous Darwin’s Arch, they report that the diving has been better there than ever before. Thailand is also open for business and the popular phinisi vessel has just safely completed its first full charter with American guests since before the pandemic began. By fulfilling existing bookings that were delayed and with new customers desperate to travel, they are expecting a busy 2022 in all destinations. We can’t wait to get back on board some of the company’s awesome dive boats and bring you lots of new travel content soon.
Instead of handing out printed brochures, the team used tablets to share information
The Lembeh Resort team chat to visitors keen to return to Indonesia
Things have been incredibly difficult for our partners in Indonesia—perhaps the world’s most popular destination for underwater photographers—as borders remained closed for general tourism and resorts sit empty waiting for visitors to return. Never one to sit still and wait for things to happen, Danny Charlton and his team at Lembeh Resort have made the best of a bad situation and used the time during lockdown to complete various construction projects and make improvements to the resort. Most admirably, they have managed to survive without laying off any employees and have been open since October 2020 for local bookings while they wait for international visitors to return. Besides finishing the new Backscatter Authorized Photo Center, they have also launched a coral garden project and a gardening project that provides food to the resort’s restaurants and staff.
Sister operations Murex Manado and Murex Banka have also been busy making improvements and adding new buildings, and the entire team can’t wait to show everyone their work and get back to diving with blue-ringed octopus, hairy frogfish and other exotic critters again as soon as possible.
Siladen Resort & Spa, one of our favorite dive resorts on the planet
Siladen Resort & Spa
For the team at Siladen Resort, it is a similar story. They have also kept busy during the enforced closures with renovation and maintenance works throughout the property. The already immaculate resort in Bunaken National Marine Park has added a new villa and boat to its fleet, and the staff continue to do regular beach clean-ups and other projects to keep the island beautiful and ready for when tourists return.
Both Siladen and Lembeh Resort have also been approved by the Indonesian government to act as official quarantine improved hotels, so while any quarantine measures remain in place, you can at least stay in the resort and take advantage of the excellent food and other facilities. Both companies were optimistic about a return to normal tourism in early 2022 and are more than ready to reopen as soon as tourist visas on arrival allow entry through Manado.
Daniele Marianelli of Siladen Resort is still smiling behind the mask
Pacific Fleet had a nice big booth displaying some excellent videos from previous guests
During the pandemic, Pelagic Fleet rebranded, bought in some new team members, and changed their name to Pacific Fleet. While some things have changed behind the scenes, the awesome Solmar V and Vortex boats remain just as popular as ever, and with Mexico open to travel, things are operating as normal for the team in Guadalupe and the Revillagigedo Archipelago.
Anyone who has been on the Solmar boat and dived with great whites, or with the giant mantas, and dolphins in Socorro knows that the Pacific Ocean south of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico offers some of the best big animal diving on the planet. New additions to their offerings include signature trips with special guests including world-renowned chefs and professional underwater photographers. They also have a self-propelled ocean cage that can be booked for special interactions with great whites unlike anything you’ve experienced before!
Fiji is back open for business from December 1st and Volivoli were there to let everybody know
Fiji is another destination reliant on tourism for the majority of its income, and things have been tough for everyone, as the country has been completely closed since the pandemic began. The good news is that the islands are finally ready to welcome tourists back and have announced that fully vaccinated guests can travel to the country without any quarantine as long as they present a negative PCR test on arrival. Despite the lack of business, our old friends from Volivoli resort were in attendance to announce their latest developments and take bookings for the Christmas period, next year, and beyond.
Owner Steve Darling happily gave me an update on what has been happening at the resort during lockdown. They have added a brand new camera room with 14 workstations that include international sockets and compressed air guns, plus a new media room that can accommodate up to 40 people for talks and other important presentations. The dive team has also been busy exploring close to the resort, and they now offer free unguided house shore dives, a game changer for those who want to spend as much time underwater and shoot some macro critters—as well as the coral reefs and sharks that Fiji is famous for.
They have also partnered with our friends at the best shark diving company in the world, Beqa Adventure Divers, to offer combo packages so that guests can dive further south in Pacific Harbour surrounded by giant bull sharks and other iconic shark species.
Members of Pacific Fleet discussing great whites at the Imaging Resource Center
Other Destinations of Interest
Aside from those mentioned above, other famous dive destinations were also well represented, and often supported by the respective country’s tourism board. The Philippines has suffered one of the strictest lockdowns anywhere on the planet, but well-known dive companies such as Atlantis Dive Resort and Aiyanar Beach & Dive Resort made the effort to attend and let people know they are ready for business as soon as travel restrictions are lifted. There were also multiple booths dedicated to resorts in the Maldives, the Bahamas, Bonaire, Mexico and the Galápagos, all destinations that are already open and happily accepting visiting divers.
Outside of the travel section, plenty of dive equipment manufacturers were present showcasing a huge variety of dive equipment such as full-face masks, tanks, compressors, BCDs and wetsuits, and anything else you may need to have fun underwater. Many of the big players, such as Scubapro and Fourth Element, chose to give it a miss this year, though, so the large booths full of the latest gear we are accustomed to seeing at DEMA were not as prevalent as at previous shows. PADI and DAN, unsurprisingly, had two of the biggest booths this year and had plenty of new announcements and programs to promote and discuss.
The PADI booth was one of the the biggest and busiest booths of the show
Official figures indicate that overall visitor numbers at DEMA 2021 were 40% below their normal rate. Still, we had a productive time reconnecting with old friends and colleagues, and still managed to keep busy during the four-day event. Although it was clear everyone had suffered hard times and some continue to struggle to survive, we left feeling positive that the worst may finally be over. We look forward to traveling and getting back to doing what we love most—taking underwater photographs of iconic marine life in some of the best dive destinations on the planet!
AOI Housing for Olympus OM-D E-M1 III
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