The thrill of being in the water with marine animals is driving an ever-growing scuba and snorkel industry. May it be in Asia, Africa or the Americas an endless amount of options awaits divers, making it often hard to choose. Increasingly popular are trips hosted by experienced group leaders who will guarantee a curated trip and a better animal interaction.
Gone are the days where divers or snorkelers had to laboriously put together itineraries and feel lost amongst strangers on their trips. Instead, group leaders chose the trip, put together the group and provide a perfect itinerary in locations that they are familiar with. On-site they help understand the environment and help divers get the best animal interactions.
One such company is Insider Divers, founded by award-winning photographer and scuba instructor Simon Lorenz. A seasoned diver, tech diver and freediver Simon crafts bespoke trips that have unique itineraries and are peppered with extras that enrich the trip.
Insider Divers has gained a reputation for well-planned and priced trips that include a host of free education and training as well as the best animal interactions. “We always try to provide that little bit of extra experience,” he explains.
“We offer extra elements on our trips such as special sites or new encounters. And we always provide training and education on all of our trips”. Simon believes that everyone “should be an Ocean Insider” – every trip starts with a dedicated background presentation on the host country, local flora, and fauna.
Throughout the trip he and his colleagues aim to further their guests understanding of the underwater world by hosting presentations and workshops on his trips about sharks, whales or manta rays. When the divers now get in the water with the animals they start understanding behaviors and can identify different species.
To further enrich the experience the company invites experts from local NGOs or scientists to elaborate more about the marine environment and animals. It is these additional elements that make guided trips to special compared to a self-booked itinerary. Simon cooperates with NGOs such as the WWF, The Nature Conservancy and he is on the board of the Hong Kong Shark Foundation.
And his guests appreciate it. Gautham (USA) has been on a few trips with Insider Divers. “The diving is always wonderful but the part that makes it a fantastic trip is all the attention to detail and support Insider Divers provides their guests. They go out of their way to make sure everyone is comfortable and enjoying themselves. They bring expert advice, and informative, relevant (and optional) talks about the local sea-life, region, photography…really just about anything that the guests ask for. I’ve become a far better and informed diver and underwater photographer because of my trips with Insider Divers, and I’ve seen so much more than I ever would of marine life and of exotic destinations than I ever would on my own.”
Guests love the trips and 100 five-star reviews on Facebook and Trustpilot can’t lie. “Around 70% of our guests are repeat clients, a majority of the rest are based on referrals. Once someone comes on an Insider Diver trip they tend to come back.” Not only the trip content is relevant, a key driver are the people. “I started the company out of frustration with my previous trips.”, Simon explains, “I used to often be stuck on the boat with divers that had different interests. Or worse, that were not treating the marine environment the way I expected.”
On a group trip that follows a certain group leader, all divers tend to agree with their general approach to nature – creating a group of like-minded divers. As a result, the trips are full of people with matching views on diving. “As a solo traveler I made friends instantly with the rest of the group; Insider Trips seem to pull in like-minded, curious, fun, friendly & passionate people.” says Weeze from the UK.
Many divers come on his trips alone and will be paired up in same-gender rooms. For single travelers there is the perk of maybe finding the right partner amongst the other clients. “We recently had our first wedding between two guests who met on one of my trips!”, Simon beams when he says this. There is also a big focus on responsible diving. “We want to help make every diver a better diver.” Says Simon, who only allows gloves and pokers on certain trips and makes the carrying of an SMB mandatory for everyone.
“Some people come poorly trained and are a danger to themselves and to the reefs. We help these people with a bit of coaching to get themselves comfortable and able to fully enjoy the animal interaction.” For photographers, it is a special treat to travel with Simon.
Onboard he will coach each photographer individually and host several specific photography sessions. Jeffrey from Hong Kong is a regular on Simon’s trips. “Simon is an amazing underwater photographer and the best part is that he loves to share his passion with others. If you are into underwater photography and looking to improve your skills then you must definitely dive with Simon.
Throughout the trip Simon always takes the time to share his wealth of diving and photography knowledge with others.” So what makes a good group leader? With more and more group leaders there is also negative feedback. Some travelers feel that group leaders put themselves first and always get good interactions. Some are reported to mainly dive off doing their own thing leaving clients in their wake. “I am very wary of this type of behavior that I have experienced myself first hand.” says Simon. “My intention is to make sure everyone feels like they have dived with me as during the trip. And that everyone has had the same fair chance of interaction with the animals. That often means that my photography has to take a back seat, which is hard as a professional photographer but absolutely necessary as a group leader.”
Another aspect of a good group leader is to always have a plan B and C. Nature and weather often throws curveballs, so the more options are on hand the better. Murphy’s law always strikes in pairs and group leaders have to think on their feet if they want to turn a bad situation around. “After two days of searching for sailfish on the Yucatan Peninsula, we had no encounters.
My group started losing confidence in the concept. So I reschedule to dive more cenotes, the natural limestone sinkholes found in the area.” When the sailfish are fickle, stationary cenotes are your friend. Sometimes it’s better to find alternatives that please everyone. With the restrictions of the worldwide pandemic slowly being curbed Simon is excited.
The world is opening up and he is looking forward to his next few trips that will take his groups diving with sharks and dolphins in the remote Socorro Islands of Mexico and swimming with Orcas in the far North of Norway. In Spring Insider Divers will dive the famous Galapagos Islands swim with the Blue whales of Sri Lanka.