Recently we spoke to our long-standing partner, Alexander Rausch, the owner and Managing Director of Eco Pro Divers. Their two liveaboards, Eco Blue and Blue Shark One are well known in the Maldives for their proactive approach to protecting the environment, the coral reef, and the ocean. We are really happy with how this interview turned out. Alex and all the crew members are truly passionate about diving and ecology. Within their vision, they are doing a great job to help keep islands in the Maldives clean by using eco-friendly materials, actively involving their guests and local community, separating plastic, supporting local NGOs, and taking care of a new generation of responsible divers in this way. We hope you will want to know more about it and join one of their liveaboard trips in the future.
Yevgen (CEO @ Divebooker.com): Hi Alexander! Thank you for coming and for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start from the very beginning. How and when did you first become interested in diving? How long ago?
Alexander: Personally I started diving in 1998. It was because of my aunt and uncle. They took me to Spain to Cadaqués, which is on Costa Brava. And there I got my first driving license and it
has already been 23 years since that time.
Yevgen: What was your most memorable dive during the past 23 years?
Alexander: Oh there were so many because I have been doing the business here for four years. And I really try to join at least two dives a day. And there were so many dives. Incredible dives. In 1998 when I got my diving license, we saw a mola mola, a sunfish.
Yevgen: During your first dive?
Alexander: Yes! And I never saw one again. So I have to say right now that at that time, for me, it was not so fascinating. But now I know how nice it was to have such a special encounter. This was in 1998.
Yevgen: Wow! How big was it?
Alexander: It was very shallow, around 15 meters. So I think it also came to the surface to get a little bit of sun and warm its body. So we saw it from 10 meters and we were going up to 10 meters. It was a very special dive. But right now, let’s say also here in the Maldives with our tiger sharks in Fuvahmulah or even with the oceanic mantas which are there right now at this time. Yes, these are very, very many special dives. Or during channel dives, we have nearly 200
sharks. It was amazing.
Yevgen: You said you still dive. What makes you keep diving after 23 years? Is it because of your job, or do you still love doing this?
Alexander: Oh, I still love diving. Of course, my function is a little bit different. I have to take care of the whole company. And I’m not working as a dive guide on my boat. No, but I just love it. So even my staff says that if I don’t dive for a day, they send me to the water, because I always go a little bit crazy. And they push me to jump at least once a day and join the dive. And I still love it! When I am able to dive I go for it.
Yevgen: How did you decide to start or join a diving business?
Alexander: This was kind of destiny, I have to say. I was working as a banker for 16 years. I met my partner here in the Maldives and I was’t really looking for this job opportunity. But we
had several meetings and talks, and then one came to the other. And right now I’m here. I had a vision for our company, Eco Pro Divers, but I wasn’t really looking for it. It just happened.
Yevgen: When did it happen?
Alexander: Four years ago. Four and a half years ago I started planning.
Yevgen: OK, let’s talk more in depth about your business. It would be interesting to hear about your vision and your understanding of your business. What makes it different? Tell me everything you would like to tell your clients about it.
Alexander: Okay, so four years ago, I came up with the idea to run liveaboard trips as environmentally friendly as possible. So we sat with my partners and we were really discussing, what can we do, to run it really properly, to have a collaboration with the research organizations here in the Maldives, what actions we can take on the boat to make everything as environmentally friendly as possible. So right now we are producing our own drinking water out of salt water. So first it’s a desalination plant and after this, it runs through osmosis and mineralization. Of course, all of our clients get refillable aluminum bottles. From the beginning, we removed all or almost all the single-use plastic on the boat. We use bamboo straws, and we offer biodegradable shampoo and shower gel in our bathrooms. We do many, many small things. We use paper pens instead of plastic, and our written materials are made out of recycled materials. But only if we need it right now,
because in 2021 most of the marketing is done online and you just don’t need paper anymore or a lot of paper.
We are working with Parley for the Oceans (worldwide movement to help end marine plastic pollution). They are collecting ocean plastic from beach clean-ups and also all the floating garbage in the sea. And this garbage is going to get recycled. For example, the brand Adidas is using it. During the last World or European Soccer Championship, most of the jerseys were made out of recycled ocean plastic. And unfortunately, we are one of just two companies right now here in the Maldives which are collaborating with Parley for the Ocean. It’s super easy. So we separate
the plastic on our boats. And every trip, we are doing beach clean-ups with our clients and also our stuff, and then we send this to Parley. It’s getting recycled and used up again.
We are also working with the Whale Shark Research Programme, we also offer several trips with them and also with Manta Trust. So we try to support each other to get the biggest effect out of it.
Yevgen: So you were the first or one of the first companies with this approach in the Maldives. What has been the progress in the past few years? Is it common now for other liveaboards, or it still isn’t?
