Liveaboards vs Land Based, marketing & digressions

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Doc

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From another current thread in this forum, asking about liveaboard diving distinctions between Belize and Roatan, I expand on this, because I think it requires larger, wider view.

It’s an ongoing and never ending question.

I’ve been doing dive travel both ways since 1968, so if you’re clever, you’ll know I’m old. I will thusly begin to ramble.

Take this post as “a whole”. Don’t latch on to one phrase and go all bull-goose looney. That’s too easy. Don’t get distracted by Dunning Krueger. With perspective comes perspective.

This post is all about marketing. When it’s done right, we don’t know it’s happening. The dive industry does not have the skills of CocaCola or even Buick. They are ham handed, but who doesn’t like bacon..

First we must assume you want a dive vacation, not a vacation with diving. What do you really want? Be honest. Land based: Club Dread with comely GOs vs Dive Camp. Or Liveaboard (LOB) schooner full of grog filled buccaneer Diver men...or a floating horizontal metal hotel with Julie and Gopher?

Land based, you can venture outside the fence and get an education. LOB you can understand projectile vomiting. Each has its attractions.

A liveaboard’s greatest utility is to take you to dive sites unreachable by land based. Most LOB offerings no longer provide this.

When LOBs first began widespread use, in the 1970’s, we used them to see and explore those far-flung exotic places like the Nassau and Grand Bahama. Then, newly invented land based competition from UNEXSO forced the liveaboards to move further afield.The exotica of Nassau town faded. James Bond notwithstanding, they still are selling that and the Famous Stewey’s Reef Canned Shark Rodeo. Let’s see the Bahamas out islands. (An excellent use of a liveaboard, still!)

In 1972, know that Cayman was pretty exotic, just short of Kathmandu or Timbuk3.

We dove (the 80s) with the Hughes Antares III off of Los Roques VZ. It opened these crazy good Caribbean dive sites by the simple act of providing access as there was no land based dive infrastructure. Unfortunately at their home port base of ops, the supply line was stretched unmanageably thin. No comestibles, no mechanical components. Boats require “stuff”. There was no supply train, no logistic chain. Even the air connections were dubious. Great diving, it failed.

The NEKTON wanted to invade Roatan in the late 80’s but the ongoing chain-of-supply continuity issues were a deal breaker. They went to Belize instead. LOBs can either try to maintain a physical standard in “the boonies”, or move closer “to town”.

Dive travelers have overall lost their sense of adventure. The internet encourages commentary and nothing demonstrates how suave and wise that you are than well reasoned experiential basis. In the early years we reveled in the parts of the storied trip where things went horribly wrong. Now we turn to Yelp.

Belize is the Caribbean shining example of LOB superiority if you came to dive. LOB’s present no bashing about in dive boats, expansive access to otherwise the highly localized “same reef structure” that each local land based does repeatedly. You even get the Blue Hole, bless your heart.

I look at the Roatan LOB in a similar light as the ships that plied Grenada and Tobago. If I can get the same specific dive sites at land based pricing...why would I spend a week on a converted oil rig crew boat? They’re all deep vee refits, the one Caribe exception is the Aqua Cat which has its own physical limitations. A boat is a boat. You may well notice it moving to some degree.

On Grenada, you dove the exact same sites as land based. There is phenomenal diving on the NE shore, but the LOB stayed hovering by civilization (SW) and sea condition safety. On Tobago, they picked you up in town and stayed just off shore of my grass shack, land-based adventurous-looking diving. Many times I have carried tanks thru the Speyside surf seeing a LOB bobbing offshore. Poor devils.

Are not LOBs the ultimate AI? You don’t have to worry about any pesky natives, insects, or pesky natives. Cruise Ships and LOBs, “splendid isolation” (thank you Warren Zevon)

The Roatan history of LOB attempts is very telling and indicative of operational difficulty. The supply chain was essentially non existent until recently. Now that this has been resolved, a business must deal with the crippling machinations of “taxation” (outright larceny) by every level of Honduran government and extant power structure.

