Dive Shipwrecks in Taiwan Without Leaving the City

Dive Shipwrecks in Taiwan Without Leaving the City

What you need to know

'Divecube is the only place in central Taiwan to get a diving license, unless you want to go and give it a try in Taichung harbor.'

The Divecube Hotel in Taichung opened its doors in February and with them the chance to brush up your scuba and freediving skills, as well as have a little fun in an underwater shipwreck while you’re at it. The News Lens sat down with Divecube chief executive Jim Wang to talk about what inspired him to build the hotel, and how he went from being a non-diver to the owner of Asia’s only indoor pool deep enough to earn PADI certifications.

TNL: What’s your background and how did you come around to the idea of building the Divecube?

Wang: My background is in swimming pool management, something I’ve done around Taiwan for about 20 years. I also operated a sports center on the mainland in Zhejiang. I withdrew from the pool business in 2011, about the same time I saw a picture online of the Nemo 33 hotel in Belgium, which also has its own dive pool. I thought the picture was fake – how could anyone build something that deep – and there was very little information about the hotel itself. Then I realized the Nemo 33 pool had a sectional view - where people in the hotel could see into the pool itself and watch people diving. That’s when I thought they’d done something really special.

TNL: What was your next move?

Wang: In 2012, I got together with friends and we talked about the feasibility of building something similar here. I wasn’t even scuba qualified, just a swimming coach [taught by the actor who played the Taiwanese sailor in the movie Life of Pi). I didn’t know anyone who had experience doing anything like this in Taiwan, so I flew to Hong Kong for the Diving Resort Travel expo to discover what diving was about. I put together a dossier, and met with Roger Sun, Territory Director for PADI APAC, who offered some advice. It took a year to complete the research into the Taiwan market, which at the time had about 200,000 people with diving licenses. The sport was developing rapidly, but to dive in Taiwan you have to travel to Kending, the east coast or another country. Divecube is the only place in central Taiwan to get a license, unless you want to go and give it a try in Taichung harbor.

TNL: So you were convinced there was a big enough market for a hotel like this?

Wang: There isn’t a place to dive in the center of the country, so Taichung is ideal. We’re well served by high-speed rail and air links. If you’re doing your license you have to stay on the coast for a lot of time, and that’s expensive. This facility offers convenience. There’re also a lot of people afraid of trying it out in the ocean. You see the hotel pool and you know you’re going to be safe. I didn’t have the money to do it myself so I worked with partners to produce a proposal. It was difficult as the project is unique - there were no cases with which to prove ROI.

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TNL: What were the major challenges in building the pool and hotel?

Wang: We thought it was going to be fairly easy when we were starting - but as we got deeper into the project it became extremely difficult. In 2012, I called an architect friend and told him I wanted to build a water tower. He said just get some construction workers in – it shouldn’t be a problem. But on showing him the plan we realized the logistical difficulty of building a 21-meter deep pool, including a filtration system and windows. We spent two or three years, with him working unpaid, on concept development until we had the right plan, and called in technical expertise from the people behind the world’s largest diving pool, the 40-meter deep Y-40 facility in Italy.

TNL: Did you ever think about giving up during the development phase?

Wang: The only time I thought about giving up was for of financial reasons. The startup investment was NT$60 million, but the investors, led by Taichung badminton and sports equipment maker Bonny Sports, have now put it a total NT$200 million. So I had my moments of doubt – but they were short-lived – someone always stepped up to help. As the Taiwanese saying goes once you’ve started washing your hair, you can’t just finish halfway through.

TNL: How satisfied are you with business so far? Where are your customers coming from?

Wang: We’re pretty satisfied with the way business is going. As we’ve just opened we are still in trial and error mode. But there’s already been a lot of media attention, AP, and most of the news channels from Taiwan, as well as a Korean diving magazine, have already come by. As for customers, we’ve

had a number from China, HK and South Korea. Most are from Taiwan. Recently there have been more international visitors - USA, Malaysia, Italy, for example. Most customers are experienced divers. They come to just try out the pool or do the Discover diving course rather than get certified. All the ones who have started classes are Taiwanese. A lot of local diving clubs have also dropped in to see it for themselves.

TNL: What are your plans for the future?

Wang: We’re going to visit the dive shows and we plan to do more activities for children.

The main idea is to bring more exposure to diving, but I also want to focus on improving

ocean awareness and marine conservation. So many people go diving in Taiwan but their technique is weak, so they end up damaging the coral. We want to give them a place where they can train properly, feel comfortable and understand the ocean environment, so they don’t cause damage when they hit the ocean.

TNL: The pool seems perfectly suited to freediving training. Do you feel you got lucky with the explosion in popularity in the sport over the time you were building the Divecube?

Wang: Yes, and we’re going to try and focus more on freediving as time goes on. I realized there’s huge demand in this area for freediving but nowhere to train. I have my own license and want to promote the sport because the whole experience is so meditative. Freediving will teach you how to understand yourself, your physiology and the limits of your body. It’s a totally different experience from scuba, more like running a marathon. It’ll show you the limit of yourself because you don’t need any equipment. It’s your own judgment on whether your body can cope.

Editor’s note: The author was provided with complimentary lodging and use of the Divecube’s pool prior to writing this article.

Editor: Edward White


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