Alexander: Unfortunately, I have to say it’s still not. There are several liveaboards which are also taking a little bit of action, but in my opinion, it’s not enough. For example, this Parley issue,
it’s super easy, but of course, you have to show a little bit more effort and you have to send this plastic to them and most of the crews still don’t want to do it. And still, the understanding about
ocean plastic or garbage is very poor here. We have to be honest about this. If we go to an uninhabited island, it’s super sad to see how full of garbage these islands are.
Yevgen: Yes, we know about it. We also hear it from our clients. What do you think would help bring more attention to this problem?
Alexander: At least the divers decide where they want to go. If this is an issue divers really care about, they should choose a liveaboard or a diving company which is really taking care of that. And this is what is in the guests’ hands – they can decide which liveaboards they choose. And also to check what the staff is doing on board. Every week, week by week we can see floating garbage plastic bags in the water which we know was just thrown from another liveaboard. So, I think the biggest effect can be made by the guests and they have to decide. They have to choose carefully to which liveaboard they will say “Go!”
Yevgen: So you think divers come first in this? If the community was more responsible, would it cause operators to follow this trend?
Alexander: 100%. This is my opinion. This is why we are starting with Parley for the Oceans now this year to make them a little bit more popular. There will also be a small marketing campaign between the liveaboards, there will be a collecting point for this plastic in Hulhumalé. It starts in the next two months. Which makes it much more attractive for other liveaboards just to drop plastic garbage and to start separating it.
Parley Maldives announced 13 pick-up points for school kids and public citizens to dispose of their plastic waste for recycling purposes.
Yevgen: How can agents, resellers, and travel companies help with this?
Alexander: The same as the guests, by carefully choosing the liveaboards where you send the clients. Of course, we are always open to doing a campaign together. We always offer specials when we are focused on this. For example, we are going to do family trips at the beginning of August in cooperation with the German diving magazine Tauchen. We plan to go to local islands and we will meet with school classes from the Maldives so our kids and our guests will collect plastic together and clean up the beach. And afterwards we go snorkeling, so we can connect more with the local community and our guests. I think this could be active for the future – to offer special trips which are really focusing on this point.
Yevgen: Very interesting. A collaboration like that will be a great experience, both for the local community and for guests. You said that you had a busy season, and a lot of guests. But we all know that because of the coronavirus, most of the liveaboards were not that busy. Besides your eco-friendly approach, what do you offer that attracts clients? Is there anything else that makes your service different?
Alexander: In the previous four years I would say we generated a lot of repeat clients who stand for the quality that we are offering on our boats. As a part of the eco-friendly vision, we are not a luxury boat. You will not find a jacuzzi on our boats. But you have all the quality and luxury that a real diver needs, and of course we offer good diving. And I think overall it’s the atmosphere on our boats that the whole team is creating together for our clients when they come to the boat. Yeah, so this is what makes us stand out a little bit compared to other operators or companies here.
Yevgen: OK, it would be interesting to talk about your team. Have they been working together for many years? What makes them different? What values do they share? What actually makes them a team?
Alexander: We have been working together for almost four years, so we are growing in the company. We are operating two boats right now. I think the team is standing together. People, our repeat clients that count, they always see the same people. Of course, there are small changes from time to time, sometimes some family issues. But overall our main team members are still together and growing and we of course choose carefully who is joining us. For the next years and for the long term my plan is to develop the company. So we are growing. As you said, yes, we managed quite well during this coronavirus time. I think this is the proof of our quality, this is the proof that you, the travel agent are satisfied with us, the clients are satisfied with us, proof that there is trust from every side. And I hope we can go on like this.
Yevgen: About a year ago starting in March 2020, we all faced the COVID-19 disaster, especially in the travel industry. Most of the countries were closed, and there was a risk of losing the team. How did you manage to survive through that period and to keep your team?
Alexander: The Maldives were also closed. I think starting around the 22nd of March, no one was able to come into the country. So the whole world was under lockdown. But the Maldives was the country that was opened again on the 15th of July. And I’m a very optimistic person and I never lost my optimism. May and June are always our maintenance season. Our off season. So of course, we lost March and April which are high season months for us. But our plan was to go to the off season in May and June. And to start again on the 26th of July. And I never lost the optimism to start on the 26th of July with my trips again. And we did it. So of course, there was a high risk and no one knew at that time. And I also didn’t know if it would work? Maybe we can do 1, 2, 3 trips, and then would have to close again. It’s still today, it’s a high risk. But we dealt with this risk. We didn’t have to let our staff go. So over the whole period, our management team
didn’t receive salaries of course. As a whole team, I think we managed it quite well so that all our staff is still on board. We were quite successful till today. It was very, very exhausting because everybody can imagine it was changing week by week. Many cancellations and last-minute bookings in between one week. The countries of origin were changing the travel regulations and restrictions today for tomorrow. So it was super, super exhausting. But overall, I have to say it was worth doing.