The big draw for Roatan LOB has always been (the promise of) increased opportunity of access to far flung and diverse dive sites. (Different reef architecture) The bugaboo has always been weather and fuel cost (if you now got past food and machine parts). To dive anything other than Roatan’s protected South side is simply not guaranteed. Utila, maybe. Cayos Cochinos, less than maybe. What’s the holy grail? Cisne/Swan. It’s a long steam across open ocean. Then the taxation (usery & graft) fees kick in- it’s only been reached by LOB once.

It is widely accepted the the first Caribbean LOB was the Isla Mia running out of Roatan. Finding your way to Roatan in 1979 aside, now your getting on a wooden boat-shaped thing out even further away from dirt...much less pavement. This might have been the last great adventure, you and Neil Armstrong.

Liveaboards can really open up a zone to diving. When they chose to operate from a port that guarantees reliable provisioning, their value in “exploration” has come to an end. The world has arrived, it’s time to move on...or invent a different sales model.

The modified SCUBA travel sales presentation utilizes the featuring of hollow nutrition candy bars. Yummy sugar but really not much. In the Belize example, you can not find an advert that doesn’t feature the Blue Hole...with a photo from 5,ooo feet above in a plane. Thrilling image, but it’s simply not what you’re going to experience. LOB is the single best way to dive the Belize Blue Hoke. You “can’t not go”, but likely it’s one-and-done. I was there shooting film (real film, to give you an idea of the era), and I can not express how meh it was. Never been back, no thanks.

Roatan’s version of this? Mary’s Place. SDM tells me it’s in the Top 1 List of Dives on Roatan. It’s draw: It is a dark deep narrow crack in the reef structure that looks way different than any other thing on Roatan. Not dissimilar to fascination with “wreck” dives...oooh...a shape, and one that I recognize! Mary’s Place is a wonderful dive site, but for many reasons, 99/100 divers will simply not get to see “the cool stuff”.

Like the Blue Hole in Belize, Roatan’s Mary’s Place...they sell. Hollow calories.

Starting in the 70’s I dove a place we called Truk. Kimeo Isaac in a rowboat. Went inside the Shinohara Maru. Then in the 80’s I did a LOB to Chuk, kept safe by good idea new rules....there to watch some fellow diver (was going to say “idiot”, but I didn’t) he was grinding his wrist Mount in the sand under the steamroller to get that maximum depth reading. You know that place? Got what he wanted.

Some people have a different view of the reason (need, value) of a dive. Is the LOB going to allow me the imprimatur log book card, been-there-dove-that ticket punch? Have whatever you need, but admit and realize that you were sold it with the offer of a Happy Meal.

It is even observable in the land based environment. The definition of a “dive vacation” has changed inarguably over the years since 1980 when it started booming. On Roatan, most visitors stay and dive West End. Of those who dive, most do about 6, even if they bought a 10 dive ticket. Some get them all, not many. My favorite, CCV, lures with the promise of unlimited diving. I still do 27/wk, but not many do more than 17. Yet they are lured by different things, the West End visitors and CCV divers. The psychology is varied. How dare you say I am not a Hondo Diver?

The afterglow from a dive vacation is palpable. The corona from a LOB is quite expected. Best thing ever. Always are. Can’t miss. Perfect. Check back with me after you’ve been around, many and far flung.

I am so ________ that I prefer the Galapagos as land based. After five LOBs and ten land based, what’s the word in that blank? Jaded? Experienced? Deluded? Dunning-Kruegered?
 

drrich2

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With the Galapagos, I suspect you appreciate some of the non-diving aspects topside. It's a special place. I like both land-based and live-aboard. As you say, live-aboards in some places offer selective access - Belize, Turks & Caicos, the Galapagos (Wolf Island and Darwin's Arch), or make diving over a larger range easier (I hear this is true in Komodo National Park). In the Caymans, if the weather cooperates, it's the chance to dive mainly Little Cayman, 2 dives on Cayman Brac (the big wreck) and a few off Grand Cayman in one simple trip.

It still feels odd to me I got 18 dives off Little Cayman, 2 off Brac, and never set foot on either island (Cayman Aggressor IV - we did 5 off Grand Cayman). Land-based feels more like I 'connected' to a place a little.

Live-aboards can be pretty pricy if you don't catch a sale (I'm talking about the cush experience, not 'camping at sea' as described with Blackbeards in the Bahamas).

