Interview: Peter Hughes on dive travel

Peter Hughes in the Galapagos/

Peter Hughes has been synonymous with dive travel for over 25 years. The Peter Hughes/Dancer fleet has offered live-aboard diving to a huge number of people, and is one of the most recognized brands within the scuba travel marketplace. What is perhaps less well known is that Peter sold the company in 2008, and is now the head of a new entity, the DivEncounters Alliance (DE). This was set up to bring a variety of individually owned but philosophically similar live-aboard vessels together under one “roof”. Peter’s history is, in many ways the history of dive travel, in which most of the Wetpixel community are a part of too. Wetpixel caught up to him to ask about how he views the dive travel market, and how he sees underwater inmate makers fitting in to it.

Wetpixel: So where did it all begin?

Camp Crusoe, Batteaux Bay, Speyside, Tobago (at a age of 10 years. Editor’s note)!

Wetpixel: How long have you been in the dive travel business?

On a full time basis since September 1968.

Wetpixel: Can you remember or count the number of dive operations that you have founded or started up?

Eight land-based dive resorts between 1968 and 1990 and 13 live-aboards between 1986 and 2008 when I sold my company, to the best of my memory.

Wetpixel: What is the future for dive travel?

I think and hope that dive travel will at least remain constant, even if it doesn’t grow aggressively, as we have seem some stagnation over the past decade. I also think we need to court the attentions of the world’s retiring baby boomer population and get as many of them possible into diving as quickly as is possible. They are generally in the target demographic so we need to show them that diving is something they can enjoy with their kids and even grand kids for years even into their old age.

Wetpixel: What is the biggest challenge for dive travel operators?

My opinion is that the “monkey see, monkey do” phenomenon has lead to supply exceeding demand. This is leading to price wars, which are good for the consumer only in the short term as, in the long term, something must suffer in the quality or safety of the delivery of the end product

Wetpixel: You set up and owned Peter Hughes Diving and the Dancer fleet for over 25 years. What made you decide to move on?

That 25 years was the greatest 25 years anyone could ever ask for but at the age of 60+ years old and seeing the changes in the market taking place, especially over the last 5 years before the sale of my company, I felt it wise to get out from under the burden of ownership as it comes with gigantic responsibilities to others …

Wetpixel: Do you take photographs underwater?

Not since the mid 60s to early 70s.

Wetpixel: OK, so what cameras did you use then?

First a Calypso camera and flash then a Nikonos II camera & flash.

Wetpixel: Underwater image-makers often find that diving alone is more productive for them, how do you feel about this?

I personally enjoy solo diving but this issue is not an easy one for operators due to the ever present liability considerations.

Wetpixel: What is you view on solo diving?

Personally, if one has the training AND experience, I am all for it!!

Wetpixel: Do you think the training organizations recent readiness to accept solo diving and offer training for it will be accepted within the dive travel industry?

Offering the training is excellent but unfortunately, initial training does not necessarily equal experience or ability. In this issue, as is often the case, “the few can mess things up for the many!” For solo diving to be widely accepted by the dive travel industry, I believe it will have to become much more widespread than it presently is so that the liability issues are addressed.

Wetpixel: Your new venture is called the DivEncounters Alliance. What is in the name?

For me, as for photographers and divers in general too, diving has always been about what I see when diving … “Dive Sightings” or “Dive whatever” just does not sound right, does not easily “roll off the tongue” but “DivEncounters” does, and encounters are what diving is all about, are they not? Photographers work diligently to capture their special encounters through their images while I simply enjoy the encounter, without all the work, and capture the images in my mind …

Wetpixel: What advantages does a group of individually owned liveaboards bring to the traveller?

Allowing a group of dedicated professionals, all of whom have years of experience doing what they do best as well as knowing and understanding their individual destinations ensures a trouble-free dive vacation experience for the traveller. I have many years of experience trying to impose “cookie cutter” fleet and franchise standards, but with so many variables to contend with, found that this required too much effort and detracted from the bottom line goal of simply providing the “best live-aboards in the best destinations”. The goal is to ensure the absolute value of the traveller’s experience.

Wetpixel: Do DE’s members plan to offer any specific photo/video facilities on board their boats? Do you anticipate them offering photo/video only trips?

All DE partners fully support the underwater image maker and all will be very pleased to cater to photo or video only trips but, as none have particularly dedicated themselves to underwater imaging as a way of life, we’d prefer that the experts in their respective fields run and sell the trips. Our vessels will provide their magic carpets to their desired destination and incredible underwater photo and video opportunities!

Wetpixel: With airlines becoming increasingly strict on baggage allowances, do you have any advice on how photographers and videographers can try to get around with all their heavy gear?

This is not an easy task but:

a) find a light carrying case. It is definitely time some some manufacturer (if iis not not already being done) to come out with an ultra light (e.g. the Scubapro Caravan Dive Bag) for photo gear. Hard sided for protection but using space age materials for light weight.
b) Get the type of multi pocketed vest that as is easily found at any outdoor store and carry as many of the heaviest accessories as possible aboard the flight in your pockets.
c) Review your needs carefully pre-trip and take only essentials.
d) Rent your scuba equipment, perhaps take only your personal mask, regulator & computer.
e) Remember that on a diving vacation fancy clothes are rarely if ever needed, again, take only the essentials.

Wetpixel: What are the biggest changes that you have seen in your career?

Many and varied, some good, some bad. Some good: dive computers replacing (my YMCA scuba instructor’s manual in 1970) the US Navy’s decompression tables, BCD’S replacing harnesses & backpacks, pressure gauges replacing J-vales, easy breathing, single hose regulators replacing double hose regulators, safe second stages replacing buddy breathing (especially when using a double hose regulator) etc.

More good: Simplified training with dedicated training materials, much easier access to incredible dive destinations.

Some bad: A deterioration of our world’s ocean environment, an onslaught against the shark populations and against Manta/Mobulid ray population in the quest for a tasteless soup and medicines that do not work, global warming with its resultant coral bleaching, the mid-80s blight that killed all the sea urchins in the Caribbean and Atlantic leading to a serious imbalance of the ecosystem, the late 90’s and very early 2000’s introduction of the Indo-Pacific Lionfish into the Caribbean and Atlantic which likely will lead to a disastrous imbalance in these marine environments etc.

Wetpixel: Where is your favorite dive?

Too many to pick just one and so many, so different!

Wetpixel: Where is your favorite diving destination?

Again, too many to pick just one and so many, so different!

Wetpixel: What is the greatest threat to the world’s ocean?

Two mega threats jump to mind, although there are many, but I believe the most serious to be over fishing and climate change. What should the individual diver do about it? Well I would suggest that you let your voice be heard! Mobilize your convictions through your actions and do not support those that pursue the causes of either threat in any way, especially by choosing not to help them financially by purchasing or using their products.

Wetpixel: What is DE’s stance on the environment?

We do all we can with the resources that are available to us. We aim to protect that which we love and to share our concerns with as many as possible. Education is the only way we will slow the deterioration!