Reinventing Yourself For The New Normal –
by Gene Muchanski
Editor, The Dive Industry Professional
Without a doubt, the COVID-19 Pandemic is having a severe impact on businesses and individuals worldwide. The obstacles and challenges this virus put in our path is devastating. First of all, it caught all of us off guard and unprepared to handle this kind of crisis in a timely fashion. It changed the reality of many people who were happy with their way life in an economy that was experiencing unprecedented growth and prosperity for them. When the pandemic started, people either reacted to it or did their best to respond to it as intelligently as they knew how. That’s our two options in a crisis – Respond or React.
Reacting to a situation is the worst thing we can do as educated, intelligent human beings. Being swayed emotionally by misinformation and distorted half truths does little to help us solve the problems at hand. I am so ashamed of the people who first participated in hiding valuable information, distorting facts and figures, putting out misinformation and publicizing political “talking points” by finger pointing and false acquisitions. Thank goodness our country came together to rationally create a plan to deal with this monumental crises head-on. With truthful information, an honest attempt to defeat this pandemic, and a lot of hard work and sacrifice, we will defeat this awful virus. However, I don’t think we will ever get back to the old normal way of life. I believe we have crossed over into a “new normal” again. But a new normal doesn’t have to be bad. In fact it could be very good for us.
I don’t consider myself to be a social engineer or a political genius. I’ve spent my life in the scuba diving business and I like to stick to my knitting. We are still in the early stages of this global pandemic and we can already see the negative effects it is having on our recreation. At the very beginning, dive shows and travel shows had to be cancelled or rescheduled. That was a difficult choice by a number of show producers but an intelligent one at that. So many active divers are over sixty years old with a number of high risk health factors like compromised immune systems, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems. The good news is that the shows were cancelled. The bad news is that we had no back-up plan of action to conduct our face-to-face programs as digital events. Face-to-face marketing is a very important element of an integrated marketing campaign, and although it is a 20th century way of marketing it still could remain relevant in the 21st Century. I believe that dive and travel shows of the future will have a digital component to the event, complete with on-line programming, email and mobile participation combined with electronic and direct mail advertising.
Our travel partners are going through a very difficult time right now. Some of our Travel wholesalers are dealing with groups who are currently on their trips and maybe close to coming home. Some groups are wondering if their upcoming trip is going to get cancelled or shut down by an airline, a resort or a government order. Communicating with travel vendors and your diving customers has never been more important. People make better decisions when they have the necessary pertinent information. The Dive Industry Association polled their Members and received status updates on their situations, challenges and how they are coping with the virus. We have done our best to update our Shows & Events Calendar and our Dive Trips web page.
The diving industry grows or declines in direct relationship to the amount of revenue we generate through the sale of diving equipment, training and travel. The focus needs to remain on teaching people how to dive, selling them equipment, taking them diving and keeping them active. The way we move goods through our channels of distribution to our markets is not the issue. The important thing is that it gets done in a way that satisfies the buyers and sellers while keeping them safe.
If our recreation is to survive, it’s because our business community can adapt to the obstacles and challenges that the COVID-19 presents. As we learn to respond to new challenges in the future, we will grow in our ability to be more successful. Change is inevitable. Flexibility is essential.
A few things the industry has already learned is that constant communication with our customers is essential. If we want to keep our customers, we have to communicate with them through difficult times. Not knowing what is going on in an emergency is the worst thing for everyone concerned. Besides communicating with our business partners we need to respond quickly and decisively in an emergency. If we need to cancel an event, we need to do it quickly and reschedule as necessary. Many travel resorts, liveaboards and dive operators responded well to cancellations and have arranged credits and adjustments for their customers. That means people will use them again in the future without worrying if they are going to lose their deposits or payments. One of our Tour Operators has rescheduled a number of their group trips from the spring and are actually booking many more for next year and beyond.
A number of Retail Dive Centers are still operating and adjusting their schedules to serve their customers. e-Learning courses have increased and open water check outs have been rescheduled as necessary. Rental equipment is getting more disinfecting attention and simple things like disinfecting dive mask displays after each use is now standard practice.
The Dive Industry Association has partnered with Modern Postcard to conduct direct mail campaigns to verify our Retail Dive Store database and cross check it with our digital email addresses. We’ve learned that more sophisticated integrated marketing campaigns are now possible using 21st century technology. When face-to-face marketing becomes compromised we can easily shift to digital, telephonic or direct mail contact. In fact, Cathy Church, the famed Photographer and Photo Coach, just introduced a new underwater photography program she will be teaching from her studio in Grand Cayman, using SKYPE. SKYPE training is included in her course at no charge!
The time to start reinventing your business is now. Based on past health scares, I am confident this pandemic will run its course and come to a positive conclusion. In the mean time, we all need to prepare for the worse and plan for the best. Be safe by following the CDC guidelines and stay abreast of government alerts and warnings. And stay in touch with your vendors, colleagues and customers.