School Groups and the diving business

Corri Clarke, PADI IDC Staff Instructor and Assistant Manager at Oonas for 9 Years, discusses here one of the more unusual groups of repeat guests and the benefits and challenges they present.

IMG_1564editCorri, can you give us a short background about Oonas?

As one of the longest established Diving Centres in Sharm El Sheikh, Oonas Dive Club is recognized for its relaxed and friendly atmosphere, set in the centre of one of the world’s most popular diving destinations. Guests return year after year to enjoy incredible Red Sea diving and the personal attention of our small team of professional and dedicated dive staff. Its charm and popularity are built around the unique combination of a dedicated Hotel and Dive Centre which are located right on the beach and set in a quiet corner of the busy resort of Na’ama Bay.

Why did you decide to focus part of your business to School Groups?

About 10 years ago, over a sociable après dive session, discussions with a diving guest and UK-based teacher explored the possibility of offering a special school trip to introduce school kids to the wonders of the underwater world. The following year, Oonas Dive Club welcomed the first of its many school groups, all booked on a specially constructed ‘Learn to Dive’ Package.

The event resulted in 30 newly certified divers enthused with their new found skills and the experience of visiting an exotic destination, happy teachers and a huge motivation for the dive instructors who enjoyed rising to the challenges of this new and unusual venture.

So, that’s the history. Since that time Oonas has hosted 15 different schools, (with many returning each year to continue their diving education) and issued over 500 certifications from Open Water to Rescue Diver. Groups sizes have ranged from 12 to 43 participants with students aged between 11 and 18 years old.

It’s a perfect solution for keeping the Dive Centre busy and the Hotel fully booked in what would otherwise be the more expensive school holiday periods which ‘regular’ divers are more inclined to avoid.

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How are School Groups normally organized?

With any large group, especially those involving schools, the key attraction is the ease with which things can be organized. The more that can be offered by way of support, the more likely teachers will be willing to take on arranging a trip.

To this end, Oonas entered into a collaboration with a previous guest and school teacher, who set up a UK-based agency offering bespoke Scuba Diving School Trips. The services offered by the agency include:

  • Presentations to schools and parents about the proposed trip
  • ABTA / IATA backed travel agency for booking flights and insurance
  • Templates for risk assessment and other formal documentation required by school governing bodies and authorities
  • UK payment facilities
  • Pre-trip delivery of PADI materials required for courses
  • UK liaison at all stages of the trip

This leaves teachers free to concentrate on encouraging participation and ensuring that payments are collected, rather than getting bogged down in bureaucracy and paperwork – a great relief!

What are the challenges you face?

One of the biggest challenges for any Dive Centre based in a more exotic destination, is convincing those in authority of the safety aspects of the activities and the location.  Good briefing documents, thorough Risk Assessments, Emergency Action Plans and the backing of the PADI teaching system, all contribute to this aim. References from previous school groups, excellent ratings on customer review sites and international awards are also an important part of promoting the Dive Centre’s reputation as a professional and reliable outfit.

Once the decision makers have been convinced, the rest of the challenges relate to organization and planning. Communication is key! Try to obtain as much information as possible beforehand – there is nothing more frustrating than running around on the first day trying to work out how many students will do each course. Clear and precise information about each student, ages, proposed courses, the date of last dive and number of dives logged (where appropriate), food allergies, date of completed medical forms etc. Never give up on this – it’s always that one piece of missing information that will be bound to trip you up on the day!

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It’s not just a holiday

Another important aspect is to promote the educational benefits of learning to dive in a foreign location. Scuba Diving is often seen as a relaxing pastime, with palm fringed beaches and hammocks, which doesn’t really fit with the learning and development objectives of a school trip. So, as well as making sure to promote the dedication and discipline needed to learn the skill of diving, emphasize the opportunities for cultural exchange, such as supper in a Bedouin encampment with experience of the traditional lifestyles and foods. Arrange a PROJECT AWARE evening with instructors all contributing to a presentation on the protection of our oceans, using Project Aware leaflets and materials. Quiz nights about local information, diving topics and marine conservation are great! An underwater clean-up dive can be very rewarding, or a shopping trip to the local bazaar with opportunities for interacting with local shop keepers and perfecting bargaining techniques – the resulting stories are hilarious.

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Dive the Plan!

Of course, we’re all fabulous at dive planning, logistics, timings etc. Well, for school groups apply the same principles but much more! Always build in extra time for unexpected eventualities. Apply low student:instructor ratios, allow time for remediation in the timetable (you will be so glad you did!) and keep to a planned schedule so that everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing at each point of the day. Have a debrief every day with staff and teachers to make sure everything is on track. Things that might seem minor, such as allocating spaces to groups for kitting and de-kitting can develop into chaos if not planned and communicated sufficiently.

What is so special about teaching school students?

So, is the extra effort really all worth it I hear you ask? Well after 10 years of welcoming school groups, I can definitely say a big emphatic YES!

The most amazing and motivating aspect is the transition you see as an instructor/teacher/manager, from students who arrive in a foreign country, slightly shy and often anxious about what they have embarked on, to responsible and confident divers, keen to discuss their experiences both above and below the water.

Ordinary diving guests have often remarked on their (unexpectedly) pleasant experiences mixing with a younger generation of divers, and teachers on their own diving holidays who have seen with their own eyes what a rewarding experience it is, have come back with their own groups in subsequent years.

The last night party and presentation ceremony is testament to the whole experience, with speeches from students and instructors, thank you gifts presented, friendships formed, group photos and a promise to continue diving in the future……….. oh, and a great big Egyptian buffet – what could be better than that 🙂

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For more information about arranging a School Group contact [email protected] or have a look at the following website: http://www.321dive.co.uk/