The world of scuba has changed quite a bit since Peter Hughes got into diving in 1968. Back in those days, diving was perceived as a sport for macho types only, and divers not only had to deal with the challenge of the seas, but with the huge egos of the other divers onboard. Likewise, the boats were rough-and-tumble affairs lacking any service standards. Hughes decided to change those aspects of the experience, and since that time he has not stopped adjusting and improving the dive market.
Hughes was something of a visionary. He realized that dive was an increasingly mass-market experience--something that would one day appeal to luxury travelers of both sexes. That idea, of course, has become a reality. "It's an extremely broad market now," says Hughes. "Now you even see grandfathers taking their grandkids diving."
Changing the Industry
Hughes got into the live-aboard dive boat business in 1986, when he founded Peter Hughes Diving Inc. In 1990 he bought the Sea Goddess and began operating live-aboard trips to Providenciales (part of the Turks & Caicos). Beginning with this ship, he introduced radical changes to the industry by putting private bathrooms and showers in each cabin.
When Hughes entered the market, divers were content with dormitory-style beds and communal bathrooms, as long as the boats featured the basic dive elements, such as E-6 slide film processing (divers want to see their photos as quickly as possible), battery charging stations, video monitors and plenty of scuba tanks.
"My wife didn't like using the common showers and bathrooms, and I figured there must be a million people like her," he says. Hughes did his research on the dive market by looking at the cruise market. Seeing what cruisers wanted from their ships, he implemented luxury touches to his own fleet.
A Peter Hughes boat has air conditioning, en-suite bathrooms, hot freshwater showers, evening turn-down service, morning beverage service, terry-cloth bathrobes, fresh towels daily, open-air sundecks, audio and video entertainment centers, and gourmet full-course dining. With all these changes and improvements, it was no surprise that Hughes began getting married couples on his live-aboards instead of the typical macho men.
Though a Hughes live-aboard is comfortable, it is still for the diver who wants to make diving the focus of their vacation. Live-aboards get to some of the best sites because they are free to wander far from the ship's home base, and avoid the hassles of morning and afternoon returns.
"The entire image of the live-aboard needs to change, just as the image of diving has changed," says Hughes. "It's a much broader range of people who are [diving]. And it's not a situation where you're stuck in close quarters with people. On our boats you can go off by yourself."
That's not to say that the boats aren't geared to serious divers. But serious diving can, after all, be comfortable. And Hughes' state-of-the-art dive features, such as photography and videography labs, personal storage areas, wide platforms and free Nitrox fills make the fleet among the best in the field.
Currently, Peter Hughes has live-aboard boats at seven destinations. The fleet includes the Wave Dancer in Belize; the Sky Dancer in the Galapagos Islands; the Antares Dancer in Los Roques, Venezuela; the Sun Dancer II in Palau; the Star Dancer in Papua New Guinea; the Wind Dancer at Silver Bank (off the coast of the Dominican Republic); and, on the Turks & Caicos, the Wind Dancer at Grand Turk and Sea Dancer at Providenciales.
A typical seven-day Peter Hughes package includes all meals and beverages (including alcohol), airport transfers and five and a half days of diving (up to five dives per day). Prices vary according to destination. A sampling of seven-day cruise prices for the 2001 season include the Sky Dancer in the Galapagos from $2,695 per person double; the Sun Dancer II in Palau from $1,895; and the Wave Dancer in Belize from $1,795.
Live-aboards are often perceived as being exclusively for veteran hard-core divers. While it's true that clients should have a strong interest in diving, the live-aboard experience can be a great way to become a veteran. "Bring them to us, says Hughes. "They'll go from being nervous to confident, from being novices to being experts. We're going to treat them as guests, just like they'd be treated in a hotel or on a cruise ship."
Just as Hughes had reached out to a much broader market of consumers, he'd now like to reach more retailers in the distribution system. "We'd love to do more business through travel agents. The dive business can grow to a size it's never reached before if only it could get the travel agent involved.
"We have mutual interests," he adds. "They know their clients, and we know our boats. When a diver calls us direct, it takes 40 minutes to make the booking. When agents call, it's fast and efficient. These agents can call us toll-free anytime, and we'll help them make the sale. It's just like selling a cruise. They book the air, then just call us. We'll do everything else. And the commissions are fat, because it's all-inclusive."
Ruggia, James. "Live-Aboard Luxury." Travel Agent 301.1 (2000): 54. General OneFile. Web. 2 Nov. 2009.
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