PADI Course Director Thien Do, has been instrumental in the growth of diving in non-traditional areas of Southeast Asia (Cambodia in 2008, Andamans Islands India 2009, Mabul Island, Borneo 2010 and a few others). We spoke to him about how he came to play this role and his own scuba diving experiences.
How (and why) did you start diving?
I love to chase adventure, and as I had done quite a lot on land already (skiing, mountain biking, mountain trekking, white-water rafting & sky diving) it seemed natural that diving would come next. It was an opportunity to go below the ocean surface.
I learned to dive in Kata Beach, Phuket, Thailand during my backpacking trip around the world over 16 years ago – let’s just say, I haven’t left Kata Beach since! My first experience had me hooked – the walk-in dive site, my first breath, the reef – like a nursery – full of juvenile marine life.
What was it like working towards becoming a PADI Course Director?
Seven months after becoming a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor, I was working full time as an IDC Staff Instructor at Dive Asia CDC, with one of the PADI legends – the late Course Director Bjorn Tackman. In those early years (it was Summer 2002) Bjorn and Dive Asia CDC conducted 12 – 14 Instructor Development Courses (IDC) per year and trained more than 100 new instructors annually. I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to gain experience under Bjorn’s direction. I learnt to adapt to other cultures and different learning styles and honed my teaching skills. With Bjorn’s guidance, I gained a better understanding for the business of the IDC.
What do you enjoy most about being a PADI Course Director?
The most enjoyable part of being a Course Director for me is witnessing my former IDC candidates succeeding in their journeys. I have appreciated every opportunity I’ve had to influence the leaders of the diving industry. After 14 years of being directly involved in training instructors, I still get excited before every IDC!
What opportunities have opened up to you by being a PADI Course Director?
In the PADI Divemaster manual they talk about 5 E’s – Experience, Education, Equipment, Entertainment & Environment. I’ve been lucky enough to tick off all of these! I relish the chance to encourage each instructor candidate to become an ocean ambassador by adding as much information about conservation as they can every course they teach.
Tell us about growing Instructor Development in markets that were not traditionally catering to training Instructors.
First and foremost the programs run must be for the candidate and must evolve around the IDC Centre, not the Course Director. The PADI Instructor Development process is all about the location, the IDC facilities, the type of students learning to dive and the candidates living in these remote locations.
Secondly, in order to grow PADI Intructor Development in regions like this, we have to look outside the typical pool of candidates found in popular markets. Along with the challenge of local languages, we must plan for the cost of training and other financial challenges each local Divemaster will face. Unlike developed nations, growing local dive instructors in these regions will take time. Dive centres need to assist potential candidates in financial planning and must allow time for them to become financially ready.
Finally, as a Course Director working in non-traditional dive locations, business plans must be flexible and financially feasible for the dive centres, without any unplanned burden on the potential candidates or the centres hosting he IDC. Ultimately, the business plan needs to be sustainable and stable where nether dive centres nor candidate incur financial losses.
What’s your general advice for others around the world looking to grow diving in markets like this?
Patience is the most important thing. It takes 2-3 years for a non-traditional IDC market to mature, and even longer for it to truly succeed.
Lofty ambition in this type of market can sometimes harm it’s growth, so put your ego aside. Sit and listen to your potential candidates and the local pro team, then plan from there.
Each location will likely have its own challenges, so if you’re not flexible, you’re program won’t be sustainable.
Lastly, step away from the camera. Remember: It’s not about your, it’s all about your local candidates’ perseverance, dedication and success. Let their achievement be recognised.
Tell us about your favourite dive sites and marine encounters in Thailand and Vietnam.
Thailand’s west coast meets the Indian Ocean and on the east coast is the Pacific and there are great diving opportunities in both! It’s been great to see marine parks receive more attention in recent years and I hope more protection will become the norm in the future. There is something for everyone there! Muck diving off Kata Reef is one of my favourite experiences. Or meeting the gentle giants – whale sharks and manta rays at Hin Daeng, Muang or Koh Bon. There’s also many opportunities to support NGO expeditions like Shark Guardian, Manta Trust and Megafauna Foundation.
Vietnam on the other hand, is still in the developing process. From 2014 the country has experienced more local growth rather than outside dive tourism. There are now three local dive clubs in Ho Chi Minh City, catering to Saigonese (Vietnamese living in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City). Nha Trang and Hoi An are the traditional locations where divers frequent, with Phu Quoc and Con Dao Islands also being great dive sites but needing a flight to visit. Vietnam is different to Thailand in that it is ideal for shallow sites, macros and coral gardens.
What are your plans for 2017?
- We are looking to put more spotlights and expose the conservation programs at all of Scuba Junkie 5 Star locations, where PADI pro candidates gain hands on with turtles conservation, Sharks Sanctuary project, beach and dive site clean-up, Reef Watch and more.
- With Khaolak Scuba Adventures, we want for Khao Lak to be more than just a high season (Nov-April) only location for diving. We are looking to expand to a three per year IDC programs for this location.
- Continue to support Barefoot Scuba in sustaining Havelock Island, Andamans, India as one of the best options for Indian candidates to become PADI Divemasters and Instructors.
- Finally, I need to give more time to Rumblefish Adventure IDC programs in Phuket, as not to forget to keep learning, changing and competing in one of the world more matured IDC markets.