|Gorgeous underwater scenery and vibrant reef-dwelling marine life make Thailand a world-class dive destination.|
Perhaps more than any other sport, scuba diving generates the need to travel. And unlike skiing, which also engenders air and accommodations bookings, diving is a year-round pursuit. It is also a market that continues to grow.
According to 2011 worldwide dive statistics issued by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, certifications were up 0.8 percent from the prior year, and up 2.9 percent overall in 2012. About 67 percent of those certifications were for male divers, which means women still represent a healthy one-third of new divers. This rate has been fairly steady over the course of the last five years. All totaled, more than 20 million divers worldwide are PADI-certified.
While the Caribbean and Mexico offer myriad options for scuba divers of all skill levels and budgets, there are exotic underwater realms around the globe to tempt experienced divers—especially those among your more affluent clients—and generate lucrative bookings for you.
For example, the l’Oasis Luxury Space at Club Med Sinai Bay in Egypt, which has an onsite Scuba Diving Academy, provides access to the Red Sea. Known for its warm water, small waves and exceptional visibility, the Red Sea is home to more than a thousand species of fish and invertebrates (including clown fish, turtles, moray eels and reef sharks) and over 200 species of coral. Among other Club Med options that offer luxury accommodations in exotic dive locales are the Albion Plantation by Club Med, Mauritius, and Manta Luxury Space of Club Med Kani, Maldives.
Hard-core divers for whom luxury digs are secondary to bragging-rights-worthy underwater experiences might be tempted by G Adventures’ big-ticket 40-day Nairobi to Cape Town Adventure and 54-day Ultimate Africa programs. Both include opportunities for scuba diving and snorkeling in Zanzibar, where stunning coral gardens and more than 350 fish species await. Frequent sightings of hawksbill turtles, dolphins and white-tip reef sharks have been reported. Shorter itineraries that include the Tanzanian island, such as the five-day Zanzibar Discovery program, are also available.
Few destinations on the planet offer a better combination of luxury accommodations and extraordinary diving adventures than Thailand, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. Accessibility to diving in Thailand is convenient, by means of the international airport in Phuket. Gorgeous underwater scenery and vibrant reef-dwelling marine life make the North Andaman region a world-class dive site. Diving is possible at all times of the year, although visibility changes according to season. In the Andaman Sea, the best time is from October to April, and in the Gulf of Thailand from May to September. PADI Five Star Dive Centers can be found in Phuket, Phi Phi Islands, Ko Samui, Krabi and elsewhere in peninsular southern Thailand as well as Pattaya in the east.
Luxury digs in Phuket include Amanpuri, Six Senses Yao Noi, and Outrigger Laguna Phuket Resort and Villas, which recently unveiled 19 new self-contained suites. Dusit Thani, Le Meridien and Radisson Blu are among the other high-end resort brands in Phuket.
On Ko Samui, Outrigger Koh Samui Resort & Spa’s four Grand Pool Villas come with full sea views and are equipped with personalized and exclusive Yim Siam (Thai Smile) butler services. Banyan Tree, Six Senses, Four Seasons, Le Meridien and W also have luxury properties on the island.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef, stretching more than 1,600 miles and comprising over 3,000 individual reef systems and coral cays, and, of course, exceptionally abundant and varied marine life. Luxury accommodations here include Angsana Great Barrier Reef and the premium hotels of the Kiwi Collection.
Luxury hotel brands abound in the islands of French Polynesia, which offer a variety of exotic dive experiences. Tahiti has drop-offs of incredible depths that are peppered with small caves. In Bora Bora, divers are often greeted by gigantic manta rays gliding within arm’s reach. With its lack of strong currents, Moorea is ideal for beginners, while its deeper canyons attract more experienced divers.
Close to Home
The Caribbean is peppered with great dive sites convenient to luxury resorts. The Cayman Islands not only has a reputation as a premier dive destination, but it is only about 70 minutes by air from Miami, making it a convenient choice for a weekend dive getaway. There are more than 150 dive sites surrounding Grand Cayman, many of which are less than half a mile or just minutes from shore.
The island itself is surrounded by approximately 60 miles of drop-offs. A must for any diver or snorkeler to Grand Cayman is Stingray City, where divers can swim with more than two dozen “tame” southern stingrays. Wreck divers can explore the U.S.S. Kittiwake, a 251-foot, 2,200-ton, five-deck decommissioned naval vessel that was sunk off Seven Mile Beach two years ago.
|Diving in Red Sea in Egypt|
Top hotels on Seven Mile Beach, which all afford access to outstanding dive sites, include the Westin Casaurina Resort & Spa, which currently offers $100 dive credit and fifth night free; Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, which offers complimentary snorkeling lessons and complimentary use of snorkel gear; and Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, where guests get a $200 resort credit through April 30, 2013.
Dedicated divers who subscribe to Sport Diver magazine may wish to check out three other properties ranked among the “2012 World’s Best Diving and Resorts” by the publication’s readers. These are: Sunset House, which has five custom dive boats; Caribbean Club, with 37 spacious three-bedroom, three-bath villas; and Cobalt Coast Dive Resort, home to the award-winning Divetech center.
Also super close, the Bahamas is recognized for its great dive diversity. Of note are Benjamin’s Blue Hole; a bomber airplane used in the James Bond movie Thunderball; and Tongue of the Ocean, a deep canyon between New Providence and Andros islands. The Bahamas is also noted for shark diving and swimming with wild dolphins in their natural habitat.
Club Med Columbus Isle on San Salvador, less than an hour by air from Fort Lauderdale, offers “4 Trident” (out of five) deluxe accommodations and access to one of the top five wall diving destinations in the Caribbean.