Assessing the aspects to create a memorable scuba diving experience
Wilson, Olivia Eléné
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The Experience Economy, developed by Pine and Gilmore (1998), elucidates the paradigm shift amongst consumers from wanting traditional service and product offerings towards seeking more specialised experiences. When investigating previous studies in the literature on the progression towards an experiential era, it was found that tourism experiences, more specifically memorable tourism experiences, can create sustainable benefits for many stakeholders, including tourists and destinations. With the rapid growth of scuba diving as a recreational tourism offering on a global scale, it is worthwhile to examine the aspects that could feasibly expand this industry even further. Scuba divers are known to be meticulous when selecting a dive destination, and it is, therefore, essential to investigate their demands for the lucrative and sustainable growth of this industry. It is apparent that many aspects of collaboration contribute to the creation of a memorable scuba diving experience, i.e. co-creation of experiences. Although a significant amount of literature on memorable tourism experiences exists, little to no research has determined the aspects important to divers that lead to a memorable scuba diving experience. To fill this gap in the literature, this study aimed to determine the key aspects important to creating a memorable scuba diving experience in a Southern African marine reserve. The aspects regarding the dive destination, dive site and dive operator were assessed. To achieve this aim, several surveys were conducted in the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve, Mozambique, between 2017 and 2018. Self-administered surveys were distributed among tourists who were visiting Ponta do Ouro to participate in recreational scuba diving, by means of convenience sampling. A total of 422 questionnaires were obtained during these surveys and included in the analysis. This study set out to achieve four objectives which also served as the layout of the study. The first objective, in support of achieving the study’s aim, included an assessment of the scuba diving industry and the characteristics of scuba divers by means of a literature review. The complex nature of this marine tourism activity, as well as its historical growth and evolution, were presented along with a detailed overview of the relevant stakeholders involved in the industry. The second objective was the critical analysis of memorable tourist experiences by means of a literature review – it was concluded that memorable tourism experiences could not be created without the necessary collaboration among stakeholders to meet tourists’ demands. This literature review further confirmed the gap on the topic of memorable scuba diving experiences from a demand side, highlighting the necessity of the present study. The penultimate objective was to identify, by means of an empirical survey, the profile of divers and the key aspects they regard as important for a memorable scuba diving experience. The socio-demographic profile of scuba divers who visit Ponta do Ouro, the relevant behavioural aspects and spending behaviour, as well as the extent to which these characteristics influence the factors respondents regarded as important for a memorable experience, were presented and discussed in detail. The methods of statistical analyses used in this study include exploratory factor analysis, t-tests, ANOVAs and Spearman’s Rank Order correlation. Descriptive results were also offered for the divers’ socio-demographic profile. First, the descriptive results presented in this study include a comprehensive socio-demographic profile of scuba divers who dive at Ponta do Ouro, as well as the individual elements they regard as important for a satisfactory and memorable experience regarding the dive destination, dive operator and dive site. Second, an exploratory factor analysis revealed nine factors that contribute to creating a memorable scuba diving experience. These factors are each relevant to either the dive destination, dive operator or dive site. They are (in order of importance) affordability and accessibility (dive destination), amenities and service (dive operator), marine and aquascape (dive site), conscientiousness and diligence (dive operator), environmental diversity (dive destination), reliability and astuteness (dive operator), temperate and reputability (dive site), variety and leisure opportunities (dive destination) and auxiliary offerings and credibility (dive operator). Third, multivariate statistical analyses (t-test, ANOVA and Spearman’s rank order correlation coefficient) revealed the specific socio-demographic, behavioural and economic traits that are considered most important to creating a memorable scuba diving experience. Although it was found that some socio-demographic components of scuba divers (i.e. gender, language preference, country of origin and level of education) offered some statistically significant differences with regard to the experiential factors, it was found that divers’ age does not influence this demand at all. The most noteworthy findings from the results obtained from the above mentioned analyses involved the radical influence that the scuba divers’ behavioural aspects, including the length of stay, travel group size and especially the level of experience and frequency of dives, have on the experiential factors. Scuba divers’ spending behaviour also offered some statistically significant differences with regard to the experiential factors – this makes it an important variable to consider when creating memorable experiences. The final objective was to draw conclusions from the results of the findings and make recommendations regarding the creation of memorable scuba diving experiences. The results of this study were interpreted in order to offer detailed recommendations and conclusions to all relevant stakeholders in the scuba diving industry, especially with regard to the dive destination, dive operator and dive site. Based on the results of this study, a framework for a memorable scuba diving experience is proposed that consists of demand-side needs (scuba divers), supply-side offerings (stakeholders), memorable experience factors, and control (continuous evaluation). This framework illustrates the interrelationship between the various stakeholders identified, and can ultimately be used and applied, not only by Ponta do Ouro, but also by other dive destinations. This research therefore contributes to the literature on the topic of memorable scuba diving experiences, and from a practical point of view, it offers insights to the relevant stakeholders. This research ultimately emphasises the importance of the collaboration of stakeholders at a dive destination in creating a memorable scuba diving experience.