The Caribbean is famed for its diving. The crystal waters and abundance of underwater life supply a never ending oasis for the intrepid diver. Each year the region receives top recognition from industry leading World Travel Awards for having some of the best dive locations in the world (previous winners include Grand Cayman)
Caves, walls, wrecks you name it and you will find it in the Caribbean. Certain islands take diving more seriously then others take Aruba for instance, where this years 27th Annual Caribbean Tourism Conference (CTC-27) will be hosted. Aruba has implemented Coral Reef protection program’s for ten years now. Bonaire, its Caribbean neighbour has looked after its waters so well that all of the islands surrounding seas are national park! This allows for some of the best clarity and coral in the region. These diving conditions are vital in maintaining not only the aquatic eco-systems but also European visitors.
“Being a wonderful dive and snorkel island is really a great asset when it comes to European marketing. Let’s face it: when one has only the sun to sell, the worldwide competition is enormous. Europeans can choose Spain, Greece, Turkey or the Canary Islands. We welcome people from all over Europe on Bonaire for a diving holiday. They know our reputation and choose our island above all other destinations. And we are very pleased of course.” Commented Robert A. Bolhuis Bonaire’s European Director.
“Diving is important to the Bonairian economy, in the sense that tourism is important to the Bonairian economy. The European dive market is important for Bonaire, of course. We still see growth in attention and visitors from all over Europe.”
Diving is a joy to many, yet many people are still lacking the knowledge of marine conservation and proper conduct. It is not only the diver that must understand the importance of reef care but also the island population themselves. The Aruba Reef Care Project founded by Castro E. Perez, Aruba’s Ecotourism Project Manager and Dive Market Specialist, last year celebrated its tenth anniversary. Perez understands that the dive market is important to the tourism model on Aruba.
“Tourism is the largest contributor to Aruba’s Economy. It equals a 79 % contribution to government revenues. That is 40% of the GDP. 2/3 of the workforce is directly or indirectly involved in tourism. In other words tourism is very important to the island of Aruba. A very large part of the tourism market comes from the Dive sector. We find that a lot of European travellers come specifically for the diving, it is for this reason that we must secure and maintain our marine life.”
The Reef Aware project was entirely Castro’s own concept and initiative.
“I initiated the ARCP (Aruba Reef Care Project), 10 years ago. On my own initiative I decided to organise all of the dive operators and water-sport companies to be part of this annual awareness campaign. On a yearly basis we run a program involving several presentations for primary schools, high schools and junior college. We also produce these programs for the local service clubs, such as Aruba Rotary and Lions. We have not only concentrated on cleaning the reefs but also the tidying of all public beaches, and shallow waters. This has been a huge success! A great sign is that each year less garbage is collected, and also the amount of participants increases!”
It obvious that the dive business is big business in the Caribbean and Perez stress that all islands should have some form of initiative.
“The dive market is very important to tourism in the Caribbean, you must be aware that the beach and reef are USP of Aruba’s tourism product. I also consider that each island of the Caribbean must have some type of program in place. It might be an annual awareness campaign, or clean-up actions to protect its beaches, reef, marina’s and so forth.”