Traditionally the business of diving has been rather different in Dahab to most other places. When this traveler arrived here in 2000 he found that; sick of the terrible reputation Dahab had acquired due to the many deaths in the Blue Hole; the authorities had tightened up the rules and all divers now had to dive with a guide, within a 30 meter depth limit.
This kind of draconian restriction may not appeal to many experienced divers – but it worked. Deaths all but stopped. Proof, if were needed, that the Blue Hole is not dangerous dive site, it’s what people did there that was dangerous! A generation of dive guides and instructors had embraced these rules and the safety standards throughout Dahab were generally at a very high level.
Many of the dive professionals were also a slightly different breed to other dive destinations. Not the 20 something party animals found in many similar diving towns; though there were still plenty of those around. Many were individuals with a professional background outside of diving who had decided to jack in the ‘normal’ life to live on a beach and do something they love! Basically, 30, 40, 50 and even 60 something ex-party animals!
It was in this environment and with these people that I learned about running a professional, environmentally aware, and safe dive centre. It became my goal to establish Sea Dancer as a dive centre whose quality and reputation was second to none.
Over the years some of these rules have changed (we go deeper than 30m these days!). The business of going underwater has evolved and diversified. Technical divers and freedivers have established Dahab and the Blue Hole in particular; with its almost unlimited depth possibilities straight from shore: as a world famous destination for their respective sports.
Everything was good! Business was booming! Then in 2011 the previous year’s ‘Arab Spring’ came to Egypt and a decade’s long tyrant was deposed by popular uprising. This in itself was not a bad thing, but the following years brought insecurity, instability and uncertainty to this land. Nevertheless, divers were still coming, business was no longer booming, but we were getting by.
Then disaster after disaster hit Egypt and Sinai in particular. Every week seemed to bring a fresh blow to tourism in our region. Without warning or explanation, the British Foreign office changed Dahab’s status from ‘safe’ to ‘essential travel’, ISIS rose in the Levant and destabilized the land route from Europe, terror attacks in neighbouring countries tarnished the whole area with negative news, lawlessness in north Sinai hit new heights and then, when the Russian airliner came down after leaving Sharm, tourism all but shut up shop.
Businesses in Sinai started to really struggle, rooms and restaurants were empty. Everyone was trying to survive on the few travellers that were still coming, but instead of maintaining proper pricing for the few hardy divers that made it to our little piece of paradise, some desperate dive centres started crashing rates to try to grab what little business there was. This sent prices spiralling downward. As a customer you may regard this as a good thing, but the fact is that quality diving and cheap prices do not work together.
The “stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap” mentality may well bring short term results but it will ultimately result in a drastic drop in quality for those who follow such a path, especially when it comes to replacing and servicing gear, tanks and compressors. If you don’t make any money, something will eventually give; you also run the risk of losing your quality staff as price pressures force wages down.
Some dive centres (ourselves included) have resisted being drawn into this price war so we can continue to offer quality diving and service for those who appreciate such things.
The result is that Dahab now has two tiers of dive centre, those who aim to offer the highest standards at reasonable prices and those who will do pretty much anything at any price to get customers. Some of these centres are offering open water courses cheaper than they were 17 years ago and Intro Dives are being done for less then we pay our instructors to take them. There has been a noticeable drop in standards around Dahab as OW courses are being compressed into two days, groups are getting bigger and safety is being compromised on a daily basis. At the same time, these centres are forcing divers wages down and down.
When I travel I always check out the diving operations in the area and it’s a sad fact that in many places cut throat competition has resulted in there not being a single quality dive operation to choose from. We don’t want this to happen in Dahab!
It’s a strange world, when you are being told by potential customers that your diving prices are expensive while they hold the latest iPhone in their hands. The fact is that our prices are comparatively cheap with the rest of the diving world and the difference in price between that iPhone and a decent smartphone would easily cover the little bit more that we charge to offer great quality.
Priorities I suppose? An overpriced Apple product is more important to many people than safe diving.
On a positive note, things seem to be on the up in Dahab. Tourists are returning, and many European nations are restarting flights to Sharm. We really hope that the British Foreign Office will follow suit and lift their restrictions on airlines, so that direct flights can return.
We are still here for those who share our passion for great quality scuba diving at fair prices … and if you can afford an iPhone as well, then great!
See you soon in Dahab
Manager of Sea Dancer. He likes loud music, scrabble and making sure the dive equipment is in perfect condition.