Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Investing in niche markets

This is the leading article published on today's issue of The Malta Independent, of which I am editor:

The Malta Tourism Authority yesterday announced that it would be scuttling two wrecks within two years to supplement diving attractions around Malta.
This is very welcome news to the local diving community, but the benefits are much more far-reaching. Let us look at money first. Malta is known to be one of the top diving destinations in Europe, if not the world. We have clear blue sea with great visibility, and abundance of wildlife that belies the expression ‘the dead Med’ and we have a great climate which allows diving all year round.
Malta already has the reputation of a top diving destination with the jewel in the crown being the Um el Faroud wreck which was scuttled in Zurrieq. There are plenty of natural dives, including reef dives, cave dives and nature dives. But the most popular form of diving attractions are, without a doubt, wrecks. 
Malta is also blessed with several ‘natural’ wrecks which were sunk during WWII, but most of these are at a great depth and are only available to tech-divers who dive on mixed gases. The bulk of divers are recreational divers who do not usually exceed 40 metres depth. 
The MTA sunk two wrecks in 2007 and 2009 – two former patrol boats. One is in Cirkewwa and the other near Comino and both have proved to be very popular with local and foreign divers who visit Malta for sport.
Malta currently attracts some 60,000 divers per year, but the figure could be so much higher. Just like with all our other attractions, the dive sites are all within an hour’s travelling distance and it is possible to dive two sites in one day.The weather, as we have mentioned, allows for diving all year round and it does actually happen. One of the boats, an as yet unnamed tug, will be scuttled off Exiles point in Sliema. In all probability it will not be a shore dive as traffic is rather dense in that area and would, most likely, be sunk further out to sea to become a boat dive.
The other vessel, former AFM patrol boat P33, is set to be scuttled in 2012 at an as yet undisclosed location. Of course, the scuttling is pending approval by Mepa. But like other wrecks, if they are correctly sited and avoid damaging posedonia meadows, then they will be teeming with life within a couple of years and will become artificial reefs.
But while we have a gem of a product, we must fine-tune it and the authorities must listen to divers. While there have been attempts to improve facilities for divers, these have largely been restricted to entry points – in other words, where they get into the water. But we must provide more than shiny handrails and ladders. We must continue to invest in this sport to gain maximum results and to continue to boost the numbers which come here. Simple measures such as putting up a canopy to allow shelter from the blistering sun (or rain) when divers are kitting up and showers for divers to rinse themselves and their kit, would be a welcome start. We must also continue to advertise our product. TV spots are important, but the diving community is a diverse one and the opportunities we can tap into by having a dedicated online presence to present our underwater riches to those who are actively seeking information is imperative.

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1 comment:

  1. Very nice blog, your decription of the dives is fantastic. I´ve dived most of these dive sites and love to do the Faroud again and again and again... it is always a nrew dive :)



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