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DEMA 2023: Back to normal

DEMA 2023: Back to normal

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The 47th annual DEMA Show was back in New Orleans after a 21-year break, and it was a welcome revisit. After years of Covid-related cancellations and restrictions, as well as experiments with virtual expos and other workarounds, the show seemed to have finally stepped out of the long shadow of the pandemic.

It was an upbeat and vibrant edition, reminiscent of how it used to be in its heyday in the late 1990s, when it peaked and only got bigger from year to year. Even the social events and various parties were plentiful and back at full strength—at least, that was my impression. 

That is not to say that the show and the dive industry have not changed since DEMA was last held in the Big Easy (New Orleans’ nickname). More than two decades have passed since then, so of course, they have. 

Travel and destinations

As with most other dive shows, there has been a general shift from featuring new equipment and travel in equal measure, to becoming predominantly focused on travel and destinations. This development is, in part, due to the fact that one no longer needs to travel to dive shows to see new dive equipment presented—and bring back thick wads of press information. This function has long since been replaced by Dropbox, WeSend, Google Drive and other file-transfer services, which enable the transfer of press materials, including high-resolution images and videos, at any point in time. 

There also seems to be a bit of a drought regarding new dive equipment, innovation and technological advances. Perhaps the bulk of dive equipment has long since reached maturation and can only be tweaked a little here and there. How much more can one improve upon a wetsuit, BCD or dive mask, after all? It just seems to be about new colours and shapes, mostly. 

Networking

In any case, with the need to provide a stage for new gear largely, but not entirely, out of the way, successive DEMA shows have become steadily more focused on networking, which is a development I find quite useful. One lesson we can draw from the Covid years is that Zoom meetings, virtual events and online venues are not about to replace face-to-face meetings any time soon. They were little more than useful stop-gap measures, for the time being—and a valuable learning experience.

Dive operators and travel agents were present in strength at the DEMA Show, mostly familiar faces but also a couple of new entrants—although, I did not spot any new destinations or locations this year. However, that may be too much to ask so soon after the pandemic, which sucked many coffers dry.  

If I had to pinpoint the main characteristic and function of this show, it would be networking and meetings. At our own booth, there was a steady stream of both former contacts catching up and new names presenting their wares or services. Suffice it to say, I did not manage to squeeze in any lunch breaks during the whole event. 

As always, it is difficult to precisely assess the outcome of the event and the return on investment in attending, as one needs to follow up on talks and negotiations over the months to come. It has always been a long game, doing business in this industry, and that has not changed much over the years.

Location and venue

It was also nice to have a change of location and venue. Regarding the latter, the convention centre in New Orleans is quite centrally located, alongside the Mississippi River and close to the French Quarter. In our case, we just had to cross the street from our hotel condo to get to the show. So, for once, we did not need to rent a car, which was another bonus this year.  

The expo hall was a tad on the oblong size, but not as bad as the dreaded “bowling alley” of the South Hall at the convention centre in Las Vegas, where DEMA is heading next. Regarding the show returning to New Orleans and breaking up the usual pendular motion between Orlando and Las Vegas, I think it was a nice of change of pace. From a purely professional standpoint, the need for a change of scenery should not really play a role, but we are all humans after all, and it was good to see something different. 

Food was also significantly better in this city. Even the run-down and somewhat dodgy-looking pizzeria we visited on our first night, after a late arrival and check-in, served some of the best pizzas any of us could recall having—and it just got better from there. Food was delicious everywhere we went, even in small, non-descript, side-street joints. As for the downtown area and French Quarter, it surely had character, and plenty of outlandish characters as well, in particular along the famed Bourbon Street, where a lot of crazy stuff could be seen and purchased. Let’s leave it at that.

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