A Way to Pay It Forward and Make a Difference

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Like most PADI® Members around the world, you’re probably aware that the 2017 hurricane season wreaked havoc in the Caribbean. And in 2018, other areas suffered from natural disasters: earthquakes in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Taiwan; Super Typhoon Mangkhut hit Guam, Marshall Islands, the Philippines and southern China; plus there were 11 other typhoons and a list of other disasters. Every year, natural catastrophes devastate -different parts of the world, including some of the most popular dive destinations. Each event costs hundreds of lives and billions in US dollars of damage.

If you live in an unaffected area you can help those affected – especially your fellow PADI Members. Here’s how: Go there, and go diving. Better yet, set up a group dive trip and take everyone you can there with you.

I don’t want to make light of the -tragedy wrought by storms and other natural disasters. Rather, I’m pointing out that economic damage from lost tourism can often have a lasting effect on dive operators in these regions. To use the Caribbean as an example, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) reports that, overall, tourism accounts for 15 percent of the region’s gross economy – $56-plus billion US and 2.4 million jobs. But that’s the regional average – many islands’ economies are more than 25 percent tourism, with a few more than 90 percent! Lost tourism following the 2017 hurricanes is costing the Caribbean billions in US dollars beyond the physical damage costs.

Following a disaster, restoration has two stages: relief and recovery. Relief is the immediate aid to provide food, shelter, fresh water, medical supplies, etc., to the affected areas. Recovery is the much longer process of rebuilding businesses, structures, homes . . . and the economy, which is often the last to recover. That’s where dive travel comes in. The sooner tourism returns, the faster that part of the local economy rebounds, which also helps fund physical restoration. In many areas dive tourism is a significant part of tourism, and in some locations, it’s almost all of it. The more diving contributes to the tourist economy, the bigger diving’s role in recovery.

So, immediately after natural disasters, we can help by giving to relief organizations, and if able, by volunteering to go with these organizations to assist with relief. After, as things stabilize, we can help by restoring the diving portion of tourism. It’s important that we don’t stay away just because “everyone else is.” We find out what’s open and who’s still operating, and start going back as soon as possible. We spread the word.

Tourism and dive tourism often become functional again faster than the general public realizes. Using the Caribbean as an example again, although some areas and operators were and remain devastated, most of the top dive destinations are open and operational. Many dive operations that got hit hard are already back up. Others had very little or no damage and never really shut down, apart from the storms themselves. However, despite these facts, the WTTC predicts that it will be 2022 before visitor spending reaches pre-2017 levels.

Although I wish PADI and diving were big enough to knock down predictions like this single-handedly in every disaster-affected location, we’re not. But, with more than 130,000 professional members and millions of divers around the world we can sure make a difference and help recovery, just by going to these places to do what we love doing.

Good luck, good teaching and good diving.

Drew Richardson Ed.D.,  PADI President and CEO


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