Dive tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the tourism industry. Particularly for tropical destinations, diving tourism is of great economic importance. Diving tourism is also the main tourism activity on the Caribbean island St. Eustatius. However, tourism on the island needs further development in order to be an important economic pillar. As a result, the island authorities are developing a sustainable tourism master plan. This thesis contributed to this master plan by providing an analysis of the social practice of diving at St. Eustatius. This study created a better understanding of this important niche market on the island.
In order to create a better understanding of diving, this study used social practice theory. A practice is a routinized type of behaviour and consists of three elements: material, meaning, and competences. Studying diving with the use of social practice showed that diving is more than only enjoying the beautiful underwater world. Diving is about the experience of being in ‘another world’. The practice of diving enables divers to escape from their everyday life and enter a place where there is no pressure or stress from the outside world. Divers are able to escape to this ‘other world’ due to increased competences, safe and familiar equipment, and the support of the producers of diving. A high level of competence implies familiarity with the skills and the surroundings, which reinforces the feeling of being in ‘another world’. The dive equipment is also important: a feeling of safety and trust in the equipment helps the diver to relax and enter ‘another world’. The producers of diving are the stakeholders at St. Eustatius who can influence the practice of diving. For example, the dive centers have a positive influence on the practice of diving since they strive to reduce the amount of stress for the divers. Together with the ‘old Caribbean’ atmosphere at the island, this enables the feeling of being in ‘another world’.
In addition to the social practice theory, this research used participant observation and questionnaires to create a socio-economic profile of the divers at St. Eustatius. Most divers on St. Eustatius are from the Netherlands, United States or France, and are between 45 and 54 years old. Their level of education is high; almost all divers have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. The divers that visit the island are highly experienced, as most of them have dived for at least 10 years. On average, the divers stay for nine days on St. Eustatius, and dive approximately 11 times. Although diving is obviously the key activity for a majority of divers, 77% of the divers were also involved in other activities, such as hiking and visiting the historical monuments. The divers spent approximately between $2.000 and $2.300 per week for their stay on St. Eustatius. This is without the international flight to St. Martin.
For St. Eustatius, diving tourism is the most important tourism product. While the divers love diving and the diving facilities on the island, they also felt there were some improvements to be made. Based on the interviews and questionnaires it is recommended to:
- Invest in small-scale lodges - More accommodation facilities are necessary to develop tourism, but the kind of accommodation should correspond to the needs of the tourists.
- Create better flight connections - Without a better infrastructure it will not be possible to develop tourism.
- Increase tourist facilities and activities - More shops, restaurants, bars, and touristic activities are required in order to meet the needs of the tourists.
- Train hospitality workers - Training is mandatory to keep up with the competition of other Caribbean islands, and to make the service up to standard compared to the (relatively high) prices.
- Reduce the waste - It is necessary to find a solution for the waste problem before the amount of tourists and thus waste begins to increase.
- Involve locals - The sustainable development of tourism on St. Eustatius is impossible without the involvement of local residents, which now primarily depends on initiatives from people abroad.
Besides these recommendations, it is important for the island to maintain their unique selling points. The divers are attracted to the island by the tranquillity and the quietness. If St. Eustatius begins attracting new tourism market segments, this should not conflict with dive tourism. At the moment, the island allows divers to escape into ‘another world’. This is the essence of diving, and therefore it would be useful to attract the kinds of tourists who are also interested in the same aspects of the island that attract the divers. This would enable new market segments to coexist next to the diving segment, instead of endangering what makes the island so unique to divers.