I like the simplicity of live-aboards; no worrying over what restaurant to eat at or whether I have reservations, gassing up the vehicle, finding my way around driving (maybe on the wrong side of the road), lugging gear (and if shore diving Bonaire, tanks) around, and even the socializing is easy - a group of happy travels with a shared passion eager for everyone to have a good time, often with an eager-to-please crew. Set my BCD/BP-W up on the tank once...don't take it off till week's end. Very nice.

One caveat; diving using pangas in the Galapagos, handing up a weight belt and getting out of my BP-W and tank in the water before boarding was a bit of a hassle. Live-aboards aren't all equally easy.

Live-aboards - all in one, very easy once on the boat. There is a set schedule; you don't have to do all the dives and can lounge around...but you probably won't be going far.

Land-based offer more of a connection with the, well...land. More options to customize your trip - a variety of restaurants in some cases, shore diving in others, beach time if that's your thing, joy riding around the island...and relaxing in a room not reminiscent of a walk-in closet (note: not all live-aboards, buuutttt...).

And that's if I'm traveling alone just to dive. Otherwise...I enjoyed watching our little girl feed French fries to tarpon off the boardwalk in Christiansted, St. Croix, or see the (non-alcoholic) beer-drinking pigs. Pose with a dolphin at the Sea Aquarium in Curacao. Or head out with my wife and mother-in-law while I dove with sharks in Jupiter, FL.

I'm blessed that I got to do both. Had some special experiences.
 

Damselfish

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From another current thread in this forum, asking about liveaboard diving distinctions between Belize and Roatan, I expand on this, because I think it requires larger, wider view.

It’s an ongoing and never ending question.

Take this post as “a whole”. Don’t latch on to one phrase and go all bull-goose looney. That’s too easy. Don’t get distracted by Dunning Krueger. With perspective comes perspective.
Kind of hard to take this post as a whole when it’s so long.

You’ve made it plenty clear over the years that you don’t see the point of liveaboards, except maybe in certain specific situations that meet your criteria. Great, do what works for you. Other people have different criteria and opinions that you pretty much dismiss as invalid, and generally mock. Maybe it’s time to get over it?
 

tursiops

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Old Man Ranting. I'm old too, so I can say that.
Assertions, not facts. For example:
A liveaboard’s greatest utility is to take you to dive sites unreachable by land based. Most LOB offerings no longer provide this.
I'm happy for you that you think you have been everywhere and done everything and have total perspective worth passing on.
 
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rick00001967

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and i thought i was sarcastic. haha

i have never done a LOB. i always thought it would be a good option if i was looking to do another solo trip as most land based trips charge a hefty fee if you are on your own. but it has not happened yet.

the cost of a couples trip just does not seem justified in many cases. the LOB trips i see are really expensive compared to what we normally pay for a holiday. but then again, most so called "dive vacations" i see advertised seem grossly over priced. it has always boggled my mind how and why people would pay the king of money they do for some of these trips.

that said.....i totally understand there are some exotic locations that most people would never be able to plan and arrange all the details for a trip there, so it is just easier to pay the going rate for someone to do it for you. i am sure there are some awesome, once in a lifetime trips out there.
 

scubadada

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I have been on far fewer liveaboards than many of you, and started later in life. Now, I simply can't conceive of having missed out on some of my most memorable dives, Brothers and Daedalus in the Red Sea, Cocos, Wolf, Darwin and some other sites in the Galapagos, and the Revillagigedos. Covid delayed my visit to Malpelo, I hope to make it this July :)
 

drrich2

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the cost of a couples trip just does not seem justified in many cases. the LOB trips i see are really expensive compared to what we normally pay for a holiday. but then again, most so called "dive vacations" i see advertised seem grossly over priced.

This is worth unpacking. The total cost and value-for-dollar angles.

1.) With a live-aboard, if you're willing to be roomed with a same sex stranger, there's often no single supplement, unlike a land-based resort (where packages are often priced assuming 2 divers; particularly true in Bonaire where the expense of a rental truck is often part of the package). At a hotel that's not part of a dive resort, the room cost may not vary much with how many people pack in, so if there are 3 or 4 of you who can get by with 2 queen beds (and maybe a sleeper sofa?), you can cut costs down.

