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DIVERS ARE NOW FACED WITH WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITIES, says Bruce Lyons of Crusader Travel. They are the benefactors of market trends that offer rich pickings across the world.
  But Egypt and the Red Sea will continue to be the number one destination for UK divers, he says. Its still our back yard and offers world-class diving at a good price.
  Robbie Reynardson from Goldenjoy agrees: Egypt has excellent dive sites and for the flying time and cost, you cant beat it. People may travel elsewhere in search of something different. but in terms of offering value, Egypt has it.
  The southern area is going to be increasingly popular, puts in Tony Backhurst of Tony Backhurst Travel. For anyone fed up with the razzmatazz of Sharm, places like Marsa Alam will be an ideal choice. Now theres a weekly flight its far more accessible. It also has some wonderful new hotels and a very nice marina. Places like this will be the new Sharm.
  Associations with war and terrorism in the Middle East seem to have had little effect on our eastward flow. Even with the bombing at Taba, bookings remained constant, says Reynardson. Egypt is a peaceful nation and the British are used to the threat of terrorism after years of the IRA. A war will result in a drop in bookings but everyone seems quite happy to travel after a bombing.
  After the bombing in Luxor in 97 the only people who continued to visit the Red Sea were the British, says Phil Connor of Dive Sportif. The threat isnt enough to deter people.
  But Graham Blackwell of Dive Tours warns that this may be the year in which Red Sea prices finally rise to match reality. Its going to get more expensive and I hope its soon - prices have been kept down artificially for too long and its still so cost-competitive that its hard to find an alternative.
  He also believes that Sharms appeal is starting to pall. Im doing well with Dahab and more people will go to El Gouna and Marsa Alam with more flights going there.
  While the Red Sea will always remain a favourite among British divers, many operators believe that the Caribbean is due an increase in popularity - especially the less well-known destinations. Were finding that divers want to stay at resorts with individuality, where you can find something a little bit different, says Theresa Bennett of Dive Worldwide. Islands like Saba have their own character that you wont find elsewhere, while other special locations like Tobago are becoming cheaper due to an increase in charters.
  Graham Blackwell agrees: You can now enjoy a fortnights diving in Tobago for under £1000.
  Phil Connor also sees the Caribbean as a growth area: Islands like St Lucia, Tobago, Grenada and Dominica offer an interesting cultural experience for the person who wants a holiday with good diving. Were getting a lot of people who want to enjoy unique and relatively untouched islands with their families, and the diving simply enhances their experience. A lot of people who learnt to dive 15 years ago in their 20s are now interested in going on holidays where their partners and children can also take part in their hobby. There seems to be an upsurge in families wanting to go somewhere more exotic.
  Stephanie Tester from Barefoot Traveller agrees that accommodating families is a must. We get lots of requests from families, and even eight-year-olds can go diving now. Whats also important is the quality of the childcare - its a real growth area.
  Robbie Reynardson highlights some of the problems in providing for this demand: Were putting pressure on resorts to provide qualified nannies, and even trying to get families on liveaboards, though its difficult, as we have to ensure that safety comes first.
  Stephanie Tester observes that the location is not always the main draw. Were seeing more people asking for a certain type of activity, such as the PADI National Geographic Diver course. We then look for places that run it, like Ocean Encounters on CuraÂao.
  Theresa Bennett adds: We get a lot of customers asking for ice-diving, so now we offer two options, Austria for fresh water and Russia for salt water. She believes these requests are part of a trend in which people want more than just diving, they want adventure. The base in Russia, for example, is 24 hours from Moscow - its in the wilderness and theres plenty to do besides the diving.
  Phil Connor highlights a location where he believes divers can make a real difference: Grenada was devastated by the hurricane last summer.
  Many UK tour operators have made donations, but the biggest thing we can do now is encourage divers to go out there. The diving is great, and they need UK divers to spend their tourist money to help get them back on their feet again.

Budget airlines
Low air-fares will continue to make a difference in the variety of destinations open to divers. Bruce Lyons reckons there is more room in the Med for the UK diver. Budget airlines have increased the accessibility of destinations that used to involve long, convoluted journeys. His tips include the small island of Marettimo off Sicily. With airlines like Ryanair that leave early in the morning you can be on the island in the afternoon - perfect for long weekends.
  Graham Blackwell reckons Croatia is the hot tip in the Med - Its got wrecks, fish, viz to die for - and that mainland Turkey is not as popular as it should be, with its satellite North Cyprus also a likely growth area. But he reckons divers who think they are saving money by self-booking online may not be getting the best bargains. Were online all the time, and know exactly where to look. We can save them a lot of time and effort, and their holiday will be protected, too.
  New destinations include Oman in the Persian Gulf. Theresa Bennett says it has been relatively unknown as a diving destination but reckons it could take over from precarious Sudan.
  We think Central and South America will take off more, says Stephanie Tester. Its not highly featured and has a lot to offer. Places like Belize can be coupled with activities such as jungle-trekking. Phil Connor also tips South America, in particular Brazil and the small island of Fernando de Noronha. It has some unique marine life and offers much more than just a diving holiday.
  Other locations mentioned include South Africa and Mozambique, with the promise of cheaper flights; Fiji, because they have just realised that their tourists dont have to come from Australia; the Galapagos, costly, but more people seem to have the money now; and new liveaboards in the Indian Ocean.