Yevgen: Do you think that COVID affected the business in a negative way? Or can you see some opportunities that it may have created?
Alexander: Both. So of course overall, it was very, very negative. And I’m sad also for competitors who weren’t able to run everything successfully. Some of the liveaboards were focused on certain nations that were not able to travel to the Maldives. I also have friends who are operating hotel dive centers and liveaboards in other countries. So I’m super, super sad for them. On the other hand, I have to say right now here in the Maldives there were a little bit too many operators and maybe also some black sheep. And I don’t think they will all still be around when the coronavirus is over. And I don’t see it only from the economic side, I see it again more from the ecology side.
Yevgen: You said that your team is still growing. But you have two boats with more or less the same team, so you don’t need more people. So why is your team growing? Do you plan to add another liveaboard or do something else?
Alexander: From the beginning, my vision was not only to stay here in the Maldives, my vision is also to grow Eco Pro divers to other destinations in the world. Also, not only liveaboards. So if we get a good opportunity for the future then of course I am going to take it. But there is nothing to announce today. I’m very happy that we handled this coronavirus situation. Now we plan to
finish the season and have a little bit of time off and then come back again. The vision is to grow the company bigger and yeah, let’s see what the future brings.
Yevgen: OK, we’d love to see you grow. It would be good to spread your approach to other destinations. What can you tell me about your clients? Who do you see as your ideal client, whose interests are best met by your services?
Alexander: Everyone who cares at least a little bit about the environment. I only have to say that the only people we don’t want to see on the boat are people who don’t care, who throw garbage into the ocean or touch animals, or break corals. We always have a lot of individuals onboard from different nations. So I cannot really say who we’d want to see. I can only say who we don’t want people who really aren’t taking care of anything, and aren’t taking care of the environment. But everyone else. Beginner divers, professional divers – we love to welcome everyone. We really love to see individuality onboard. Those are the best trips for us.
Yevgen: You said that you started 23 years ago. Has the diving industry changed since then? And if so, do you like the changes?
Alexander: For me it’s like everything is changing. We are a young company and I am also not that old. I’m very open just to check what we have to do, or to try, and to be a little bit brave.
Because in my opinion everything is changing. So for me, it’s not a problem if something is changing. I think we also have to settle ourselves with these developments and just try our best
to go with it. Of course not all changes are good. It’s important to stick to your vision. But sometimes it’s good to go with the flow. It might be helpful. But I am not a person who says that the development in the past was bad.
Yevgen: What trends do you think will change the industry significantly in the next few years?
Alexander: I really think that caring for the environment will become more and more important, and of course to trying to bring in young, new divers, to make the sport interesting for young people again. I think this will have the main effect. But overall, I can see more and more interest in taking care of the environment. Right now we are trying to ban single-use plastic, the old engines, and we are going more and more for electric cars. It all can bring changes, not only for diving. And I think even in the diving industry, it will have more and more effect and more importance.
Yevgen: After the huge, huge growth in the late 90s, the diving industry has been shrinking during the past decade. Are you seeing increased interest in diving now?
Alexander: I don’t think that we should compare it in numbers only. It’s also about the quality of divers. Why was it shrinking? A lot of people did open water diving courses but didn’t go on with
diving. So maybe we should focus a little bit more on good quality. Bring people to diving to keep them, to keep them involved in this beautiful sport and then I think we also will be successful for the future.
Yevgen: Thank you. To summarize and to conclude this interview, maybe you would like to say something to your future clients, to invite them onto your liveaboards and maybe send them some wishes, or some good words.
Alexander: First of all, many, many thanks for the invitation for the interview. And for the future clients, of course, it would be our pleasure to see you on our boats, to show you the wonderful,
wonderful underwater world of the Maldives which are in the top three destinations in the world. And we really can show you everything. It never gets boring here in the Maldives. We have two
different seasons and you can travel to the Maldives and come for diving the whole year round. We often get asked when is the best time there? The diving is always outstanding. For us it would be a pleasure if you choose one of our liveaboards in the Maldives and Yevgen and his team will also help you or assist you with your individual questions. And through the Divebooker’s team you also can reach out to us directly. We are always happy to answer your individual questions.
Yevgen: Thank you. Thank you so much, Alex, for taking the time for this interview, and I hope it will help your future clients to know more about your approach, your business, your team, and to Visit the Maldives in the coming years and see them.
Alexander: Thank you!
Yevgen Bessonov, the CEO of Divebooker.com, conducted this interview in May 2021.
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