Thu, 29 May 2003

Indonesia offers great diving potential within region

Pariama Hutasoit, Contributor, Tulamben, north Bali

In the eyes of a professional diver, Indonesia is pure heaven for diving and other marine sports.

"The country, with its thousands of islands, has extraordinary marine assets and underwater potential," said vice president of sales, marketing and distribution for PADI Asia-Pacific Region Claus C. Nimb. PADI is one of the world's largest dive training institutions, with dive centers worldwide.

"It is incredible that Indonesia has abundant potential for diving, but has yet to develop it," Nimb said.

As compared with Thailand, he said, Indonesia is far richer. "Thailand has only 21,000 kilometers of coast, yet the country's diving industry has developed as one of the world's dive centers," he said.

Similarly, Malaysia is now concentrating on its marine sports and diving industry in the formerly disputed islands of Sipadan and Ligitan, Sabah.

"Thailand's diving industry is five times the size of Indonesia's. Malaysia is also fast developing its marine tourism, including diving," Nimb said.

In Thailand, PADI Asia-Pacific has issued 45,000 to 50,000 professional diving certificates, excluding those obtained by foreign tourists in that country. In Indonesia, on the other hand, only 18,000 certificates are issued annually, comparable with the total issued at just one diving destination, Phuket, Thailand, he said.

Around 75 percent of the 18,000 certificates were issued in Bali and Lombok islands. According to the respected magazine Rodale's Scuba Diving, Bali ranks as the fourth-best diving site in the world.

Malaysia, Nimb said, developed its diving industry from scratch. Citing an example, he said 10 years ago there were only a few dive operators in Sipadan and Ligitan islands in Sabah, Malaysia's foremost diving centers. "At present, there are so many professional dive operators on these two islands," he said.

The story behind the success in developing dive sites in Sabah lies mostly in supporting facilities, including cultural and natural attractions, plus well-equipped infrastructure.

Bali, he said, already possessed a rich culture and traditions, in addition to its excellent natural resources.

"This would represent value-added potential for a diving center anywhere in the world," he explained. There are always occasions when divers are not able to dive due to the weather or for other reasons.

"We are passionate to train more people as professional divers and dive instructors here in Bali and Lombok ," Nimb said.

In addition to Bali and Lombok islands, Indonesia still has many beautiful dive sites, such as Tulamben in north Bali, Wakatobi, Southeast Sulawesi and Togian island, Central Sulawesi.

Other dive sites in eastern Indonesia are Komodo island in West Nusa Tenggara; Riung, Flores and Alor island, East Nusa Tenggara; Padaido near Biak and Raja Empat, both in Papua.

According to Nimb, Indonesia will reap tremendous profit if the country develops and manages its diving industry in a proper way. Growth in the diving industry is set to average 40 percent per year.

Every year, PADI Asia-Pacific issues around 200,000 diving certificates for divers in the region, and 1 million certificates worldwide. The company's Asia-Pacific region has about 15,000 members including divers, instructors and resorts.

Other international dive training institutions, such as ADS, NAUI and CMAS also issue diving certificates. It is estimated that there are 18 million active and professional divers around the world.

Financially, most divers are likely to spend a lot of money at each diving destination. PADI reckons that each diver spends about US$2,500 per trip.

Cipto Aji Gunawan from Aquapro dive center, Bali, said that each diver in Bali would spend about $100 per day, with average stays of four days to five days per trip.

Promotional activities and campaigning must be started aggressively. "The construction of basic infrastructure is also necessary," Cipto added.

Nimb, however, realized that Indonesia, including Bali and Lombok, now faces difficult times.

"The ongoing economic crisis, plus unfavorable social and political conditions, have hampered the domestic diving industry."