September 18, 2012
Virtual dive operations
What is a virtual dive operation? Essentially an entity that doesn't really have a dive shop, doesn't have a dive boat, doesn't fill its own tanks, and may even "rent" some of its staff. Such an operation usually has at its center a talented organizer who has what it takes to arrange for all the necessary resources, make all the required connections, and just pull it all together.
The are different degrees of virtualism. Some virtual dive operations do have their own physical locale where they have dive gear, store tanks, and even sell some dive related items. But they may still "rent" dive masters, have their tanks filled elsewhere, and rely on arrangements for dive boats or space on dive boats.
I thought about all this after our (positive) experiences with a virtual dive shop in Cancun, Mexico. Scorpio Divers is a primary example of a virtual dive operation. When I first read about them at Scuba Board, there was much praise for them, but also much discussion about whether they were an actual shop. Some said yes, they did have their own boat and dive shop, others said not.
It's quite possible that virtual dive shops change, morph and evolve over time, with resources being added or subtracted. An operation may decide to actually go to have its own boat or rent actual office space. It's all quite fluid, depends on opportunity, dreams, individual drive, and the fabric of those who all participate. In a way, virtual dive operations are social networks.
How does a virtual dive operation work? It depends, of course, on having all the pieces in place. Without having everything required to create the appearance, and offer the services, of a real dive operations, there can be no business. But even the best organization cannot exist without customers, and that is where clever marketing comes in. The reason why we ever chose Scorpio Divers was because they were seemingly everywhere. They have a website, an actual email address, they are on Twitter, on Facebook, have an Apple iMessage number, a BlackBerry number and, of course, phone numbers. So they can be reached in a number of ways.
But even that is not enough for success. All to often, emails go unanswered, phone calls are difficult to make, and so on. Scorpio stood out by being ultra-responsive. When I sent them an email, within a very short time I get one back, with answers to everything I asked.
So what are the pros and cons of virtual dive operations for divers?
The pros are that virtual operations can be quicker, more flexible, and less expensive than conventional brick and mortar operations. We paid 20% less with a virtual operation than with the dive shop located at the resort (which really was a semi-virtual shop as well as they did not have their own boats, air or piers), and that included pick-up and drop-off at the hotel.
The cons are that instead of just walking over to your local shop, you have to wait to be picked up and brought back, the boat rides to dive sites can be considerably longer, and virtual operations live and die by how well the organization is run.