So yes, live-aboards can be cheaper for solos, but if not solo you don't get the savings of land-based options. But check; CocoView Resort's single supplement is pretty cheap!

2.) There are budget options for those who really want them. Blackbeards is well-reviewed with the caveat it's called 'camping at sea.' Topside there are hostels. And there are shades of gray.

3.) Total trip cost is NOT the same as Total Trip Cost/# of Dives. Are you after a budget trip, or budget cost/dive? A land-based trip package with 5 days of 2-tank morning boat dives (a popular package) may be cheaper than a 7 day live-aboard offering potentially 27 dives. Which is the better value for you?

4.) Try not to pay list price on live-aboards. Definitely not in the Caribbean. Wait for sales, but as Doc mentioned in another post, watch that sales don't lock you in to dates in bad weather seasons (e.g.: hurricane season).

5.) Some land-based destinations don't offer the option to pack the total # of dives into a week that a live-aboard may. Some do.

6.) When comparing, be mindful to pack in the full destination cost. Rental vehicle, food (especially if you eat out), etc... How much is your time and effort worth to you?
 
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rick00001967

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3.) Total trip cost is NOT the same as Total Trip Cost/# of Dives. Are you after a budget trip, or budget cost/dive? A land-based trip package with 5 days of 2-tank morning boat dives (a popular package) may be cheaper than a 7 day live-aboard offering potentially 27 dives. Which is the better value for you?

this is something i think Doc was pointing out in his post as well. are all those possible dives of any value to the average diver ? for some, absolutely. for others, not so much.
offering my wife and i 27 dives in a week for example is of little value to us. we usually go away for 2 weeks at a time. there is no way we would want to dive that much. that would be 54 dives each in 2 weeks. heck, that is usually what i do in a year.

even with many land based packages they will include x number of dives per week plus "unlimited" shore dives for example. how much does the traveler value the possibility of all those dives.

adding free nitrox is another one. to many this is a true savings because they always dive nitrox and are used to paying some absurd price for it. but to others that are perfectly happy diving air, where is the value ?

so i totally agree there is a difference between comparing the total cost of a trip vs the cost per dive. for us, the trip has to be within a strict budget. so if the cost per dive is less that is great, but if the total cost is above our budget limit, then it is a non starter.

for us canadians i think things may be different as well. not only do we have to account for an extra 30% exchange (depending on the rate at the time) but we also seem to have more package options that included air fare. where as most, if not all, the dive vacations i see advertised to mexico or the carribean, typically do not include the flight.

as an example.....i typically see "deals" at about $1000 usd per person per week. this might include 10 boat dives plus unlimited shore dives (in some locations) and maybe breakfast each day. so thats $4000 usd and it does not include food or flight.

for us, that would be over $5000 dollars plus an average cost of $1000 to $1500 for 2 flights. so we are already at $6000 to $6500 (which is way over our budget) and we have not eaten yet. haha

put simply.....i have yet to see a dive package that i cannot beat the TOTAL price on when we include all the things that WE believe we need to have a fulfilling holiday.
 

Doc

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First: thanks to all for reading, special thanks to all who take the time to respond. The sharing of reasoned opinion is key.

Second: will you allow me to “re-title” this?

The original intent and usefulness of Caribbean Liveaboards has now been supplanted by expanded Land Based Options. How does a LOB present itself in marketing to maintain their perception of value?

I have been on far fewer liveaboards than many of you, and started later in life. Now, I simply can't conceive of having missed out on some of my most memorable dives, Brothers and Daedalus in the Red Sea, Cocos, Wolf, Darwin and some other sites in the Galapagos, and the Revillagigedos. Covid delayed my visit to Malpelo, I hope to make it this July :)

bingo

What I was saying: using LOBs for the otherwise unreachable. That is what they were originally for.

That “bar” has been changed by resort land based development, forcing LOBs to “sell” themselves with hype.

I am NOT anti-liveaboard. Just watching them change their marketing to survive competition by using the method of “differentiation”.

Hot towels after every dive. I’m in.
But I’ve been around the block...what are you really giving me for this “premium ($) experience”?
 
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