Where to go - DIVER HOLIDAY GUIDE 2002
The aftermath of the World Trade Centre attack saw a shift in travel habits - many tourists changed their plans and some decided to stay out of the air for the time being. But how have divers responded, and where are they looking to dive in 2002
How to pick the perfect buddy      Free-wheeling in the Med      Sur lautre côte      Komodos the buzzword      Still a great barrier reef      Avoid the donkey work      Trigger-happy      Smiles in the Summer Isles      The joy of mobility

Divers are a resilient lot. Not much puts them off. They seem more concerned that operators might cancel trips than the other way around.

So says Amanda Levick of Oonasdivers, an operator that more or less specialises in Red Sea destinations. She says that although people were initially cautious after the events of 11 September, it was very much back to business as usual by November.

There will be no price reductions, nor will there be any surcharges this year, which is following usual trends, with bigger groups already booking for later in the year, she says.

There will be some divers who are reluctant to travel to predominantly Muslim countries since the onset of the War on Terror, but once they look at the options, and realise that the vast majority of Muslims are a very friendly and welcoming bunch, it seems that most people are willing to carry on as normal.

Hedda Lyons, for Crusader Travel, an agent that sells a wide range of products and destinations, confirms that although initially the travel business had gone through a trough, because there were fewer flights now available, the shrunken range was already getting very full.

As far as the Red Sea is concerned, customers often ask about other destinations but when they hear the price of those destinations they quickly revert to their normal choice, she says. When it comes to other places, many people seem to have little idea of either geography or seasonal weather. So its back to the Red Sea, which will prove to be just as popular with divers, even if the overall total volume is down.

Its that overall volume that counts if youre thinking of travelling with a major tour operator. Thomson Holidays announced in November that it was cancelling its summer programme to the Red Sea due to falling demand. Weve made a number of changes and cutbacks, says the companys Rachel OReilly. 11 September had an impact on the whole travelling public, and the holiday market is extremely flat.

By contrast, the Red Sea will be strong next year, even booming, predicts the eponymous owner of diving specialist Tony Backhurst Scuba Travel. People will start taking the situation in their stride. He says that after 11 September he at first had to work hard persuading people to go to the Red Sea, but that a number later came back to say how glad they were to have gone.

If anything its safer, and the Egyptians are even more affable than usual, says Backhurst. But he adds that the crisis has put people on their toes and made them consider a wider array of destinations. You can go to places such as Mozambique and Pemba in Africa for a week without any jet-lag, and Malta is in for a bit of a revival, with some new wrecks to explore. He also reckons Caribbean destinations will benefit this year, especially among those people a bit nervous of going to the usual places.

Sun-seeking holidaymakers can be quite non-specific in their demands - a sun-lounger in Arenal might be just as attractive as one in Acapulco, providing the weather is good. On the other hand, divers usually want specific and often hard-to-get-to destinations, and it is whats under the water that counts.

Things seem to be carrying on as normal, says Hilary Lee of Divequest, which covers a number of destinations worldwide. And Michael Threlfall of Explorers Tours, which also offers global holidays, confirms that the Red Sea, specifically Sharm, is still Number 1 choice with his customers. However, he adds that: Manado in Indonesia [the worlds biggest Muslim country] is certainly Number 2 and gaining in popularity as its equally good value, and that enquiries about trips to Bonaire and Cura&65533;ao in the Caribbean are on the up.

Manoly Griffiths from The Barefoot Traveller is more insistent that things had changed. Destinations in the East have completely dropped off, with customers asking for packages to the southern Windward Islands, Grenada and Tobago, in the Caribbean, she says. People seem more confident about going to the Caribbean, though not if they have to connect via the USA.

The islands of the Maldives have become the second most popular destination for European divers in past years. So has Sam Harwood of Maldive Scuba Tours and Scuba Tours Worldwide noticed any decline in bookings Demand for liveaboard diving in the Maldives has grown so much that we have invested in another vessel, she says.

I think the Maldives might have benefited from reduced demand for the Red Sea, and although it is certainly a Muslim country, it relies exclusively on tourism. There cant be many safer places to holiday in right now!

Jim Breakell of Scuba Safaris votes for destinations such as Chuuk and Bikini, famous for their wrecks, and Cocos and Galapagos with big animal action for the minority who can afford such luxury getaways.

We have conducted our own straw poll among divers we meet around the world. The Egyptian end of the Red Sea seems likely to remain the favourite among divers. Its such good value that few other places can compete, and the popular destinations are likely to be less crowded than usual, certainly with non-divers. Manado in Indonesia is attracting value-seekers too, and once they get a taste of this type of diving, more esoteric destinations such as nearby Komodo seem to be put high on divers wish-lists, even if those wishes arent always fulfilled.

There are so many reasons for Brits to go to Australia that adding a diving trip to a one-off trip of a lifetime seems the obvious thing to do. And we believe that the Sea of Cortez to the west of Mexico offers a more economical alternative to the islands of the eastern Pacific, provided youre prepared to accept that there is less of a guarantee that the big stuff will turn up on cue.

Of course, the Mediterranean remains Europes summer playground, and divers can still enjoy first-rate diving and gin-clear visibility in any of its island destinations. Malta remains the firm favourite with British diving clubs, probably because it still displays its former strong ties with the UK.

And for those who prefer to stay closer to home, Scotland and Ireland both offer great diving. If you fancy that sort of diving but combined with a little more ooh la la, northern France could be even closer for many of us.


looking out for dolphins on a liveaboard on Australias Great Barrier Reef.

In holiday mood in Scotlands Summer Isles

Starfish, sea potato and calcified red seaweed provide colour in Malta

Inside the wreck of the Carbonelle on a cross-Channel break in France.


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How to pick the perfect buddy      Free-wheeling in the Med      Sur lautre côte      Komodos the buzzword      Still a great barrier reef      Avoid the donkey work      Trigger-happy      Smiles in the Summer Isles      The joy of mobility